By Miranda Jackson
For The Diamondback
Samay Kindra was riding the metro on the day then-presidential candidate Donald Trump announced his plan to ban Muslim immigrants from the United States. The high school senior wore his turban, like usual.
"I had a group of men come up to me and say, 'You heard what Trump said: you've got to go. … Another one shouted, 'Oh, he probably has a bomb under his turban,'" said Kindra, now a freshman at this university. "I was actually heading back from my internship with Sen. [Ben] Cardin."
In the months surrounding Trump's ascent to the White House, there have been a slew of high-profile hate crimes against members of the Indian American community. Given the political climate, members of the University of Maryland's Sikh Students Association said they could not imagine a more relevant time to spread understanding about one of their religion's most visible symbols.
As part of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the Sikh Students Association attempted to demystify the turban and explain its cultural significance during their "Turbans for Terps" event Monday.
"It's important that everyone takes the time out to learn about the other faiths around them," said Jagjot Kaur, a sophomore biology major and vice president of community outreach for the Sikh Students Association. "To learn about what cultures exist. To honestly just learn about the struggles that people go through."
Members of the organization gathered for hours on Hornbake Plaza over plates of samosas and offered to tie the turban around anyone who wished to experience it.
"The turban, for me, is a symbol for justice, equality and the fight for freedom," said Kindra, an economics and international business major, who brought his turban wraps to the event for the club to use. "Every time that I tie it … I'm reminded that I'm always looked upon to do the right thing."
The event sought to educate individuals who may not understand what Sikhism is, or how it differs from other religions.
Kindra said Sikhs are often misidentified "as Hindu or Muslim or not even Indian." Some people tend to think Sikhism is a branch of Islam, though they are separate religions.
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion founded in the 15th century in the Punjab region of India, where the majority of Sikhs live today. It is the fifth largest religion in the world, with more than 20 million individuals practicing it. Both men and women can wear the turban in Sikhism.
"The religion was established in a time period where the caste system was really prevalent," said Sun Meet, a sophomore public health science major. "Only the highest class wore turbans. So the gurus, the leaders of our religion, wanted everyone to wear turbans, to make everyone feel like a king … and eradicate the caste system."
While this is the second year this event took place on the campus, recent tragedies gave the day extra significance, members said.
In September, Maan Singh Khalsa, a Sikh, was attacked in Richmond, California, by three men who removed his turban and cut off his hair. In February, two Indian immigrants were shot, one fatally, in Kansas by a man yelling ethnic slurs. The next month, a 39-year-old Sikh man in Washington state was shot in his driveway after being told to "go back to his country."
Kindra said the Sikh Students Association wants the campus community to recognize what the religion stands for: the fight for equality and justice for all.
"If you see a Sikh person with a turban on in a crowd, if you're ever in trouble or in danger or anything, that should be someone you can go to for help, for anything," Kindra said.