Never miss a story

Get subscribed to our newsletter


×
For Sapreet of the Sikh Coalition, the goal of the exhibition was "to spark that national conversation on behalf of all communities who are lesser known and misunderstood about what it means to be an American." Though the exhibition in Soho has closed, Amit and Naroop are working to compile a book of images from both the U.K. and the U.S. projects. VOA

In the photographs, they wear leather jackets, or superhero costumes, and hold their trumpets and helmets. They appear to be what they are: poets, musicians, bikers, soldiers — and all Sikh Americans.

The Sikh Project is a collection of photographs of turbaned Sikh Americans that was on display in New York City last week. It showed their interests are as diverse as their American community.


“At its core the project is about identity in general … and how identity never restricts you,” said Naroop Singh, half of the U.K. photography duo Amit and Naroop that took the photos.

NewsGram brings to you latest new stories in India.

“Because Sikhs, whether they’re from the U.S. or the U.K., are thought of as a certain type of person — either they’re doctors, engineers, accountants. … But if you told somebody you could have a Sikh guy who’s tattooed and a kickboxer, they might not believe you,” Singh said.

Amit and Naroop, the London photographers of the Sikh Project, during their shoot with the famous actor and model Waris Ahluwalia. VOA


Amit, 31, and Naroop, 35, have been working together for years, but began photographing members of their community in 2013.

In London, the photographers set out to photograph Sikhs with the goal of breaking stereotypes and showing “how cool” a Singh (male Sikh) can look. This look includes the turban, which Sikhs wear as a symbol of self-respect, courage and piety, and to show their love for and obedience to the wishes of the faith’s founders.

Go to NewsGram and check out news related to political current issues.

Few step forward

At first, Amit and Naroop were hard-pressed to find sardars, or turbaned Sikh men, who would sit for them.

“They said, ‘Who would ever want to see photos of Singhs?’ They said, ‘Don’t waste your time, boys,’ ” Amit said. “We had to grab my grandad and say, ‘Dude, look, sit here. We’re gonna take a photo of you and show people how cool a Singh can look.’ “

The trend caught on. When Amit and Naroop started a Kickstarter campaign to fund their first exhibition, the impact was global.

“They put one of their first images online. I saw that and was blown away by their talent and their ability to see people in a different way,” said Sapreet Kaur, executive director of the Sikh Coalition, a Sikh advocacy and community development organization in New York that works to promote civil rights for all people.

Though Amit and Naroop were born and raised in the U.K., Sapreet knew they were the perfect choice to tell the story of the American Sikh. And the photographers found just as much diversity and character.

Look for latest news from India in NewsGram.

For the American project, women and children were also photographed expanding on the original idea. Though relatively few women of the Sikh faith wear a turban, or dastaar, it was important to the Sikh Coalition that those women be represented.

Amrita Khurana, a marketing specialist at The New York Times, poses for her portrait with the Sikh Project. VOA


Amrita Khurana was one of the subjects they chose. She is the first and only sardani (turbaned Sikh woman) working for The New York Times. Amrita did not always wear a dastaar and struggled for years balancing her love for her religion with her love of hip-hop and clubbing.

Search for identity

“I was trying to find myself; I couldn’t figure out who I really was,” she said. “I came from a Sikh family, but my friends lived in the ghetto, and that’s where I felt comfortable. I was into hip-hop and rap; that was my scene. The Sikh background was only on Sundays.”

Though Amrita never lost her love for hip-hop, her devotion to her religion became stronger as she aged. And along with the worship came a fascination for Sikh identity — namely, the turban.

Amrita started wearing a dastaar only occasionally on the weekends, to temple. “One foot was in the club scene, one foot was in the dastaar scene,” she said about that period in her life.

Reactions within the Sikh community to women wearing the dastaar are often mixed. While some see it as the ultimate sign of devotion, some, including Amrita’s mother, believe that it should be worn only by men.

“My mom has a fit,” Amrita said. “She’s like, ‘What are you doing? This is not OK. This is not the norm. Nobody’s going to want to marry you!’ “

It took years, more fights with her mother, the guidance of her priest and discussions with her husband before Amrita committed to the dastaar full time. Unlike some Sikh men and teenagers, who often have the opposite fight with their parents, wanting to cut their hair to avoid questions and stares, Amrita struggled to break gender norms within her faith community.

