Thousands of people wearing Turban filled the iconic Times Square on April 15, to celebrate the second annual Turban Day, a colorful event hosted by Sikhs Of New York, an organization founded by Sikh youth. The event also comprised of the celebration of Vaisakhi, the harvest festival, with raising awareness about Indian-Americans of the Sikh faith who have felt particularly vulnerable post-9/11. The National Sikh Campaign also launched its “We are Sikhs” media blitz at the same event, and the U.S. Congress released a “proclamation” declaring April 15, 2017 as “Turban Day” and “Sikhs of New York Day”, an initiative led by Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-NY.
The four-hour event, held as part of Vaisakhi celebrations, was aimed at spreading awareness among Americans and other nationalities about the Sikh religion and its articles of faith, especially the turban, which has often been misconceived and misidentified as being associated with terrorism particularly in the years since the 9/11 terror attacks. During the event, a proclamation by Congressman Gregory Meeks of the 5th Congressional District of New York declared April 15, 2017 a ‘Turban Day’, lauding The Sikhs of New York for its dedication in educating other communities about the Sikh faith
Entertainers at the event included Top Naach, a Bhangra group from Virginia; American Sikhs, an instrumental band from the 3HO Foundation in Los Angeles; The Lost Strings of New York, and mandolin player Gagandeep. A Bhangra workshop was also held.
“Last year we tied about 3,000 turbans in Times Square and we hope that it will be 7,000 this year,” said Chanpreet Singh, the organization’s founder. “We started Turban Day in 2013 at Baruch College to promote and educate people about the Sikh religion and identity. We are spreading awareness about the Sikh turban and culture. The turban is the crown of each Sikh and represents pride and valor. Turban Day provides an opportunity for those that do not wear a turban to experience a turban and learn about its significance first hand.”
The organization, which has about 600 members, also will be unveiling a new video on Turban Day that is designed to show Sikh people come from all walks of life. The video, which features physicians, businesspeople and even a gymnast, is posted online at Facebook.com/SIKHSOFNY.
“When you see a person in a turban, feel safe,” said Jill Jagjeevan Kaur Ruitenberg, President & CEO of Ruitenberg Lind Design Group of Jamesburg, N.J. and a practicing Sikh featured in the video. “When you see a person wearing a turban they are Sikh. Sikhism is its own religion founded in India over 500 years ago. It is not derived from any other religion. Part of their beliefs are to help and protect people around them, even at the risk of their own lives. They believe in equality for everyone.”
This was the second time that Turban Day was held at Times Square. It attracted people from as far as Los Angeles and Alberta, Canada, many of whom volunteered to tie the turbans. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s head of Immigration Affairs Jenifer Rajkumar, attended the event.
Close to 500 volunteers helped wrap turbans on those wanting them. Though the event was to start at 12 noon, people of various ethnicities and cultures lined up from 9:30 am to wear their turban, Chanpreet Singh, 24, founder of Sikhs of New York, told Desi Talk. Turban Day was an opportunity for those that do not wear a turban to experience it and learn about its significance first hand, organizers said.
The four hour Times Square event was live streamed. “Some 400,000 people saw it live. And over 24 hours since the event took place, half a million people have seen the video on our Facebook site,” said Chanpreet Singh, founder of Sikhs of New York.
The impact of the event can be measured not just by the large attendance, but also from the reactions of the crowds, something that was gauged by the volunteers and from posts of those who came to enjoy the entertainment, Singh said. “Our three hash tags, #IamSikh, #IamaSikh, and #Turbanday, each had close to 200 photos posted within 24 hours of the event,” said Singh. a financial analyst with cosmetics giant Estee Lauder, who founded Sikhs of New York while a student at Baruch College in 2013.
“This is a youth initiative of a post-9/11 generation,” Singh said. “I started it mainly because of discrimination I faced at high school. I wanted to make a change,” he said. When distributing informative pamphlets did not appear to be making a difference, the organization began Turban Day. It has been held at Madison Square Park for three years before coming to Times Squate in 2016. “The crowd was a mix of many cultures from different parts of the world and around the United States. That’s one of the reasons we chose Times Square,” he added. They are already planning next year’s Turban Day, which Singh says, will increase from 8,000 to 12,000 turbans, he estimates. That is four times the number (3,000) that were tied at the first Times Square Turban Day in 2016.