Mandeep Singh Chahal is well acquainted with the misunderstandings associated with Sikhism. Having lived in Kern County since the late 1990s, Chahal has personally witnessed the confusion and misinformation surrounding his religion.
“And I don’t think it’s getting better,“ said Chahal. “In fact, in many cases I think it’s getting worse.”
Chahal and a group of friends and family sat down with 23ABC to discuss some of the challenges in overcoming stereotypes which often revolve around the turbans worn by Sikh men.
“It’s very dear to us because it’s kind of our respect,” said Chahal.
For Sikhs, the turban represents equality, sovereignty, and obedience. For those who are not Sikh, Chahal wants the turban to represent kindness.
“It means if you see someone wearing that turban you know for sure that person will definitely help you,” said Chahal.
Gurinder Basra is also a longtime resident of Bakersfield who says he loves America and its people. Basra and Chahal both expressed frustration over the perception that Sikhs support terrorism, a viewpoint that gained momentum after 9/11 when the image of Osama bin Laden frequently crossed American television screens wearing a white turban.
“We do not support terrorism,” said Basra. “We are a peaceful people.”
As in many Sikh homes, family life involves several generations for the Chahals. Children, parents and grandparents are live under one roof representing a key element of the Sikh faith.
“If you’re not respecting your parents and taking care of them you will never achieve any religious goal in your life,” said Basra.
Both men agree that Kern County residents are largely accepting of their culture and their faith. But for those who are not, Chahal and Basra hope education will help. The men formed the Sikh Riders of America motorcycle club both as a means to bond with other believers and as a way to reaching out to a community sometimes mystified by their beliefs.
“We should live in a world,” said Chahal, “that you could go anywhere wearing any religious clothing and people know you and say, oh, this is a good guy.”