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Eleanor Nesbitt

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date: 16 May 2022

For many healthcare professionals the word ‘Sikh’ conjures up the image of a turbaned Indian man. Awareness of the particular requirements of a Sikh patient may centre on the possible refusal on religious grounds by the patient, or his/her relatives, to allow the removal of hair from the patient’s body. However, individual Sikhs’ sensitivities and practice on these and other matters vary widely: hence, this chapter’s explanatory framework for this wide range of attitudes and behaviour. Cases will illustrate some of the many ways in which religion, culture and health interact, and the issues of which responsible health providers need to be aware. This chapter also acknowledges that there are Sikh service providers, working as nurses and in general practice, and as practitioners in all medical specialisms. Contemporary Sikh experience is better understood by reference to three overlapping ‘domains’ which exert sometimes contrary, and sometimes mutually reinforcing, pulls. The three domains are sikhi [living as a Sikh in accordance with the teachings of the Gurus and the requirements of the Khalsa (see below) code of discipline, the Sikh Rahit Maryada], panjabiat (characteristically Punjabi culture) and modernity, meaning the norms (opportunities and pressures) of twenty-first century ‘westernized’ society). An outline of each domain in relation to spirituality and health precedes discussion of the body in Sikh experience, Sikh understandings of mental and physical illness, and finally, dying, death, and bereavement. Before examining these three ‘domains’, we turn to a definition of ‘Sikh’, a summary outline of ‘Sikhism’, and some comment on Sikh identity and its outward indicators.

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