An Open Letter to Everyone Who Thinks I Have to ‘Look’ Sikh to Be Sikh

Hi there,

I cannot reveal my name but I’ll tell you my story. I am a Sikhni. And just like Sunny Leone, some people may not think I’m one, but I consider myself Sikh. I was born and brought up in a Sikh family (my father is Sikh, my mother, a Hindu) but I don’t look like a sardarni. I don’t have long hair that goes till my knees, I don’t speak Punjabi or love butter chicken; I’m a vegetarian. On the other hand, I may not have all the Sikh paaths (prayers) memorised, but I do understand them.

Do you think I have the right to call myself Sikh? Some of you are probably judging me. No matter how open-minded and educated people think they are, they always struggle to accept individuality.

I’ve been fielding questions about my religion and identity since I was a school kid. Many friends told me I shouldn’t call myself Punjabi because I “really don’t look like one”. Others told me my last name should be Kaur, not Singh. Yes, I don’t look Punjabi because I am not fair.

You don’t have the right to decide if I look ‘Punjabi’ enough or whether I follow my religion properly or not. I may not stick to the diktats, but I am a Sikhni at heart, no matter what you say. When I was younger, I used to cry over these judgmental comments. It felt like a personal attack every time someone asked me about my religion and then exclaimed, “You don’t look like one!”

This pressure to ‘look’ and ‘be’ Sikh doesn’t start with me or Sunny Leone or any other Sikh person – it comes from the people who make such comments in the first place.

If you have an opinion on someone’s religion or any other aspect of their identity – keep it to yourself, please. You don’t know how deep these statements go. They make us doubt ourselves for years.

Not every Sikh person you meet is an alcoholic, or fair or long haired; not every Sikh is non-vegetarian, or loud and dumb. Every Bengali person doesn’t love fish, just like every Muslim person doesn’t hate India. You should know there’s more to people than stereotypes.


A victim of your thoughtless statements

Aditi Singh, 23, is a freelance writer and currently pursuing a masters in English from the University of Lucknow.