Sanjeet Singh Saluja |
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The coronavirus pandemic has forced difficult lifestyle changes across the world. But Dr Sanjeet Singh-Saluja’s story has added a grim conundrum.

Singh-Saluja, a Sikh doctor based in Canada, had to ‘choose’ between his religious faith and the Hippocratic oath. He and his brother Ranjeet, also a doctor, made the ‘extremely difficult decision’ of shaving their beards in order to wear medical-grade protective equipment needed to treat Covid-19 patients. The choice was not enforced by the country, Canada, or the hospitals the Singh-Saluja brothers were working in. It was an individual choice, but with consequences for others.

A devout Sikh, Singh-Saluja had been practising one of the tenets of Sikh tradition — ‘kesh’ — but chose to give it up on in order to fulfil his duty as a doctor. In Sikh tradition, kesh is seen as God’s creation and is never cut as an acceptance of God’s gift.

Needless to say, for a Sikh to cut his or her hair is a grave sacrifice. As I write this, my Sikh grandfather’s words are ringing in my ears, “Sar katwa lena, baal nahi (Get your head cut, but never your hair).” Not taking anything away from Singh-Saluja’s contributions and his sacrifice, but he and his brother have unknowingly set a rather harsh precedent for the entire Sikh community.


Also read: Sikh doctor in Canada takes ‘difficult decision’ of shaving beard to treat Covid patients


Sikh selflessness 

There has been no dearth of praise for the Sikh community for taking a stand in unprecedented situations. Be it feeding langar to migrant workers during the lockdown in India or standing in solidarity with Shaheen Bagh protesters. They are not afraid to look beyond politics and stand for what they believe in selflessness.

Singh-Saluja is also a shining example in the same story of Sikh selflessness, and social media immediately recognised it. People thanked him for his sacrifice and lauded him for his courage. However, this appreciation comes with a catch.

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By going public about a decision that is so private, he has unknowingly set himself as a standard to be looked up to by the Sikh community. In time, this standard will not just be appreciated from a distance but also demanded from other people of this community. An individual’s choice should not become a standard for all — neither is it fair nor feasible.


Also read: Meals for needy, shelter for hospital staff — Delhi gurdwaras step up with aid for thousands


Myth of choice 

What’s most interesting about the coverage of this particular Canada incident is the assertiveness with which it has been portrayed as a ‘choice’.

Headlines ranging from Doing Good: Sikh doctor makes ‘extremely difficult decision’ to shave ‘in this time of need’Corona warrior puts humanity first: Sikh doctor shaves off beard to perform frontline role to Duty First. This Sikh Doctor Shaved His Beard To Serve His Patients Better During The Pandemic, hardline the myth of choice.

Anyone praising Singh-Saluja for his ‘heroic’ act is catching the wrong end of the stick. In a structure catering to the comfort of the dominant White people, what ‘choice’ is a minority left with?

In more ways than one, this incident brings out the harsh reality of a White community preferring a certain form of ‘Whiteness’. In June 2019, Quebec passed a bill barring civil servants from wearing ‘religious symbols’ at work, including the kippah, turban, kirpan and hijab. Five Sikh doctors in the United Kingdom working in the NHS have now been temporarily removed from frontline duty because they refused to shave their beards.

Dr Sanjeet Singh-Saluja’s conundrum has brought back the age-old dilemma of science versus religion. However, battling a pandemic in the social media era has added new dimensions to this debate. An individual’s choice now can have never before seen consequences.

Views are personal.

