Bhagatveer Sangha has worn a turban every day for 11 years.
To him and other Sikhs, the turban represents purity, uniqueness, self-respect and equality.
Sangha and the rest of the University of Florida’s Sikh Students Association sought to spread these principles to the university and Gainesville community today by tying turbans for those who don’t typically wear them. The event, Turban Day, was intended to create a dialogue between members of the Sikh faith and those who are learning about it.
It’s held annually by the organization and others across the country, and is part of a broader effort to spread awareness of Sikhism, an Indian religion founded in the 15th century.
As Sangha explains, Sikhism focuses on equality.
— Katie Mellinger (@kmellinger13) March 23, 2017
The event at Turlington Plaza provided more than a dozen students and residents with turbans to wear for one to two hours.
“We just want them to realize what it is when you go out with a turban on your head, and how it feels to be different from the rest,” said Sangha, a horticultural sciences graduate student at the university. “The turban is a sort of crown for Sikhs. A Sikh would prefer death than any disrespect to his turban, so we want to make people realize how important it is for us.”
Neal Singh, a dental student at UF, who has been involved in Turban Day since 2009, said the event draws both past participants and newcomers.
“People have been coming for years. We get the same people that really appreciate what we do, and then we get a lot of new people,” Singh said. “We have people like college students, especially minority communities, who understand what we go through being that we look different.”
Gainesville resident Candy Ganyo, a longtime participant in Turban Day, said she keeps returning because the event allows her to learn about a different culture.
“It gives you some insight into other people’s clothing and accessories,” the 60-year-old said, “and it gives you insight into background.”
Singh said many participants share Ganyo’s enthusiasm toward learning, which helps dispel misconceptions about the religion.
“Many people think that Sikhism is a branch of Hinduism or Islam, but it’s not,” Singh said. “[Sikhism] always preaches that under the eyes of God — no matter what gender, what religion, caste or creed — God is in everybody.
“We are all here for a common purpose.”
While many often confuse Sikhs with members of other faiths, the Gainesville community has received its practitioners warmly, Singh said.
Ganyo said she found similar acceptance while wearing the head piece during past Turban Days.
“Nobody has ever said anything to me,” she said. “I’ve never had anyone react negatively to it. It’s almost like they don’t notice it, and you think that they would.”
Over the years, Ganyo said she has realized the importance of being curious but not judgmental.
“If you see something that you are not familiar with, you need to ask questions. Don’t make snap judgments on somebody else’s religious choices,” she said. “It doesn’t mean you have to convert to that religion, but it’s always a wise idea to ask questions.
“The more questions you ask, the better educated you become.”