“Hair is sacred in Sikhism, because it symbolises naturality and how God made us. We don’t cut our hair and we wrap it inside the turban to keep it clean from dust,” Kaur said. “I was baptised at 12 and after the ceremony, I was fully integrated into Sikhism. To me, the turban represents my religion and culture, and it’s also easy for Sikh people to recognise and give solidarity to one another.”
Sukhdeep Kaur,20, made history by becoming Hong Kong’s first female Sikh prison officer wearing a turban, in a Correctional Services Department (CSD) which has more than 6,500 officers but only 46 who are not Chinese. To Kaur, an Indian Hongkonger and one of the city’s approximately 12,000 Sikhs, the religious garment has always been at the heart of her identity.
The department has also provided Kaur four blue turbans as part of her uniform and gave her and other Sikh officers special dispensation to wear a Kara. Special meals will also be available to the strict vegans.
Kaur’s turban has occasionally attracted trouble and discrimination for her in Hong Kong. “Some people would hesitate to sit with me on public transport because of my look,” she said. “And some local kids did not allow me to play with them, but I wasn’t sure why because I didn’t understand the local language.
“That is why I feel so proud smashing the glass ceiling and becoming the first woman officer with a turban,” she said, adding that she hoped she could be a role model for other Sikhs in the city.
Born in Punjab, a northern province of India, Kaur moved as a seven-year-old to Hong Kong, where her grandparents and parents came in search of jobs and opportunities. But despite studying in the city for primary and secondary school – and speaking a number of languages, including her Punjabi mother tongue – she found it hard to master Cantonese and written Chinese.
“It was a real struggle for me in school, because we were in a separate class from the Chinese kids and didn’t have many local friends to speak Cantonese with. The school also had the same curriculum for all students from an ethnic minority background, regardless of their ability,” she said.
Jeffrey Andrews, who became Hong Kong’s first ethnic minority social worker five years ago, praised Kaur’s “fantastic achievement”, but believed the government needed to do more to truly break the mould and achieve racial equality.
“We should empower more youths by having them in industries beyond those that historically have some ethnic minority workers, like certain disciplined forces and construction sector,” the Indian Hongkonger said.
“There should be more people from diverse backgrounds in hospitals, social work, for example.
“It’s not about lowering the requirement of Chinese proficiency, it’s about the government training more teachers for Chinese learning as a second language and levelling up the Chinese proficiency across our communities.”