Op/Ed: What Can We Take from Waris’ GAP Ad?

I am not really a movie enthusiast but I enjoyed watching “Sadda Haq” earlier this year.  The movie did a good job at portraying the life of Sikhs who went through much suffering after the 1984 Operation Bluestar.  Before the movie was released, I was a little concerned however.  The movie poster grabbed my attention as I felt a little uncomfortable seeing Kuljinder Singh Sidhu (Kartar Singh Baaz) showing affection to his wife in public.  Both actors were shown embracing each other on the movie poster.

It was not an entirely big deal however; it was a movie after all.  I decided to not care much and just focus on the positives.   The movie left me inspired by the way it portrayed the lives of Jujhaaru Singhs.  There were a couple of odd scenes—I thought Kartar Singh’s wedding attire looked a little funny and not in line with a Gurdwara scene.  But overall, I was really satisfied by the movie as it was probably the first time Gursikh actors made it to the “big screen” throughout the world.

When it comes to the portrayal of Sikhs on the big screen, Sadda Haq tried to undo a lot of damage that has been done by Bollywood movies.  Bollywood portrays Sikh characters as comical—jokes such as “12 o’clock” and others are used openly.  The impact of these movies is so great that Sikhs are shunning their identity and trying to copy the Bollywood “superstars”.   Respectful terms like “Gyani” and “Sardar” are now avoided by Sikhs due to such demoralization.


It is not often we see someone break the norms set by Bollywood.  It was done possibly for the first time in Sadda Haq.  Now, once again another person has tried to demonstrate a turbaned image to the World.  Call it negative or positive; Waris Ahluwalia’s GAP ad is not analogous to the representation of Sikhs by Bollywood.

Being a practicing Sikh, it is awkward to see a woman touch a “Singh” publicly in such a way.  However, being a Punjabi, I know our community is not totally naive to such pictures.   You don’t have to go far, just go to your neighborhood Gurdwara and pick up any random Punjabi newspaper.  You will find pictures more raunchy than the GAP ad.  I personally think this particular ad by GAP is much more decent when compared to the ones published routine by Punjabi Newspapers.

A lot of support for the ad has been expressed by those who do not adhere to the Sikh identity.  This is particularly interesting as people without Sikhi saroop are appreciating Waris for raising awareness of the Sikh Identity.  Not everyone will appreciate the approach by Waris but there is one thing we can all take from the advertisement: that is, all of us need to play our part in raising awareness of who Sikhs are.

Real awareness will come when those who stand with Waris also consider wearing a dastar in public.  Even if it’s for one day to begin with—but slowly, let’s find our roots and realize that as Sikhs we need to stand out and not blend in.  The message applies equally to women as it does to men.  We must realize that Sikhi is a beautiful path and so is the Sikh appearance.   Let’s look deep inside and appreciate our inner beauty, which does not require molding ourselves to standards set by the media.  Rather, one’s internal and external self illuminates after contemplation of the Guru’s word and wisdom.


Prabhdev Singh has Engineering and IT degrees and is overseeing many Khalis Foundation projects.  He currently supervises the media and outreach division of Khalis Foundation.  He is also involved in managing various IT and administrative functions of the foundation.  He is currently working for an IT company as a project manager and apart from this, he is involved in various local Sikh camps and other projects.


  1. The protests planned/being planned re the Ad are totally unfounded and almost Talibanic in nature! Sikhs have gone through much in the post-911 era in the US and other Western countries and any protests re this are only going to take us backwards. By planning any protests, the opponents of the Ad are playing in the hands of our enemies who rather have the Sikhs shown as terrorists than models & cohorting with those who rather see our identity disappear altogether in the upcoming years…..GAP has taken a risk through this Ad, and is extolling Diversity in general and Sikh identity in particular. We need to be grateful to GAP not hateful!!

  2. I would like to thank you for this article. I am of European descent and I work with many members of the Sikh community. When I heard that this ad from the GAP was creating racist protests my interest in it was piqued. I have not seen the ad personally yet (I don’t often shop at the GAP), but I am saddened that as a society we seem to have a great deal of progress to make in our growth and development. I had seen the ad on a friend’s Facebook page (he shared an article and this was the photo that went with it), and to be quite honest I had no idea what the fuss was about. Incidently, thanks to the author of this article for teaching me a little bit more about Sikh culture. I hope that the “controversy” that this ad brings will bring more people out of the darkness of ignorance and result in fewer senseless acts of violence and hatred.

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