SIKH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2009: DOCUMENTARY
Director/Producer: Jay Singh-Sohal
Turbanology begins at home in the morning, with the presenter describing the daily ritual of tying the turban ahead of a busy work day. We see each layer being expertly put into place and the finished article before moving on to our first interview. It’s with a German academic whose research in the so called “Turban effect” experiment in 2008 found that simply noticing someone had a turban increased the aggressive tendencies of westerners. The academic describes what this means psychologically and the connection that has arisen between terrorism and turbans since 9/11 and 7/7.
Muslims tie turbans, but for different reasons than Sikhs, and to find out more about this we visit a mosque; a first visit for the presenter who feels immediately at home because of the similarities with his own Sikh faith. We discover by speaking to Imams and Sufi’s that the turban and beard has an important spiritual role in Islam. But not all Muslims agree, an expert from the Muslim Council of Britain describes how this tenant is optional and why it’s got such a strong connection to radicals such as the Taleban and al Qaeda. That misconception has affected ordinary people, and a Sikh and Muslim – who both tie turbans, describe how they’ve been negatively affected by this connotation since 7/7. Yet could popular music and culture be helping to dispel this image?
After the break, we delve into that very question but start off at the gym where young Sikhs give their take on experiences they’ve had since 7/7. A community manager who’s the first port of call for young people who’ve experienced racism and prejudice since 7/7 tells us what he’s had to deal with, and Sikh community leader describes the impact the London Bombings have had across the UK. Tragically, the glare of terrorism has meant some Sikhs have cut their hair and lost their turbans – something which music producer brothers Tigerstyle are hoping to address. With their unique sound and identity, they promote the traditional image of a turbaned bearded Sikh and want young people to feel the same pride.
The Sikh faith wasn’t the first to introduce the concept of the turban – its existed in Islam, and we speak to Sufi’s about the spiritual reasons for the turban in their faith. The hair is the answer to understanding the turban, and at the Gurdwara, or Sikh place of worship we see how young boys and girls are taught the basics of the turban. We speak to one woman who also ties a turban because of the equality it affords to men and women in her faith.
Many people do not remember a time when the right to tie a turban had to be fought for, so we speak to someone who remembers that time well in the 1970’s. Discrimination against the turban at schools and in the workplace led to a campaign to establish it as a right at the law courts. Seva Singh Mandla provides analysis of why this case was so important at the time to his family and his community; and Steven Pound MP gives his take on why the case is significant today.
Clearly enough was done at the time to raise awareness of the turban, but today it’s as if the clocks have turned back. Yet nearly thirty years on are turbaned Sikhs any closer to making an impact in public life – and how long until we see a turban at number 10? We speak to one Sikh who could be the first.
After the break, we delve into the role of the turban in Christianity and the European renaissance. We begin with a visit to the National Gallery in London, a favourite haunt of the presenter.
We discover that renaissance art is somewhat fixated on the turban. What symbolism does it posses? Perhaps a link to the fact that when Europe was in the midst of the Dark Ages, the east was brimming with discoveries. Then the west turned to the east for guidance – and rediscovered ancient texts that had been lost to Europeans for centuries, as well as new breakthroughs in science, maths, astrology etc. It was the beginning of the renaissance, and two experts put this into context for us.
Could the turban have been the reason for this? Perhaps its importance was in what it represented – knowledge, power and mysticism. An eastern quality lost to the western world. A history of art expert tells us the importance of the turban in paintings of the time, including Jan Van Eyck’s famous piece. Perhaps it was because people understood more at that time what the turban represented that they were able to bridge the natural divide between east and west.
Perhaps that’s the challenge the current generation of turban-wearers face in making the turban more appealing to a wider audience. It’s beginning to turn heads on the catwalk, being given a designers touch by the likes of Prada which celebs including Beyonce and Demi Moore are falling for.
So perhaps it’s just the nature of the war on terror that has fixated on the turban as a symbol of fear. Perhaps, just like during the renaissance and in the 1970’s, if we are more aware of what the turban represents for the communities that tie it we are able to see that it’s something to be championed.
As a self-confessed tele-addict, there was only one direction for TV Journalist and Presenter Jagjeet “Jay” Singh-Sohal. And it was through journalism that he would progress onto the screen.
Jay always enjoyed writing, and started his local youth magazine at the age of 16 with funds from The Princes Trust. At University he became a regular contributor to student life by Writing for the campus magazine Route 66 on issues as diverse as campus politics and American foreign policy. For these efforts, Jay won the prestigious Daily Mirror/NUS Diversity Award in 2003.
A year spent in America broadened Jay’s horizons. At Brockport College he worked at the community radio station (the only British voice heard in up-state New York) and on college newspaper The Stylus. Eight months in Washington D.C working for a conservative think-tank on Capitol Hill allowed Jay to meet influential policymakers and opinion-shapers, all the while shaping his own world view. It led to several op-ed pieces which were picked up by outlets including FoxNews.com.
Back in England and after finishing his undergraduate degree, the journey to become a trained journalist continued with a course studying Broadcast Journalism at City University, London. Jay worked at BBC Coventry & Warwickshire and BBC Asian Network, gaining insight into how local radio works. But it was by beating thousands of applicants for the ITV News Group Traineeship that Jay’s talent for television began to shine. As a trainee he got to work in several newsrooms around the country, and contribute to local news in areas as diverse as Devon, Cornwall and the Midlands. A year at ITV Thames Valley followed, where Jay continued to build on his experiences as an all-rounder: producing bulletins and programs, newsgathering and helping shape editorial policy, while also delivering breaking live news and special reports.
While on work experience in the United States Jay first saw what misconceptions were arising because of the profile of terrorists who wear turbans. Jay tried his best to explain to those who wanted to know more what the turban meant to him as a Sikh. But the opportunity to encapsulate and explore this came to the fore after academics from the University of New South Wales found in a study in 2008 that people profile who they think is a threat to them based on what they perceive to be giveaway signs of who could be a Muslim – including the beard and turban. Having read their research, Jay sought to use his skills as a TV reporter and producer to tell the story of the turban – what it means to Sikhs whose identity is based upon its distinctness, what it means to some Muslims who tie it for cultural and spiritual reasons.
The turban does have commonalities across various cultures around the world, and by exploring this viewer’s gain an insight into an item of spirituality that unites different people in a positive way rather than divides. The project seeks to raise awareness of the turbans importance and highlight why people who wear it consider it a crown. And most importantly, why it’s not an item to fear but to be respected as encapsulating wisdom, knowledge and power.
Jay is currently working on the book version of “Turbanology” as well as researching a new BBC documentary.