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20 Comments Share Your Views

20 COMMENTS

  1. RE: NotSikh, your post is pathetic, it has no relevance with the topic, it shows ignorance, arrogance and bigotry..it is not worthy of a reply, your moniker of NotSikh, really should be NotHuman

  2. I am quite puzzled after reading the article and I believe that the issue has nothing to do with the a Sikh doctor sacrificing his tradition to save his patients.. It is my humble opinion the decision of the doctor to shave at the emergence of Coved-19 is not the cause of doctor shaving his beard. Sikhs have maintained their full form against adversity and discriminatory laws, but then many Sikhs have chosen to shave to conform to the society norms not only in the west but many have done so even in India, the birthplace of Sikh religion. Every one has to choose what they can live with. On a similar theme, I came home in tears when I saw a Canadien movie ” “Ocean of Pearls” a story of discrimination and a Sikh doctor yielding to social pressure. It was a tragic role to have yielded to the society pressures. ( The actor was present at the film showing, an Iranian who described the tough role.)

    I am a Sikh doctor who came to USA in 1968, when fully bearded and turbaned doctors in American continent were a rarity. When I applied for internship, at one place I was asked if it was necessary for me maintain my form. I told them this is how come ” take it or leave it”. I come to Hawaii and my director said no problem, we will make a full head covering mask with eye window when you are in surgery. I am still here since then and I wear a N-95 mask with my turban and no resultant problems. There has never has been a problem wearing many varieties of masks, though there are some challanges at times. During my tenure I have worked in ER and ICU without difficulty, where there are much more dangerous organisms than Covid-19. I am not an exception. Additionally, there are quite a few non Sikh doctors in the west who wear a beard.
    I remain puzzled at the decision and discussion both pro and con. Doctors’ decision was a very personal one and very likely a tough decision. In my humble opinion it has nothing to do with being a heroic Sikh who shaved to protect his patients. I hope I have not ruffled too many feathers.
    Birendra Singh Huja MD
    Honolulu Hawaii.

  3. You should see sikh women. They have full mustache and hair growing out of their nipples. Sikhism is basically a mishmash of Islamic and Hindu practices and symbols with no more than 10% originality. Then thye came up with the original hair idea to create a distinct identity. Of course, you can find two dozen justifications for it.

    • Being a sikh and a doctor myself I wouldn’t refute or justify Dr.singh’s decision but I surely would like to advise you to check for the facts before posting a ‘mishmash’ of ignorant facts . If only you knew the ‘sikh’ values which as per you is a mishmash of the two religions you wouldn’t be spewing venom with such a disgraceful comment .

  4. They had many options and made the wrong choice. They could have asked for different jobs, could have quit, asking for advice from Sikh organizations like Sikh coalition, Sikh medical professional organizations and visiting news sites like Sikhnet or could have allowed the hospital to fire them and fought for their rights. They could have opened their own practice. They did not do any of this. This seems so cowardly and yet non-Sikhs make it sound so heroic.
    I am an engineer by profession but if my employer would had given me such a choice, I rather be janitor or deliver pizza deliverer or open my own company and find other ways to serve humanity than do what these guys did. Sikh history is full of sacrifices made to maintain hair and we remember those daily in our ardas (daily prayer).

    • “They had many options and made the wrong choice. ”

      Wow, wow, wow.

      You don’t get to decide that. It’s their relationship with their faith that is important, not yours. I’m pretty sure God is gonna let this slide.

      • I don’t get to decide that. Sure I dont, but by making such a big noise about “their sacrifice.” They opened a big can of worms and everyone is going to state their opinion. My husband is a doctor too, and he has the appropriate PPE to function safely with a beard. THERE is nothing heroic about these brothers who did not look at other options…

  5. Mam if you want to built a pluraistic society , you have to put humanity, secularism, science above all thing including religion.
    In Sikhism humanity come first as prononced by Guru Nanak Dev.

    • This isnt even a choice between Humanity and Religion. Sikhism is a very practical religion with Seva being rendered to all. These brothers did not look at other available options, so nothing heroic about that.

  6. I think the author is overthinking this one. It is pure common sense to shave ones beard or excessive hair if it comes in the way of wearing their protective gear necessary for their protection as well that of others.

