Traditional cultural practices lead to preservation of hair length

Divy Bose | The Chronicle

A single strand of hair has an impact.

From pixie cuts to french braids, every Mason High School student chooses what to do with their head of hair. Whether it is in a ponytail, braid or just wearing it down, hair can be styled in a variety of different ways. Getting a haircut may seem like just a style choice, but for some, chopping off the hair that has grown out for years has a much deeper meaning.

Students’ identities are displayed through various factors of their appearance, such as their hair. Certain students at Mason choose to follow Sikhism, a religion originating in India, which requires all Sikhs to keep their hair long and never cut it. Sikhs see hair as a gift from God and how God created them, therefore, followers abide by this hair practice regardless of gender.

Sikhs often use their long hair as a visual way for them to find each other in case of an emergency. Male followers can usually be found wearing a turban, while female followers wear their hair down or in a long braid. Sikhism preaches a message of devotion and remembrance of God at all times, so believers chopping off their hair would be a violation of their tradition, one that traces back to the 1500s. The Sikh religion believes that their heritage is sacred and should be upheld by the next generations to come.

As Sikhs choose to keep their hair long in regards to their religion, many receive confused looks or stares directed toward their hair. Junior Samara Chatrath said that the best response to this reaction is to educate students who are new to this concept.

“Answering people’s questions about my hair is a greater stepping stone towards understanding,” Chatrath said. “I don’t grow my hair for attention, I do it for the purpose of my religion.”

Some Sikh male followers have to deal with the stigma of long hair only being for girls in school, especially in their early childhood years. Senior Ravneet Sangha said that his religion is the empowerment he needs when students around him would call him those certain names.

“When I was younger, I used to get called a girl or that I had an apple on my head,” Sangha said. “But I would just remember that there is no need to change myself since I was made like God’s vision.”

As generations continue to honor their ancestors and keep the heritage flourishing, the younger side of the spectrum struggles to do so around their peers. Charath said that we are taught that being different is what makes who you are, but there comes a point where being seen as normal is all a kid wants.

“My brother refuses to wash his hair because he thinks one of his friends is going to ask him to play while his hair is drying,” Charath said. “He is so scared of being called a girl and is only six years old.”

Even with the judgment that Sikhs face, cutting off their hair is still not considered an option. In Chatrath’s eyes, getting your hair cut off as a Sikh is taking away what God has helped grow and perfect on herself.

“Getting our haircut is like cutting your arm off,” Charath said. “It is a part of our identity forever and was made from God onto ourselves to keep.”

Maintaining their long dark hair daily is a regulation that the Sikhs are required to follow. Charath said that it is a struggle every day to even simply brush through her hair, especially since she is a swimmer. Having to oil her hair, braid it, and then put it into a high bun for practice to protect her hair from chlorine damage has become a normal routine. Charath said it was a difficult process at first, but eventually grew on her as she learned to adapt to her hair regime.

“I just have to take a breath after trying for so long [to brush my hair] and cool myself down,’’ Chatrath said. “It’s very frustrating when I can’t do other hairstyles that girls can do, but I always have my trusty three part braid to fall back on.”

Keeping their morals alive, Sikhs use their family tree as inspiration to keep their practices going. Sangha said that his father played a role in his contribution towards the Sikh religion and taught him that doing what is best for himself and the family is more important than anyone else’s opinion.

“My dad taught me to keep my hair long in order to follow and honor my ancestry,” Sangha said. “I don’t see any reason to potentially cut it to fit in, since it makes me unique.”

Sikhs have their differences with other religions that students choose to follow, but that does not mean their persona should be any different. Chatrath says that since equality is such a huge part of their religion, their desire for respect should be granted.

“We all have red blood and we are all human,” Charath said. “We should be seen no differently than normal in people’s eyes.”

Graphic by Becca Hunter