The American Sikh Council (ASC) was saddened and shocked by act of the two seasoned physicians namely Dr.Sanjeet Singh Saluja and Dr.Ranjeet Singh Saluja in Montreal, Canada who shed their Sikh identity recently. The reasoning given by both the physicians was apparently that the personal protective equipment (PPE) was an issue in the current Covid 19 pandemic, so they decided to shave off their kesh to better deal with the daily rigors of their profession.
Their actions maybe personal in nature but in no way should that reflect as any kind of affirmation of their actions by the Sikh nation. Their actions do not make them into heroes as there are thousands of others including Sikhs who have kept their identity intact while serving on the frontlines without compromising their religious principles.
From the Sikh religious perspective there are some points to be reflected on seriously. Sikhs and others of various faiths are humans and can have a weak moment in their lives and no one can judge them! What these two Sikh physicians did was their personal choice but publicizing their apostasy was firstly, degrading to the rest of the Sikhs and secondly, possibly setting a precedent to the world that it is okay to lose one’s identity in a crisis. If their decisions were personal, they should have kept it so, instead by glorifying a personal choice so blatantly, it puts the onus on them to publicly apologize otherwise the Sikh nation will never forgive them for this shameful act.
Sikh history is a witness to the overarching fact that Sikhs have gone through fire and have not abjured their Guru given identity. Sikhs have faced many existential threats far greater than the current pandemic and come out on top, in the last few centuries.
The province of Quebec in Canada, had passed an infamous Bill 21 into law in July 2019 which banned all religious head coverings by anyone who is employed by the municipal, city, state or federal government in any capacity. This ban directly impacts all Sikhs, Muslims, Jewish and others who wear religiously mandated head coverings and/or articles of faith.
The French whether in France or Canada are mostly Catholics whose clergy (men and women) wear full religious garb, yet the French tend to be religious xenophobes under the pretense of secularism. No wonder the Sikh turban ban in France is still in place since 2004, and now the ban in Quebec, Canada.
The French-Canadians had been contemplating the religious head-covering ban for years and in response to a possible ban on the Sikh turban, Dr. Sanjeet Singh Saluja was quoted as saying, “The sad thing is I don’t know if I’d be able to stay here in Quebec,” according ‘MacLean’s’ a leading Canadian magazine on August 21, 2013. He went on to state, “Even though I love my practice here in Quebec, my faith is something that’s important to me and I don’t feel comfortable giving up that part of my persona and I don’t think a lot of people would be willing to, either.” He further stated, “Personally, I’m hurt. I’m very hurt.” https://www.macleans.ca/general/doctor-warns-quebec-youll-lose-us-with-headwear-ban/
What happened in March 2020 suddenly for someone with so much religious fervor to take such a drastic step?
There are hundreds of Sikh physicians in Canada, US and other western countries who continue to serve their communities during all kinds of crisis’s, including the current pandemic with their identity intact while wearing all kinds of head and facial protective gear, with absolutely no issue. There are many examples and publicly available videos which demonstrate how to safely put on the PPE’s over a dastaar and properly cover a beard. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Pik_h6o1EZo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmf2Ry8stUo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSFTM9_IFU8 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ca28f3FzIAo
The Sikh officers and soldiers which include medical professionals who serve in the armed forces in the US, Canada, UK and many other countries have no issue with any kind of personal protective equipment (PPE) with their long head hair covered by dastaars and their full beards. Where there is will there is a way! This is not the first time, as during World War I and II every Sikh soldier was a keshdhari and they all were trained in using PPE with no issue.
Need we remind ourselves that one of the greatest martyrs of the Sikh religion Bhai Taru Singhji, on July 1, 1745 was scalped alive by the rulers of his time, but refused to give up his kesh and become an apostate. There are hundreds upon hundreds of similar examples in the Sikh heritage.
The American Sikh Council (ASC) wants to reassure all Sikh Americans that our religious rights will not be compromised or be impinged on by any outside entity, provided we remain steadfast in the fundamental principles of our fantastic religion which embodies universal and humanistic values. We stand by each and every Sikh health professional who is working to serve on the front-lines and support them in their full Sikh identity.