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Now, a documentary on turban

Through the film Mangal Dhillon wants to help Sikh in their fight over turban, writes Gurmukh Singh.

india Updated: Oct 08, 2005 21:16 IST

The biggest casualty in the aftermath of 9/11 was the turban, which apart from being a part of the Sikh dress code, has been associated with Indian tradition since time immemorial. Our saints, sages, philosophers and gurus have worn headgear since Vedic times. Islamic scholars and Pirs too adorn headgear or turban.

But after 9/11, the turban came to be associated with Osama bin Laden and his band of Islamic fanatics. So when angry Americans retaliated, they picked up every turban-wearing person to be their target. Sikh cabbies, gas station owners and lay people were subjected to retaliation.

And now when Europe has also been targeted by Al-Qaeda, the governments are banning extremist organisations. France has gone to the extent of banning even religious symbols in schools. The unintended victims of this ban have been Sikh students in Paris and other places.

When the turban ban became a big issue with the Indian Diaspora in Europe and North America, the Indian authorities requested France to exempt the Sikh students. With the French refusing to roll back the ban, the turban issue continues to rile the Sikh Diaspora.

To help them in their fight, well-known Indian TV and theatre personality Mangal Dhillon has just produced a nice documentary, The Inseparable- A Sikh & his Turban.

Shot in North America, Europe and India, the 55-minute film provides all the relevant information about the importance of turban for a Sikh- from historical and religious perspective.

A top-notch TV serial personality, who eight years ago, decided to devote himself to promoting Punjabi and Sikh culture and heritage through the electronic media, Dhillon why he decided to take up the turban issue through the film. Excerpts:

What prompted you to produce this documentary?

When France banned the turban in schools and Sikhs raised a hue and cry, I wondered why it was happening. I thought that if someone tried to tell the French about the cultural and historical importance of turban for Indians in general and Sikhs in particular, they would understand it. There is no point in making noises, you have to tell people (French) why it is wrong to club turban with the Muslim prayer cap or burqah. I decided to tell all this through a short film.

So here we are with this documentary after about nine months. It is in English and Punjabi with subtitles in French. It is aimed at all -- the Sikh Diaspora, their leaders, and the Indian and French authorities.

How have you argued your case in favour of turban in this film?

We take you on a historical and religious journey to explain why turban is such an integral part of Sikh identity. If the French compare it with topee or Muslim skullcap or Jewish cap, it is wrong. Muslims and Jews wear them only during prayer times. But for a Sikh, turban is an integral part of his over all personality.

If you take away the turban, you take away his hair. If you take away the hair of a Sikh, you take away his identity. By taking away his turban, you finish his identity. That is the main thrust of the film.

By way of explanation, we have tried to tell the French how 8,200 Sikh soldiers laid down their lives for them during the World War. These Sikh soldiers died with their turbans on and are buried in French soil. We have tried to tell the French how these soldiers refused to wear helmet and preferred to die with their turbans on.

I am sure that the French, if they are told this, will appreciate it. After all, they are one of the most enlightened societies in the world.

Where did you shoot the film?

We shot it at all important historical places associated with Guru Gobind Singh in India. We did a lot of work in Punjab, Delhi, Mumbai and Nanded. Then, we did some shooting in Paris where this issue is raging now. We even went to London and from there to New York where the Sikh community was targeted after 9/11.

Have you screened it for the authorities concerned in New York or Paris?

No, but we screened it in London and Paris for the Sikhs and the lawyers fighting their case in French courts. The lawyers were very happy. The film will certainly help them.

Did Sikh organisations like SGPC or DSGPC help you with the project?

Where is the time with these leaders for such causes? All they want to do is see their names in newspapers with some statements. Well, it has cost me Rs 21 lakh to produce this documentary.

Do you intend to screen it for the French ambassador in India or the Indian Prime Minister who has taken up the matter with the French government?

Sikh leaders making noises about justice should do this. They should meet the Ambassador and show him this film. I have done my job as an artiste. As for PM, I will try to have an audience with him. But my aim is to reach the Diaspora who can take my message to those concerned.

First Published: Oct 08, 2005 21:16 IST