Kaur Project captures the diverse identities of Sikh women

The tradition of Sikh women adopting the name “Kaur”, either as their middle name or last name, dates back to the 17th century. It was started as a way to counter the caste system. Kaur, along with the name “Singh”, adopted mainly by Sikh men, acts as a reminder for Sikh people that all the people on earth are equal.

The Kaur Project was conceptualized by Saji Kaur Sahota, a photographer, and Jessie Kaur Lehail, a writer. The Kaur Project showcases the bravery and resilience of Sikh women with the traditional surname/middle name Kaur , over the years. Their website, KaurProject.com, already has over 50 Sikh Kaur women featured, all with their own unique stories. Sahota and Lehail hope the project will help the Sikh women to learn more about themselves, and about Sikhism itself.

The photoshoot for the project is done by Sahota, while Lehail conducts a 20-minute phone interview with the selected (and willing) candidates. According to Lehail, the advantage of a phone interview is the women open up more, compared to a personal interview. The topics of the interview range from marriage to divorce, to abuse to immigration. Lehail usually asks two questions, how they identify themselves as a Kaur and how their life journey so far has been.

One of the stories that inspired Lehail greatly was that of a Kaur woman losing her mother to cancer. It took her two years to talk about the death of her mother. Last year, she conducted a beautiful cancer memorial, and to honor her mother, she shaved her head. Once she shaved her head, she discovered how much she looked like her mother.

Lehail admits that Sikh identity is not equivalent, so they did not limit the project based on specific traditions practiced. For instance, some Sikh women wear turbans and/or some do not cut their hair. The Kaur project is not limited to them, they interview Sikh women who do not wear turbans and/or who cuts their hair. As a result, the Kaur project is beautifully able to capture the diversity seen among Sikh women.

The Kaur project is growing. According to Lehail, she was able to learn a lot about herself by interacting with a lot of Kaur women. Her mother's words that she would be able to learn a lot by interacting with people encourages to work steadfastly on her project.


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