    It is why in certain jobs ppl are told to remove their jewelry etc… Also, if Sikhs or any other person of faith believes that their belief system is more important to them then the should excuse themselves from said job and choose a profession that does require them to cut their beard etc. If certain conservatives christians put their faith above service then t they too would be right in refusing to providing their services to the LGBTQi community etc.

    Or the Sikh community (in this instance) needs to invest in designing a PPE that can accommodate their hair and Beard as well have a set of SOPs to ensure that the beard etc fulfills the standards of sterilisation etc.

    • Jerry, you don’t understand the onus of this act as shaving beard is part of routine to you. Think of it as cutting hand or leg, that’s how significant it is for a Sikh. Stay safe!

  7. Somehow I do feel Dr. Saluja has sensationalized the news. I really don’t see how he can’t wear protective gear to battle covid 19 during treatment while other sikh doctors around the world manage just fine keeping their beards

  8. This is a human rights abuse. Everyone is at a different spiritual level and it is saddening to see these people make this decision. They may not have understood the beauty of Sikhism!

  9. Yeah. Screw him for trying to protect himself from an infection from a new virus. This article is mired in racial politics where there isn’t a need to. He did it because otherwise the n95 masks won’t protect him.
    Do some research on PPE and how even a light beard will hinder full protection for the wearer. Go to the CDC website.

  10. I am still unable to understand why religion is given so much importance, evrn in the current times when we are suffering from a world level threat, is it really necessary to follow a certain religious practice even if it stop you from being the most crucial person in the current situation, a doctor? For me, no. A doctor’s duty > any religious practice, but it will differ from man to man. Singh Saluja did a commendable job, I appreciate his actions. Hope more and more people follow such examples to put humanity before an intangible things like religion.
    – A keshdhari sikh

  11. There are many ways of serving as Doctors for Turbaned and bearded sikhs. It need not had to be at the front line. These sikh doctors did a very wrong act to using the PPE AS AN EXCUSE TO REMOVE THEIR BEARDS. THE N95 mask could have been used effectively by adding cloth on both sides corners of the N95 mask and tied to the back of their Turbaned head. Like a thathi used by sikhs over their beards early in the morning when they groom their beards. Sikh heros gave their lives and limbs protecting their hair and beard in the past even rejecting worldly riches offered to them. These 2 doctors should have kept their own feelings and wrong actions private and should also have removed their turbans and kept a low keys. By their highly wrong actions you now give excuses to other employers or govt ministries to demand the same from other turban sikhs. That is my take. Sewa can be done to humanity by other ways not necessary that in the whole world you are the only sikh doctors available. You do not possess magic to cure covid patients. Medicines cure them not your PPE type. For personal ego you embarrased the whole sikh community. That is my personal opinion. Even at construction worksites turban sikh do not wear helmets nor when riding motorcycles. All the best to you.

  12. In my quest to learn would anybody educate me the significance of hair in the Sikh religion. The author has dismissed it with “hair is seen as God’s creation’ but then so are nails. Why are they clipped? Surely, there must be some more to this custom and I would like to be enlightened.

    • Even nails are not fully clipped, only the ‘outer edges’ are clipped. The reason behind is to stay as natural as possible, to show the acceptance and appreciation of the creations of God. But this should not stop a doctor from saving lives, at all.

    • We clipped dead nails. If you try to clipped the living nail you will get the blood out, same as comb the hair and dead hairs came out. If you pulls your live hairs you will get pain. Btw all the peep out there commenting on both brothers, they need to justify by asking themselves that are they out off Anger, Lust, greediness, ego, attachment and pride…. before judging others? SUGGESTIONS CAN PLACE INTEAD OF ARGUES . I hope both brothers do their job with CONSCIENCE and get respect back. However, After this GOVT. should make special equipments for SIKHS so they can do their job as fearless. Example CANADIAN defence minister made special gas mask. The MAJOR ISSUE in this world is raising questions without reading STORY. That is how I AM ALSO LIVING. Stay strong, stay home. Be a KIND and feel the day not pass a DAY!!!!!!

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