Local Sikh family loves Carson City community
December 11, 2016
Meet Labh Singh Gill. He's a crossing guard for Fritsch Elementary School and is a frequent volunteer at the Carson City Senior Center.
He's easy to recognize as he wears a turban on a daily basis. However, he wants the community to know the two things he is not: Muslim or Hindu.
"I follow Sikhism," Gill said. "Due to my faith, my appearance gives me a different identity."
What sets Sikhism apart from Muslim and Hinduism is they believe in equality for all, regardless of gender, color, class, race and religion.
Sikhism is the fifth largest, monotheistic religion in the world originated in the Punjab district during the 15th century, now known as India and Pakistan. In the Carson City and Eagle Valley area, there are only five families that follow Sikh. In Reno, the population includes more than 150 families and includes a Gurdwara — a Sikh temple. Overall, there are 500,000 Sikhs in the United States.
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There's a reason why Gill's jobs are community-based. Community service and promotion also is important to Sikhism, as 10 percent of their income is dedicated to charities. All people are welcome to worship and eat food at a Gurdwara.
He is often asked if he is facing any problems since the presidential election, mainly because of his turban.
"I always respond Carson is a great town," he said. "Everybody is so nice here and I never faced any problems."
The headgear of a Sikh is different from Muslim. Sikh headgear is more pointed and distinctive, while a Muslim headgear is a round-shaped cap.
"I have a very visible job as crossing guard," Gill said. "I get concerned about this."
Not only does the turban cover long and uncut hair; it also represents their faith. During the 15th century when invaders from Afghanistan attacked India and Pakistan, the turban was a symbolism of protection for the head.
For sometime, only the higher classes and elites of society wore turbans. But for Sikhism, all people are equal and the aspect was abolished from the faith.
Before Gill came to the United States in 2010, he practiced civil engineering and worked for the Punjab state government for 37 years. In Sikhism, it's favorable to work for the government.
In Indian culture, it's important to stay close to family. Gill's son, Gursharan, who works for the State of Nevada, encouraged him to settle in Carson City.
But even then, Gill still faced misinterpretation from others. Gill was concerned about his safety, especially after the Sikh temple shooting in Oak Creek, Wisconsin in 2012. But he said many community members of Carson City sent their condolences.
"I was wrongly identified as a Muslim," he said. "It was worse after 9-11."
Gursharan, whom also is a Sikh, does not wear a turban — and that's OK, he said. The generations of Sikh style is alternating, to where mostly earlier generations of Sikh, such as his father, continue to wear the turban.
Gill claims he is one of the very few people in Northern Nevada who wears a turban. But even for Gursharan, people often mistake him as Hindu because he doesn't wear a turban.
"Carson has a friendly approach," he said. "It's mostly curiosity."
In Hinduism, several gods are worshipped, such as the well known Krishna, Ganesha and Shiva. The religion also ranks people based on class, community and other social entities, in which Sikhs do not believe in.
In Sikhism, there is only one God; one without a form and gender, and a good life is achieved by caring for others.
"We are not preaching or pressuring others to join us," said Gursharan. "We want to educate and spread awareness."
The Gill family took that approach by participating in the Nevada Day parade, supporting a Sikhism float. Gill also does educational presentations about the culture at the senior center. He even invites guests from the center over for lunch and keeps in touch with them through email, when he travels to India to visit extended family.
"Both Reno and Carson City communities are great to be involved in," said Gursharan. "It's not just for Sikhs, either."
After he traveled most of the world, Gill and his late wife moved in with his son and family. His other child, a daughter, lives in Canada.
Gill also is a proud grandfather of two grandchildren: Jasmine, 6, and Navneet, 2. His daughter-in-law, Jaspreet Kaur Gill, is a math instructor at Western Nevada College and alumni of University of Nevada, Reno. She also hosts her own math tutoring business inside the home.
Gill said he loves Carson City and to be a crossing guard for the community means so much to him. It's never about the money, he said.
"I am peaceful and hardworking," he said. "I don't believe in violence. I love the community and I obey the laws. My family and I love this country and we take part in election processes."
The next time you bump into Mr. Gill, give him a wave, say hello.