Sikh Heritage Month: What it is and how you can celebrate  

golden temple near water in evening

In April, Canadians across the country mark the beginning of Sikh Heritage Month–and on April 14, Sikhs world-wide celebrate Vaisakhi. Whether in politics or sports, Canada’s Sikh community has been a part of the country’s DNA since the late 19th century. Not quite sure you understand what Sikhism is? Read on to find out, and explore a few ways to help celebrate Sikh Heritage Month.

What is Sikhism?

According to the World Sikh Organization, the Sikh faith is the world’s fifth-largest religion, with over 25 million devotees worldwide. Founded in 1469 by Guru Nanak, the belief is monotheistic, upholding the equality of humans, men and women, and all religions as part of its basic tenets. The religion emerged from Punjab, and while many Sikhs have South Asian roots, as with any religious practice, there are Sikhs of all backgrounds and nationalities.  

Like many other faiths, Sikhs have five primary articles of faith–learn more about those here. You may have had Sikh colleagues that wear some or all of these articles of faith, like the kara, an iron or steel bracelet, or, more commonly, the turban. 

As Sikhism is built on tenets of equality for all, the practice of wearing a turban emerged during a time when women were required to cover their faces as a sign of respect toward men. It’s said that Guru Nanak rejected that tradition because God created women and men as equals–thus, requiring women and men both to cover their hair as a mark of respect toward God. The turban has become a recognized symbol of the Sikh faith from that moment onward. 

What’s Vaisakhi?

Traditionally, Vaisakhi is a spring harvest festival celebrated by many South Asian cultures, but mainly by the Sikh community worldwide. The festival has been associated with Sikhism since the end of the 17th century when Guru Gobind Singh chose the date of the festival to create the highest order that can be reached by Sikhs, known as the Khalsa Panth.

How to Cultivate Allyship with the Sikh Community

1. Learn about the faith.

We’ve addressed a few key points above–but as with any form of allyship, take the initiative to learn about Sikhism and the Sikh lived experience. Then, as Canadians, we can take a moment to also reflect on the systemic inequalities that have existed right here at home, from the SS Komagata Maru to the ongoing microaggressions faced by Sikh people today.

2. Check your biases.

Sikh Canadians have often been the victim of othering and numerous biases–and many of us have internalized biases about Sikhs through poor representation in popular culture. Identify and disrupt these unconscious biases when you can, and do the same with your friends, family and colleagues. 

3. Speak up!

There’s no allyship without action. When you see or hear biases in the workplace that unfairly target your Sikh colleagues, speak up. Affirm their experiences and call out harmful behaviour when you see it–that means poor jokes, disproportionate workloads, interruptions in meetings, and more. If you’re in a leadership position, this is even more critical–foster an inclusive environment by setting a precedent that your workplace is a welcoming and supportive one.

To learn more about Sikhism and the Sikh faith, visit the World Sikh Organization here. Want to make sure you don’t miss out on acknowledging Vaisakhi in your organization? Download MT Consulting’s diversity calendar below.

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