For the last few weeks we have judged Harleen Notay on the decisions she made during her sting on Britian’s Next Top Model because of her claim to be a Sikh. We have called her a disgrace for Sikhs, attacked her right to call herself a Sikh and much more. In our attempts to disown her and raise a finger at her actions; we forgot about ourselves. Majority of the Sikh Youth has made mistakes that would be considered against Sikhism and should be rebuked in the same fashion. But it seems we, Sikhs, only like to create an issue about the stuff we can’t sweep under the rug. These past weeks, I have seen people question why we have an article about Harleen on a Sikh website, I have seen people try to ignore her and others put her down. Why such a negative reaction? Easy, Ms. Notay brought to the lime light an issue that we would have rather kept under wraps. Yes, she was wrong for the anti-Sikh stuff she did on national tv and then claimed to be a Sikh. And she is bearing the brunt of her actions but she shouldn’t have to bear it alone. The media, her family and all of Sikh community should bear the brunt of her actions.
Turn on the TV on any given day to a Punjabi channel showing music videos and you’ll see people going against Sikhi. One minute these singers sporting huge good necklaces with Khanda are singing about alcohol, girls and everything else that is against Sikhi’ the next minute the same guy is singing about Sikhi and everything that is pro Sikhism. What kind of message does it send to the youth? That it is okay to be a Sikh and do whatever it takes to make a quick buck. In movies very little regard is given to Sikhi unless it is a religious documentary type, then it’s too boring and no one watches it. In newspapers people love to give advertisements with pictures of the Guru’s, regardless of the fact if they wear the bana like the Guru Ji gave them or atleast follow even the most basic rehat. Sikhi is used and abused left and right to make a quick buck. That sends the wrong message to our youth. They take the stuff they see and think everyone else is doing it, why not me? Getting these kind of messages, what else did you expect from Harleen? When the media betrays us, our parents are supposed to step in and tell us right from wrong.
Parents never stepped in for Harleen; they supported her in everything, regardless of where it stood with Sikhism. The first generation of Sikhs in any country had to create a new life in a new country without outside support. That meant long hours away from the family to earn money and no Gurudwara Sahib’s to reinforce Sikh values. When the parents did get time to spend with the kids, it wasn’t spent teaching about Sikhism. Kids, like Harleen, never learned what Sikhism truly is. The only thing they were taught was to wear a Kara and say with pride that they are Sikhs. How to do you expect someone to be a good Sikh, when they don’t even know what it means to be a Sikh? Harleen did what anyone in her place might have done, she lived her dream and put Sikhi on the back burner. How could she give something she knows barely anything about, more importance then her dream? A dream her parents supported her in? She couldn’t, her dream came first because that’s what she was taught growing up. She does know some things about Sikhi, she shows regret over some of her moves but her education was not strong enough to overcome the challenges of her dream. Her weak faith is direct reflection on a weak community.
The community not only let Harleen down but it let down thousands of other young Sikhs. We weren’t able to teach her what Sikhi really is before she made her mistakes. And now after she made her mistakes, we aren’t trying to reach her, so she can fix her ways. All we are doing is condemning her for her actions. How many people stood up and said, “Harleen, you’re not living a life style of Sikh, let’s work together to help you find something you like that is acceptable in Sikhi.” There is huge dearth of Sikh role models and given the right opportunities Harleen could have begun to fill those. We didn’t do that and we still aren’t doing that. We are so busy playing the blame game, we aren’t working with Harleen to pick a better path, teach her about Sikhi. Our community has not only let Harleen down but millions of other youngsters that are walking on the wrong path. Many of us, especially in the smaller sikh communities, get overlooked. We have no programs for us to learn about Sikhi, to be involved in Seva nor do we even have access to the Gurudwara Sahib other than Sundays. How come the community never steps in before it is time to wash their hands off us?
The community, parents and the media are just as much to blame as Harleen for her actions. Harleen should be able to overcome her mistakes and work towards being a good Gursikh, as should any person that makes a mistake. And we as a community should support Harleen without holding her past over her head, if she wants to fix her mistakes. Let us not condemn her anymore and focus on ourselves.
Let us boycott all items and people that use Sikhi to make money and set higher standards for the media. Let’s spend less time earning money and more time teaching our kids Sikhi. And let us as a community reach out to our youth and help them be better Sikhs.