The resulting short documentary, “Dastaar: Defending Sikh Identity,”
eventually made its way to my co-worker’s son’s classroom, and it was
also broadcast on PBS in New York City. The Sikh Coalition adopted it as
their video of choice to show at schools and government agencies across
Rajinder Singh Khalsa, the beating victim, suggested I
make a feature documentary on Sikhism, with him as the on-camera guide.
His insights into Sikhism were always colorful, even when they were
somewhat questionable. (“You know why there are no Buddhists left in
India?” he asked. “Because they were too peaceful and got chased away.
You can’t just be peaceful all the time, you have to stand up for
On and off we worked on this documentary for the next three
years. We didn’t quite finish it, but the journey became its own
destination. We went to India together, staying in gurdwaras for three
weeks and observing Sikhism in its homeland. We visited the Sikh holy
city of Amritsar and its most sacred site, the Golden Temple, a building
that is so beautifully conceived that the sunrise seems to ignite it
with the light of heaven.
And yet throughout the journey I found myself
searching for signs of corruption and hypocrisy in the organized aspect
of the faith, or anything to cast a more critical view. Old habits die