The Value of Relative Accuracy – Simran Kaur Sandhu

Being a part of the Sikh diaspora is something I find difficult to put into words at times because most of my life has been dominated by my desi appearance. I didn’t mind it as a child since I was one of the few desi students at my small K-8 school. But even then, I understood that “being Indian” was not a monolith and among the desi minority, I was religiously minoritized.

I started to care about how my identity was perceived in sophomore year of high school, especially during our few lessons on Indian History in AP World History. My AP World teacher was pivotal in my growth as a student and as a person. He was the first and only teacher I have had who knew about Sikhism (without me having to explain it). It was my favorite class, but it almost lost that status because of our textbook.

During our unit on India, we were assigned to read about Indian religions. Unlike my knowledgeable teacher, our textbook fell short of the nuance for India that it had been able to provide for other parts of the world. The textbook had explicitly written that Sikhism was a “syncretic religion,” essentially a mixture of Hinduism and Islam. This was a disappointment; the idea is not entirely wrong, but is not the first or most important thing about Sikhism. I was determined that day to call him out, since most of his lectures had been based on the content from our chapters. However, by the time we met at the end of the day, he had already been corrected by my cousin, who was in my teacher’s 3rd hour AP World. I was relieved because as ready as I had prepared myself to politely but effectively correct my teacher, I was worried about how many people’s eyes would roll. I don’t know how many people actually cared about the clarification my teacher had made regarding the textbook and its shallow summarization of Sikhism, but for me it meant a lot because it showed that my teacher actually cared enough to do his due diligence to make me feel seen.

Here’s another consideration of accuracy: As a Sikh (ਸਿਖ student, learner), I believe the best way to practice my faith is to stay true to the fundamental values of Ek Onkar (ੴ there is Oneness), and the ‘Three Pillars,’ which are Naam Japna (ਨਾਮ ਜਪਣਾ meditate on the name of Waheguru), Kirat Karni (ਿਕਰਤ ਕਰਨੀ work honestly) and Vand Ke Chakna (ਵੰਡ ਕੇ ਛਕਨਾ share with others). While there aren’t any denominations in Sikhism, practices of Sikhi lay on a spectrum, influenced by one’s culture and how one defines “accuracy” for their lifestyle. Yet, all Sikhs will agree that Ek Onkar and ‘Three Pillars’ are fundamental values of Sikhi. Accuracy matters when learning to understand the essence of one’s beliefs but ultimately, it should serve as a tool to promote unity over division.

What is the role of accuracy in how you practice faith and structure your lifestyle? When do the details matter?

3 thoughts on “The Value of Relative Accuracy – Simran Kaur Sandhu”

  1. Hi Simran – great blog post! I really resonated with your feelings of having to explain to people what Sikhi was, and the feelings of discomfort associated with that. I never had a problem telling people about Sikhi (I was actually always really happy when someone asked about Sikhi) but also found it problematic when Sikhi was misrepresented in texts. In my high school’s World History and Modern Affairs class, Sikhi was defined as a hybrid of Islam and Hinduism; the textbook also indirectly blamed Sikhs for 1984 attacks on the Golden Temple. I went home and told my parents what I had seen in the textbook, and they were pretty upset and ended up calling the teacher to discuss accurate portrayal of religion. Inaccurate portrayal of minority religions is very common – but we see it with some major religions as well. Ultimately, when talking about religion, accuracy and correct representation shows respect and prevents misunderstandings over religion. Religion can be used as a language to break through barriers because religions have more in common than differences but in order to get to that point, respect and accurate portrayal of the religion must be present.

  2. Hi Simran – I really enjoyed reading your blog post. My junior year of high school, I took a Modern Affairs class as well, in which we discussed religions. We spent a decent amount of time learning about Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, but Hinduism was largely ignored and Sikhism was not even mentioned. During this unit, I pondered what the role is of minority students to advocate for the groups of which they identify, while simultaneously also making clear that it is not necessarily their responsibility to champion or undertake this, at times, draining work. How can we better ensure that under-represented religions are described and portrayed more accurately? How can we create a culture in which minority students feel comfortable correcting curriculums (about them) that are simply not correct?

  3. Hi Simran! I loved reading your post! Its wild that we wrote our posts about somewhat similar experiences. I wasn’t the most confident kid in high school so I can relate to the apprehension you felt to speak up. To answer your question, I feel like it is extremely important to be accurate when teaching about another person’s religion. Not only because a teacher has the responsibility to teach accurate information, but also so that students who identify with the faith feel included and comfortable. When you wrote that you don’t know how many people actually cared about the clarification, I can tell you that anyone who has experienced a teacher or textbook fall short in their explanation likely appreciated the clarification!

    Thank you again!

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