It’s official. Turbans are cool. Turbans are in.
No, we’re not talking about “Turbanator” Harbhajan Singh and his much awaited return to the Indian cricket side.
We’re not even considering Navjot Singh Sidhu and his witticisms in the commentary box.
We’re ruminating on basketball and a call for action issued by US lawmakers to permit Sikhs to wear their article of faith on court.
The clothed headgear was banned under the rule that players cannot wear equipment or objects that could injure team-mates or opponents.
At the 2014 Asia Cup, Indian cagers, Amritpal Singh and Amjyot Singh, were forced to take off their turbans under the archaic law. The national side were facing Japan.
The Sikh code of conduct states:
“A Sikh is expected to keep all hair intact and the head covered. The rule of dress for every Sikh man is to wear a turban. The Sikh woman may wear a turban or elect instead to wear a kind of traditional headscarf. A woman may also wear a scarf over a turban if she so desires. A Sikh accustomed to wearing a turban feels naked without it.”
Narrow headbands are permitted by FIBA but that would hardly address the Sikh issue. Sikhs are never to cut their hair since birth. Headbands would barely begin to cover their tresses.
This is the second time US lawmakers have come down harshly on the basketball federation’s directive.
In August 2014, senators Joseph Crowley of New York and Rep. Ami Bera of California along with 22 members of Congress sought a repeal of the discriminatory policy.
This time, it’s a sum total of 39.
The turbaned community from India have not been the only victims.
Qatari women players have been prevented from wearing hijabs while representing their country.
The Maldives women’s team forfeited their games in an under-18 tourney rather than appear without traditional head coverings.
FIBA initially agreed to test out a re-framed policy for a trial period of two years.
This fresh petition seeks the status of the trial.
The Congressmen said:
“We have seen time and again that sports have the power to unite – basketball included. The sport has gained in international stature in recent decades and is increasingly popular in countries where the use of a turban is commonplace.
We urge you to amend your policies to ensure that people all around the world have an equal opportunity to play the game.”
“Sikhs participate in a wide variety of sports around the globe, and there has not been a single instance of someone being harmed or injured by a turban. Even at the amateur and professional levels, Sikhs have played sports without a problem.
For example, Sikh American Dipanjot Singh played Division I basketball at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Singh then went on to play semi-professional basketball in several leagues.”
The onerous practice raised fears that the game will die out in Punjab, the state from which most Indian Sikhs hail.
Amjyot Singh said:
“If my son wants to play basketball in the future, I will never let him get into the game.”
“People know us because of basketball. It gives us jobs and brings food to the table. The game is everything for us. But the sport will lose many talented players from Punjab if they don’t rethink this rule. The first time we were told, I felt very sad. It was like a part of body was gone… My father also played basketball and he told me to quickly finish my playing years.”
Another Punjabi hoopster, Jaspreet Singh, said:
“No one has ever been hurt because a Sikh player wore a patka, but they think we’ll hide weapons. If seniors were compelled to cut their hair to play, then it’s bad for us juniors because even we’ll have to make a decision. I’ll not cut my hair if it comes down to choosing.”
It is alarming that while sports knows no boundaries, FIBA insists on an exclusionary policy.
Basketball is a cool sport.
It’s fun, it’s dynamic and even more fast-paced than soccer or hockey.
The playing rules are simple to understand.
All you need is a ball and a hoop.
Does basketball need to cling to such a hide-bound stipulation?
There is always the possibility that officials may dismiss such petitions as not really being a Western or progressive nation’s problem. Is that truly the case? Muslims, across the world—post 9/11, have taken to sporting beards to accentuate their religious beliefs.
Can the sport and its officials ignore a pushback from Western and Westernised Muslim women reverting back to the hijaab attire? Not because they’re not educated or non-progressive but simply to display their faith with pride. Does the issue then not become one of their own?
We can wish that the world become more progressive, more ‘modern‘, more cosmopolitan. But wishes are not horses and we need to be there for the ride.
At a time, when the NBA is hell-bent on discovering new markets spelled India and China, can its parent association afford to be out of step with the times?
Turbanators are probably a non-issue. Indian Sikhs represent the country proudly in different sports—headgear intact. They can always be cited as precedent enough.
But the hijaab on court?
That’s a finer issue where hairs will always be split and thus, perhaps, the subject of further debate.
Maybe it simply boils down to is whether it’s optional or mandatory. It ought to be a personal choice. It is a personal choice. That’s empowerment, that’s choice, that’s real.