Sikh turban struggles 'unwrapped' at Birmingham exhibition

Organiser Jay Singh Sohal gives a guide to a Birmingham exhibition all about the turban.

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The cultural and historical importance of the Sikh turban is being highlighted at a Birmingham exhibition.

Organiser Jay Singh Sohal said the event aimed to show their spiritual importance, as they "encase" uncut hair, one of five symbols of the faith.

Gurinder Singh Mandla, a speaker at the event, won a legal battle in 1983 after being denied the right to wear a turban at his Birmingham public school.

He said said his case was a "vehicle for change".

"For the headmaster to accept me in his school, I had to cut my hair and don a cap," he said.

'Landmark decision'

"That wasn't going to happen.

"We tried to explain the significance and importance of wearing a turban... but unfortunately the matter had to be litigated in the courts.

"The matter started in 1977, culminating in a landmark decision in the House of Lords in 1983 where Sikhs, under statute, were given the protection afforded to them under the Race Relations Act."

Mr Mandla's story is one of many at the exhibition, Turbanology: Sikhs Unwrapped at the Niskham Civic Association in Handsworth, which highlights the struggle some Sikhs faced in order to wear a turban.

Start Quote

We are hopefully giving people an insight into what Sikhs consider their crown”

End Quote Jay Singh Sohal Exhibition organiser

The other four physical symbols worn by Sikhs who have been initiated into the religion are a steel bracelet, a wooden comb, cotton underwear and a steel sword.

The items together demonstrate someone who has dedicated themselves to a life of devotion and submission to Guru Gobind Singh.

Mr Sohal said he had previously researched how turbans became synonymous with Islamic terrorism since the London 7/7 bombings and the 9/11 attack on the US.

Footage of Osama Bin Laden or the Taliban in turbans led to Sikhs being attacked and verbally abused, he said.

To help change those negative perceptions, he said chose art as way of demonstrating the turban's historical importance.

"By doing it through art, we unwrap the turban, describe why it's so important, especially here in Birmingham and we are hopefully giving people an insight into what Sikhs consider their crown."

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