The look of the dastaar was almost as important to her as what it meant religiously.

“I wanted to stand out,” she said. And as a turbaned woman who still sports her leather jacket on weekends, she absolutely does.

“I remember saying to her, ‘Should we try it without the leather jacket?’ And she said, ‘No,’ ” Naroop said with a laugh.

Living and working in New York, Amrita said she has faced few questions and next to no hostility about her look or her religion.

Sapreet Kaur, executive director of the Sikh Coalition, answers a woman’s questions about the Sikh Project in New York City. (E. Sarai/VOA)


From genie to terrorist

Amit and Naroop noticed a difference in how Sikhs are treated and perceived in the U.S. versus in the U.K.

“One subject here told me, ‘Before 9/11, I used to walk down the road and someone would say, “Hey, look, there’s a genie,” ‘ and after 9/11 they said, ‘Hey, look, there’s a terrorist.’ THAT’s what people are going through,” Naroop said.

“And the horrible thing is that in the U.S., I find that people take it, accept it as a norm,” he said. “Like, I’m going to go out today and probably be verbally abused, and I’m not going to say anything back.”

While Amit and Naroop were shocked, Sikh Americans share this perception and have become numb to it in the past 15 years.

Sikhs, who are often confused with Muslims in the U.S., have been the targets of violence and hate crimes, particularly after the attacks on September 11, 2001.

In 2015, a year marked by the most divisive and hateful rhetoric during a presidential campaign in decades, 174 incidents of violence against Muslims and those perceived as Muslims were reported, according to a study by Georgetown’s Bridge Initiative, a multi-year research project focusing on Islamophobia.

Sikh Coalition volunteers speak with visitors as they look at portraits from the Sikh Project. (E. Sarai/VOA)


For Sapreet of the Sikh Coalition, the goal of the exhibition was “to spark that national conversation on behalf of all communities who are lesser known and misunderstood about what it means to be an American.”

Though the exhibition in Soho has closed, Amit and Naroop are working to compile a book of images from both the U.K. and the U.S. projects. (VOA)


Popular

wikimedia commons

Children playing ringa ringa roses in an open backyard in England

Great historic events that have shaped the world and changed the outlines of countries are often not recorded in memory, or so we think. Wars made sure to destroy evidence and heritage, and the ones who survived told the tale of what really happened. Folklore, albeit through oral tradition kept alive many such stories, hidden in verse, limericks, and rhymes.

Ringa-ringa-roses, a common playtime rhyme among children across the world, is an example of folklore that has survived for many centuries. It tells the story of the The Great Plague of London which ravaged the city between 1665-1666.

Keep Reading Show less
wikimedia commons

Certain tribes have remained matrilineal, where the decision-making power rests with the eldest female of the family.

In modern times, many social movements aim to bring reform to the society we live in, on the basis of certain existing patterns. Patriarchy is something that many aim to cleanse our cultures of, to usher in the era of social and gender equality. Despite all these so-called movements, in southern India, certain societies that patronise matriarchy have existed since before India's independence. The Nairs and Ezhavas of Kerala, and Bunts and Billavas of Karnataka are matrilineal societies that continue to thrive in a patriarchal country.

Kerala remains separate from the rest of India in many ways. Be it literacy policy, form of government, or cultural practices, this state does not always conform to the ideal that India is known for. Even so with their social structure. Certain tribes have remained matrilineal, where the decision-making power rests with the eldest female of the family.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Medhat Dawoud on Unsplash

It is the world's top tech company in turnover (totaling $274.5 billion in 2020) and its most valuable corporation.

Apple inc. Is an American multinational tech firm specialized in consumer electronics, computer programs, and internet services founded by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne in 1976 to manufacture Wozniak's Apple iComputer. It is the world's top tech company in turnover (totaling $274.5 billion in 2020) and its most valuable corporation. Apple is the fourth-largest PC seller by unit sales and the fourth-largest smartphone manufacturer in the world.

Apple has revealed a slew of new products at a special launch event that has been long-awaited. On the day of the live event, Apple announced the iPad mini, Apple Watch Series 7, iPhone 13 mini, and iPhone 13, as well as the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max.

Keep reading... Show less