In Sikhism, Kesh (sometimes Kes) is the practice of allowing one's hair to grow naturally as a symbol of respect for the perfection of God's creation. The practice is one of the Five Ks, the outward symbols ordered by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699 as a means to profess the Sikh faith. The hair is combed twice daily with a Kanga, another of the Five Ks, and tied into a simple knot known as a Joora or Rishi knot. This knot of hair is usually held in place with the Kanga and covered by a turban.
So important is Kesh that during the persecution of Sikhs under the Mughal Empire, followers were willing to face death rather than shave or cut their hair to disguise themselves or appease the Khan.
In modern times the trend of short hair has encroached upon this tradition; in some parts of Punjab, it is estimated that 80% of Sikh youths have cut their hair. Reasons include simple convenience — avoiding the daily combing and tying — as well as social pressures from the mainstream culture to look like everyone else.
After the attacks of September 11, 2001, Sikhs in the West have been mistaken for Muslims and subjected to hate crimes. Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh living in Mesa, Arizona, was shot to death on September 16, 2001 when he was mistaken for a Muslim.
In 2007, an 18-year-old Pakistani teenager, Umair Ahmed, forcibly cut the hair of a 15-year-old Sikh boy Harpal Vacher in a US school. In 2008, he was convicted by the jury of "second-degree menacing as a hate crime, second-degree coercion as a hate crime, fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon, and third-degree harassment."
In 2010, Basant Singh, a Sikh youth in Penang, Malaysia woke up discovering his hair was cut by 50 cm when he was asleep in his dormitory while serving the Malaysian National Service Training Programme. The incident traumatised the youth and is under probe ordered by the Defense Ministry.
In September 2012 a member of reddit uploaded a picture of Balpreet Kaur, a young Sikh woman, mocking her facial hair. She responded in a gracious way and the original poster apologized. It then went viral.
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- Young Sikh Men Get Haircuts, Annoying Their Elders. New York Times. March 29, 2007.
- 'Pagri not very attractive, out of tune with times'
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- Swash, Rosie (September 26, 2012). "The Sikh woman who stood up to online abuse about her facial hair". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 27 September 2012.
- Hail Hair by Dr Birendra Kaur in All About Sikhs
- PDF on the 5 Ks from Sikhnet
- How to tie Zoora (Joora) for young sikh boys