by We Are Sikhs — October 22, 2021
"I wanted to inspire my children to be vocal about topics and be confident in who they are and not be afraid." - Sunny Singh Osahn
Sunny Singh Osahn has become one of the most popular Sikh faces (and voices) on TikTok. Sunny uses his platform of over 300,000 followers to make videos ranging from beautiful tributes to his family and funny impressions, to powerful insights and explanations of his Sikh faith. His content has brought Sikhi to millions of people and we were so excited to talk with him.
We met you through TikTok where you make great informational content. What inspired you to start making these videos?
I had two inspirations. The first was just the lack of representation. There are no brown faces on TV, social media, etc. I remember seeing a few people with long hair when I was growing up. They made me feel a little represented, but that was the Undertaker in wrestling and a few other people who I could kind of identify with. I knew about Bollywood movies and bhangra but never really got into them, so there wasn’t really much of anything for me to see with people who look like me.
This leads to my second inspiration, my children.
They are currently five and eight years old, so still pretty young. When my eldest started primary school, at the age of five, he got teased about his hair. Kids called him a girl and stuff like that. There just isn’t any education about Sikhi. We are relatively unknown to most people and nobody really understands why we wear a turban, keep long hair, and do certain things.
I wanted to inspire my children to be vocal about topics and be confident in who they are and not be afraid. So, I decided to lead by example, show my hair, show how I tie the turban and give some explanations as well. I figured some people would enjoy watching but it turned out that lots of people were fascinated.
You incorporate your family into a lot of the content you make. What is the best part of working on these videos with your family?
The best part of working with my family in producing any kind of content is firstly the process and exposing them to that process. We started making YouTube videos with my eldest when he was just two years old. We would talk about things and it was really cool to show him the process and have him be involved. And I love watching my kids make the connection and understand that we are doing all these steps to make an end result.
It also is beautiful to go through all of the pictures and videos that we have taken over the years. It really makes it apparent that time moves so quickly. Being able to capture some of these moments and document them in a way that is entertaining is a wonderful thing. We know they can watch it later on and maybe show their kids one day.
In addition to TikTok, you and your family ran the Kirtan Project? Could you tell us a bit about that project?
A huge inspiration behind The Kirtan Project is my mother-in-law. Sadly, she passed away from breast cancer in 2008, however, I was fortunate to get to know her and see firsthand her energy and passion for Sikhi, our culture and also teaching the younger generations. She taught Punjabi at a local Gurdwara and set up after-school classes at a local high school. My wife (then fiance) also helped out.
Fast forward to 2019 and my eldest son, then 6, started Punjabi school at our local Gurdwara. We found that in addition to the teaching style being the same since we were children, we were shocked by the poor conditions of the classrooms and the huge lack of resources. It was obvious that no one was taking this seriously.
So we took it on ourselves to teach. Charanjit is a brilliant teacher and she has such a beautiful way with children. It is amazing watching her teach kids.
We were able to teach for over a year before COVID hit and everything went into lockdown. We knew we had to figure out a way to continue teaching Punjabi, so we decided to take the lessons online and called it the Kirtan Project.
The name was inspired by my wife who is classically trained in Kirtan. When she was younger she did competitions across the country and around the world. We knew we wanted to incorporate Kirtan into the main focus of the program and create an easier way to teach children (and adults) Punjabi.
So, we gathered the limited resources we had, a seven-year-old iPad, an Apple TV, and our iPhone, and started to just stream it and used the iPad as a tool to link to the TV and teach. It was as simple as that. We just had the will to do it and started doing that.
The Kirtan Project ran for a few months and we received phenomenal feedback. People absolutely loved it. Unfortunately, due to lack of funding, we had to put the project on hold.
We just launched a fundraiser to continue the Kirtan Project. This is something we are quite passionate about and we would love to continue providing. It gives us the opportunity to teach our children and thousands of other children as well. That is a beautiful thing to give in this day and age.
Clearly, Sikhi plays a significant role in your work. Could you share some specific ways your faith has influenced your work and life?
Our core belief that we are all one has been huge for me. Sikhi teaches that we are all essentially the same and we should treat everybody equally without any prejudices.
This belief can give us a certain power. We can be confident and comfortable in who we are and project that towards anyone we interact with.
It is such a beautiful thing that is often overlooked and needs to be shared a lot more. Humans need to get along. The more I talk about this and share what we believe the more people resonate with it.
What was your experience growing up in the U.K. as a Sikh?
For me, growing up, there was a lot of bullying because we are physically different. I faced a lot of isolation and I didn’t have any big role models to look up to. There was no one in the media.
There are quite a lot of Sikh people who move to the U.K., so we have a slight advantage there. People are familiar with who Sikhs are here. But there is still a lot of racism. I know in America there is tons of racism, but in the U.K. it can feel more blatant. It is very upfront.
Personally, I am an introvert so I do not go out looking to socialize which means I don’t see too much of the racism directed towards me. But I know there is a lot of it about and it seems to be from this lingering ignorance of who Sikhs are. Which goes back to why I started on TikTok. There is this huge mass of people who need to hear all this information and knowledge. And honestly, quite often, they are entertained and thirsty for it.
What advice do you have for young Sikhs who are hoping to become content creators and/or raise awareness?
Firstly, I was never all too into Sikhi growing up. I’ve never cut my hair, I had a juda, and wore a turban, but I never really delved into what Sikhi is. That changed when I met my wife. The way she was raised was slightly different from me and the amount of knowledge she has is simply amazing. I have been learning so much about the spirituality of Sikhi from her. It has become something I am very passionate about.
Through this process, I have learned so much, and one of the biggest lessons is that you don’t have to be an expert on a topic to talk about it. If you are a young Sikh waiting to make content, just do it. Pluck up the courage. You’re never going to get to your best video unless you post your first. It could take hundreds of videos before you go viral, but nothing happens without the first.
My advice is once you pluck up that courage, talk about something that is personal to you. For me, that was showing my hair and demystifying why we wear a turban. I think that topic holds a lot of male Sikhs back because it is not a societal norm for men to have long hair. I had to realize that there is no better way to teach people than to actually show my hair, so I am doing just that.
And, I would tell any young people who want to get into creating content that when you feel a little bit of hesitation, that is a sign telling you to just hit the button and post it. I have that hesitation go through my mind all the time. Most of the time when I have been really hesitant about posting something are the videos that get the most views. It’s incredible.