Sikh truckers should be proud of their religion, and not face humilation like one trucker in Mississippi did. (Image Source: Flickr: quinn.anya)
The unfortunate fate of Sikhs, particularly Sikh men, in this country is not to be understated. Very faithful to their religion, and preaching beliefs that are completely distinct from anything preached in the Middle East and South Asia, Sikh men nonetheless are targeted for misdirected stereotyping, because their wearing of a turban and growing of long beards as signs of their devotion to their faith confuses them with jihadi Muslim terrorists. In the case of one trucker named Jageet Singh, one unlikely to take part in next week's Truckers To Shut Down America Protest, that stereotyping led to harassment that bordered on persecution, all because he refused to take off his turban and remove his kirpan.
Jageet Singh was pulled over by Mississippi Highway Patrol officers in Pike County in the south while he was passing through the state in February for having a flat tire. While questioning him, patrol officers asked that Singh remove his kirpan, a sheathed ceremonial dagger that is considered an article of faith to Sikhs, akin to wearing the Christian cross or the Jewish yarmaluke. When he refused out of religious principle, MHP officers mocked him and called his people "terrorists." Then, after being forced to circle around his truck, Singh was arrested for refusing to obey an officer's lawful command, even though the officer had no legal right to request the removal of the kirpan.
However, Jageet Singh suffered more humiliation when he had to go to court over the incident a month later. While waiting to meet with the judge, Aubrey Rimes, Singh was ordered to the back of the court. When his lawyer asked why, court officials told him that the judge did not like Singh wearing his turban, known as a dastar. Sikhs wear dastars to protect their long, uncut hair, which represent another article of faith for them as kesh. When the lawyer went up to the judge to ask about this, Judge Rimes confirmed the order, and told the lawyer that Singh has to remove "that rag" if he wishes to re-enter the courtroom, threatening him with placing him last on the docket. When Singh refused to take off his turban, Judge Rimes did precisely that, forcing him to wait several hours before he could answer his court summons.
Since then, the ACLU and United Sikhs have taken up Jageet Singh's case, complaining to the Department of Justice. Following an investigation by the DoJ, the Pike County Board of Supervisors announced revisions to the County's harassment and non-discrimination policy to protect people like Singh. The ACLU and United Sikhs are now confronting the Mississippi Judicial Commission to investigate and discipline Judge Rimes for his actions, as well as demanding the Mississippi Department of Transportation revise their policies regarding religious sensitivity.
Honestly, it is unfortunate that most Americans cannot seem to differentiate between a Sikh and a Muslim. Granted, Afghan Muslims have sort of befuddled the imagery, but it is not that hard to really see the difference between a dastar-wearing Sikh (which is colorful and has a sharp fold above the forehead) and a turban-wearing Muslim (which is wraparound). And for Pete's sake, Muslims are not required to wear a turban, even though it is considered spiritually acceptable. Why does every Muslim have to be stereotyped to look like Osama Bin Laden (who did not even wear a turban, but a weird variation of it) or Jafar from Aladdin?