Sikhism rose as protest of India's caste system


Richmond Times-Dispatch Jun 11, 2006

The Sikh religion was founded more than 500 years ago as a movement that rose in resistance to India's caste system. The system was based on the belief that a person's status as rich or poor was determined at birth. The 10 gurus, or prophets, of the Sikh religion asserted instead that all people are equal.

Sikhs migrated to the United States from Punjab, India, in the 1800s. They worked on railroads, mills and farms.

Followers of Sikhism, the world's fifth-largest religion, gained national attention for all the wrong reasons after the terrorist attacks in the U.S. in September 2001. Because they wear turbans, they were mistakenly identified with Osama bin Laden, the Muslim extremist suspected of being the leader behind the attacks. Sikhs were ridiculed and even attacked physically.

"I still get a few looks from people," said Anoop Kochar, an 18-year-old Sikh who lives in Chesterfield County. "I think people are curious. I don't take that as necessarily a bad thing."

The word "Sikh" in Punjabi means "disciple." The religion preaches devotion and remembrance of God at all times, truthful living and equality for all. It denounces superstition and blind rituals. Other tenets of Sikhism, according to ( and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund:

  • Sikhs do not cut their hair; men cover theirs with a turban.
  • The turban represents a commitment to equality and justice.
  • There is only one God for all people of all religions.
  • The soul goes through cycles of births and deaths before it reaches the human form. The goal of this life is to lead an exemplary existence so that one may merge with God.
  • The true path to salvation and merging with God does not lie in celibacy or renunciating the world but in earning an honest living and avoiding worldly temptations.
  • Sikhism condemns rituals such as fasting, pilgrimages, worship of idols and worship of the dead.
  • Sikhs keep five artifacts of faith called kakkars: kesh, or uncut hair, is considered a gift from God; kara, a steel bangle, is a reminder of good deeds; kanga is a small wooden comb placed in the hair and represents cleanliness and purity; kirpan is a dull-edged sword that represents a commitment to justice and taking care of the weak; and kachhera, long undershorts representing modesty.