It's not everyday you see hundreds of people tying turbans on a portion of the crowds that filter through New York City's Times Square on a daily basis, but that's exactly what happened on Saturday, April 15, and it was all for a good cause.
As reported by The Huffington Post, the turban tying event, which took place in honor of the Sikh holiday of Vaisakhi, required the help of more than 500 Sikh volunteers, all of whom wanted to start a meaningful dialogue and teach people about their frequently misunderstood religion. As the turbans were being wrapped, a Sikh volunteer offered information about Sikhism, and once the turbans were tied, the volunteer answered any questions participants might have.
According to The Huffington Post, Turban Day 2017 was organized by a group called Sikhs of New York, which itself was founded by Chanpreet Singh when he was a student at New York's Baruch College five years ago. Singh raised over $10,000 on GoFundMe to make the event possible. (A single permit for the event, according to his fundraising page, cost $11,500.)
"We are spreading awareness about the Sikh turban and culture. The turban is the crown of each Sikh and represents pride and valor," India West cites Singh as saying. "Turban Day provides an opportunity for those that do not wear a turban to experience a turban and learn about its significance firsthand."
After being teased and getting called a "terrorist" throughout middle school and high school, Singh knew he needed to somehow take matters into his own hands. "I take the fault on ourselves. We haven't done enough to educate," he told The Huffington Post. And if statistics are any indication, Americans need a lesson in Sikhism ASAP.
Though completely separate from Islam, Sikhism — a Dharmic religion practiced by approximately 25 million people worldwide with roots in the Indian subcontinent — and Islam — a Abrahamic religion founded in the Arabian peninsula — are often conflated. According to a 2015 survey from the National Sikh Campaign, 60 percent of Americans admit to knowing nothing at all about Sikh Americans, and when Americans see a picture of a man or boy in a turban, they are far more likely to assume that he is Middle Eastern or Muslim than he is Sikh.
It's this lack of knowledge that makes Sikhs of any age across the country an unfair target. In a 2014 study, 67 percent of of turbaned Sikh youth living in notoriously liberal California reported they have experienced bullying and harassment, and in a 2012 survey of 628 New York Sikhs, 85 percent reported being questioned about their immigration status in interactions with law-enforcement officials.
And the day after Turban Day in New York City, April 16, a Sikh taxi driver reported an alleged hate crime. According to NBC News, a passenger punched the taxi driver after referring to him by a slur. He then stole his turban.
In addition to Turban Day, the Sikh community worldwide has taken part in a variety of other initiatives in an effort to raise awareness and educate others about their faith. Earlier this month, The National Sikh Campaign launched a $1.3 million ad campaign called "We Are Sikhs," which shows Sikh Americans talking about the importance of their religion and the shared values between their faith and other groups.