Disclaimer: This article contains information about my own thoughts and feelings towards racism. This is my own personal view which I have formed from my own experience.
– Written by Jatinder Bhaker –
A video has gone viral on social media of two school bullies attacking a young Sikh boy from Charlton School, in Telford. I am sure you have already seen the video by now, but for those that haven’t, the two bullies’ gang up on the individual and are seen kicking and punching him. A particular moment of the video that really aggravated me was when his kesh (Hair) unravels and the two bullies point and laugh at him. Not to mention the numerous people and cars that pass by, not willing to help, or intervene in the assault. For me, this moment brought back some traumatic experiences from when I was also getting bullied at school for being a Sikh and for having long hair. As I am sure it did many other Singh’s out there who have had similar experiences too. This article is about how we can reduce racial bullying by improving how much Sikhism and other religions are taught in schools.
I am a second-generation British Sikh, with four older brothers and sisters, who have all kept their hair. Our dedication to our Kesh is one of the most important aspects of our religion, in my opinion. We are dedicated to maintaining our Kesh with exceptional amounts of love and care. We honour God’s gift and keep it covered by wearing our crowns with pride. For anyone to remove our Dastaar (turban) and expose our hair, it is extremely insulting and disrespectful. We immediately take offence and will react accordingly. Our history proudly demonstrates how courageous and strong we are, constantly fighting oppression and helping those in need.
This form of racial bullying has taken place ever since our grandparents moved to the UK, over 60 years ago. Our elders cut their Kesh to abide by social norms and gain employment, living in a predominantly white society. Their sacrifice has educated and gotten us to where we are today. However, unfortunately still no progress has been made regarding racial discrimination towards us Sikhs.
The initial experiences I encountered were throughout Nursery and Junior school. Other kids and their parents all thought I was a girl because of my long hair and the girls wanted to touch and plait it. I understand that this is not a form of racial bullying, but it still was a misconception of me and my religion, which made me feel uncomfortable. Their actions and comments made me feel very outcasted and isolated from everyone else. This was very intimidating when initially joining a school, constantly seeing the same people every day.
During my time at secondary school in 2008 – 2013, being one of two Sikh students in my year, we were an ethnic minority and were treated differently to the other students. In year 8, I encountered my first instance of being bullied, which was by a year 10 student. They were laughing at my patkha (Turban) and calling me horrible and insulting names such as “P***” and “tennis ball head”. This upset me deeply and I reported the experience straight away to one of my teachers. The bully was spoken to and apologised to me. I was surprised that no major form of punishment was issued to the student, nor was he educated about my religion or realised how wrong his actions were.
My family did their best to support me throughout this time. They were proud of the way I handled things in the moment, agreed with my point of view and did their best to reassure me of how beautiful my Kesh was. In hindsight I realise that my parents could have done more to raise this issue with the head teacher and implicate some real change into the school. 10 years have passed by and I am sure there are still Sikh students attending the secondary school I went to. I just hope they are not encountering similar experiences as I did. To all the parents out there who are supporting your kids throughout such a difficult time in their life, I urge you to join the school’s PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) and raise these issues during a meeting, or with members of staff such as the head teacher. If there is not a PTA, then you can start one up using the link below and help implement change to the ethnic minority within the school.
Other reactions to this form of bullying have seen Singh’s act in self-defence, where they have been the ones who have gotten suspended from school. Society needs to learn the importance of our kesh. We should not be the ones who get excluded from school because we defend ourselves, the bullies should. There have also been others who have cut their Kesh as a result of being bullied, or fear of being bullied. We do not need to fit in with society anymore; society needs to accept us for who we are. Young Sikhs should not be fearful of having long hair, and instead should be proud of it.
I strongly believe that schools have failed to educate their students of the six main religions effectively. I can only recall learning about Christianity and Islam approximately 80% of the five years that I studied at secondary school, during Religious Studies (R.E) classes. I do remember learning about Hinduism, Sikhism and Judaism, but not Buddhism. And even then, it was not for a long period of time. And when we studied Sikhism, suddenly, I was the teacher, standing at the front of the class, teaching my classmates about my religion.
I am sure many of you reading this can also relate. R.E teachers need to educate themselves thoroughly before teaching the class about the different religions. As opposed to getting their ethnic minority students involved like it is “show and tell”. Teachers can also utilise the Basics of Sikhi YouTube videos in class, as they convey the information in a clear and easy way for students to understand. If students were to learn about the six main religions equally, they would be more considerate to the ethnic minorities and there would be a drastic decrease in racial bullying, not just in the Sikh youth. I also believe that parents can do more to educate their kids of our religion and Sikh parents can do more to teach their kids of our code of conduct. Even something as little as telling them stories of our Guru’s at bedtime or watching Basics of Sikhi videos on YouTube.
Society is continuing to evolve and one day will be acceptive of everyone, regardless of their religion. In order to get there, schools need to improve the way they educate their students, and as the Sikh Sangat (Community), we can do more to educate others of our religion. For example, we can do more to promote Sikhi on social media and go into schools to talk during assemblies. There are many Gurdwaras located across the UK, which can work closely with schools to spread awareness. School trips can even take place at the Gurdwara where students can learn about our religion first-hand.
I also find it shocking that mainstream media fail to acknowledge and report topics that are relevant to ethnic minorities. They have such a huge platform and can do a lot by covering and sharing those types of stories. For instance, the farmers of Punjab have only just been mentioned on BBC News. And that was after the Kisaan rally took place at the Indian High Commission in London. Together we have a voice, and we can integrate change, wherever it is needed. The rally is a wonderful example of this, and we need to keep up this momentum.
I am currently raising awareness of the importance of our Kesh as a result of seeing the video that went viral. Our Kesh is our pride and joy, the jewels under our crown. I have taken and uploaded pictures to social media of my exposed Kesh to educate others of its importance. I tagged other Singh’s and humbly asked them to share similar pictures, providing they feel comfortable with sharing their Kesh. I do not wish to offend anyone, but solely wanted to inspire the Sikh youth and the Telford boy.
The world needs to know that we have long hair, and we are incredibly proud of it. We stand together with our young brother that was bullied and do not want him to feel embarrassed or alone. There is nothing to laugh at, especially if we wear it with pride.
If you would like to support the movement or share your pictures on social media, use the hashtag #MyKeshMyPride or you can contact me on Instagram