Bhai Jagtar Singh Jee
In April 2008 I went to Italy to a Gurdwara Sahib in Sabaudia, near Rome. The local voluntary Granthi Singh of the Gurdwara was Bhai Jagtar Singh from Gurdaspur, a former student of Damdami Taksaal. One night I was speaking to Bhai Sahib and asked him about the difficulties he or others have faced in keeping their Sikhi Saroop (identity) and wearing their Kakaars whilst living and working in Italy. Bhai Sahib first shared the story of his friends who lived in North Italy and then he shared his own personal story. In this post I will share the account of his friends who lived and worked in North Italy. The story dates back to 2006.
Bhai Sahib's friends were two brothers from Gurdaspur. One brother was in his late twenties and the the younger brother was perhaps in his late teens or twenty years old. They got a job in a farm in northern Italy in a place called Bologna. Both brothers were Amritdharis and knew Bhai Jagtar Singh jee from India and they had studied together.
Due to the lack of awareness and education about Sikhs, many of the illiterate or poorer Italians who run the farms do not know who Sikhs are. They usually mistake Sikhs for Muslims and therefore harbour ill-feeling towards the Kesh (unshorn hair) and Dastaar (turban). The Singhs worked for a few days on the farm. One Friday, whilst the Singhs were at work, the owner of the farm called them over. The Italian man said in English to them, "Look! I do not like the look of you two. Take off this beard and material you have on your head." The Singhs replied with the little English they knew, "The beard and turban are our religion. We cannot remove them." The Italian man said, "I do not wish people wearing a turban and beard working for me. You have a choice. If you wish to come back to work on Monday then you must come back as clean-shaved and cut your long hair. If you do not do this then do not bother to come back to work. This is final."
The Singhs went home very upset. Their parents had sacrificed large sums of money to give to agents so that they could come abroad and build better lives for themselves. Their family was living on the hope that their two sons would earn money in Italy and sent it back and help rid their debt and support them. What could they do now? The elder Singh went to the bathroom looking in the mirror asked for forgiveness from Sri Gobind Singh jee and whilst feeling emotional he removed his dastaar layer by layer. He then reluctantly picked up a pair of scissors and cut his Kesh which he had never cut in his life before. Once he had cut the hair on the top of his head he then waved the scissors over his long flowing beard. Feeling sad but hopeless he removed his Kirpaan he was wearing placed it in a cupboard with his dastaar. He came downstairs. His younger brother looked at him and in horror said, "What have you done?" His brother said, "We have no choice. If we want work we must sacrifice our Sikhi. I know it is wrong, but may Sri Guru Gobind Singh Jee forgive us for we have no choice. I don't wish to do this but how will we stay alive and how will we survive?"
The now clean-shaven man told his Amritdhari brother, "Are you not going to cut your hair. If you want work then we have to do it. It is not our choice but out of desperation and survival. You cannot rely on others for food because they will get fedup feeding you for free after a while and then what would you do?" The younger brother refused to remove his dastaar and have his hair cut. "I cannot turn my back on Kalgi-dhar Paatshaah! I will not go to work if that is the price to pay! You go. I cannot commit this sin. My Waheguru will provide me with food and shelter. I will not beg food from anyone - Waheguru will protect and provide for me!"
The now clean-shaven man went to work. The Italian boss said, "Wow. You have cut your flowing beard and removed your turban." Feeling sad he replied, "Yes, because you would not employ us otherwise." "Where is your brother? Why is he not at work?" "He refused to remove his turban or touch any of his hair." The Italian boss was very annoyed at hearing this and couldn't understand why his worker could not obey a simple order. In frustration he told the now clean-shaven man "Come with me. Sit in my car and take me to where you live. I want to talk to your brother." So they got in the car and drove to the house where they were staying.
The Italian man knocked on the door and the young Amritdhari Singh answered the door. Angrily the man said, "Why are you not at work?" "Sir, you did not want my turban or beard. You said not to come to work if you were unwilling to shave and remove your turban." The Italian man got really annoyed and said, "What's the big issue with this hair and piece of cloth? I don't understand! Are you seriously telling me you are willing to lose your job over that?" Humbly the Singh replied, "My religion is more precious to me than anything in this world. I have made a promise to God that I will never cut my hair and never remove my turban!I cannot turn my back to my God and religion, if losing my job is the price to pay then so be it! I am willing to go hungry or even die, but I cannot break my promise to my God and turn my back to my religion." Hearing this, the Italian man was left shocked. Feeling moved by the Singh's words he said, "You have impressed me young man. I believe in God also, but I have never met someone like you who has so much faith in God that they willing to lose their job, go hungry or even die! You have shown so much dedication, commitment and faith in your religion and your God."
The mesmerised Italian man pulled out a bunch of keys from his pocket and placed them in the hands of the Amritdhari Singh and said, "You have not turned your back on your God and religion.You are loyal and faithful person! If you are so loyal and faithful to your religion and God then you will definitely be loyal and faithful to me as well. I have full respect and faith in you. Please forgive me for my mistake I have made. From now on you are in charge of these keys to my factory. If you accept, you will no longer work in the fields, you will become the manager of the factory and look after everything for me." Waheguru, Waheguru!
After hearing this story we had to go sleep but I kept wondering what happened to the elder brother. So in the morning I asked Bhai Jagtar Singh jee what happened to the elder brother. Bhai Sahib smiled and said that the brother who became a Patit (apostate) felt like an idiot. He was so ashamed of himself. For the sake of a job, food and clothes he turned his back on Satguru and blackened his own face. But with Satguru's Grace he didn't cut his hair again and kept his Sikhi Saroop again. I was told that in August, when Singhs from UK went over to do Amrit Sanchaar sevaa, he went pesh (presented himself) before the Panj Pyaare at Reggio Emilia Gurdwara. The Panj Pyaare gave him a 'thankhaah' (punishment) and the Singh retook Amrit.
Dhan Hai Guru, Dhan Hai Teree Sikhee.