In Conversation With Louis Vuitton’s First Afghan Sikh Model: Karanjee Singh Gaba Representing Refugee Sikhs

Karanjee Singh Gaba
Karanjee Singh Gaba

In 2022, Karanjee Singh Gaba became the first Afghan Sikh turbaned model in history to star in a campaign on behalf of luxury fashion house, Louis Vuitton. The campaign showcases the late great Virgil Abloah’s Spring/Summer 2022 men’s collection and serves homage to the culture of rave. 

With rave culture historically capturing a sense of rebellion, I couldn’t help regard Karanjee’s presence in the campaign as particularly fitting, considering how few turbaned models are seen within the modelling industry. 

Consider how South Asian models often act as trailblazers by way of occupying positions of firsts; Waris Ahluwalia, the first Punjabi Sikh turbaned model to star in a campaign for clothing company GAP. Neelam Gill, the first British Indian model to appear in a major Burberry campaign, and Radhika Nair, the first Indian model to walk for Balenciaga. Whilst these achievements are a source of pride for our communities, they also beg the question — why is it that the presence of South Asian models within the fashion industry, seems so few and far between?

Brown Girl Magazine had the pleasure of connecting with Karanjee to talk about his journey of navigating a modelling career as an Afghan Sikh model. 

The modelling world can often invoke images of wealth, prestige and flamboyance. For Karanjee, it was clear that modelling meant being able to fulfil a specific mission — using his travels to magnify his religious and cultural identity. 

Before modelling, I was a film maker. I now see myself as a storyteller as I love telling stories whilst teaching people about Sikhism. I am an Afghan Sikh and it’s quite new to people when they realise that — even Sikhs don’t know there are other Sikhs in Afghanistan! Through modelling, I am able to teach people about what it means to be an Afghan Sikh. Guru Nanak Dev Ji travelled the world to teach about Sikhi and that’s just the same with me.

The narratives and images surrounding what we know of as Afghanistan, have carved out a space for Karanjee to use his platform to tell an alternative story of his homeland. With decades of conflict, and notorious association with extremist activity, Karanjee’s visibility within spaces that do not typically see many Afghani models, offers an opportunity for him to dismantle bleak narratives. 

Having had refugee status, I’m able to represent people, not just as a Sikh but as a refugee Sikh and that’s huge. I’m able to highlight whilst modelling that I’m not a person who grows up in a typical family. Whatever people have heard about Afghanistan is just terrorism related. Coming from a war zone and being able to share my story in front of the camera is not something just for me but for the whole community.

[Read Related: Teen Vogue’s First Indian American Editor-In-Chief Versha Sharma is the Newest Role Model for Young South Asians Around the World]

Embodying a rich intersection of cultural and religious identities can be complex. Karanjee talks about incorrectly being labelled as Indian. His humility and ethos of being an educator means he is able to honestly create dialogues that serve to challenge assumptions of his identity. 

Being assumed Indian happens quite often. Modelling is a journey that enables me to correct them and have that conversation and that’s how fashion interacts with my sense of self. I was once recognised as an Indian in a tweet by someone big. I retweeted it and said thank you but I’m not Indian, I’m Afghan and that tweet got shared more than 2000 times. In another instance, I was visible in a campaign across Primark stores for nearly 6 months. There was a moment where someone thought I was a Punjabi Singh. When they realised I was Afghan, that came as a surprise and kind of made that person feel lower. At the end of the day, Sikhi transcends everything else and we are all one despite the country we come from.

An important question was raised: does a sense of splintered identity result in splintered support from the community? Karanjee explained that when he is recognised as an Afghan Sikh model, the majority of support and recognition appears to derive from fellow Afghans as opposed to from South Asian communities at large.

I believe that there is a lack of push and support from those who don’t identify as Afghan. Maybe it’s a cultural thing where people are more likely to celebrate those who share the same cultural and religious heritage. It’s a question of asking, what is it about me that I am missing for South Asians as a whole to not celebrate me? That being said, because of my recent work with Louis Vuitton, which aimed to represent people quite widely, people have begun to celebrate me as Sikh too. I have realised that having a large community matters a lot to be celebrated.

The Louis Vuitton campaign proved to be a seminal achievement. This year marked the first time Karanjee appeared in a fashion campaign having previously been featured in variety of magazine editorials. With Forbes recognising Louis Vuitton as the world’s most valuable luxury fashion brand, I was keen to ask, what were his experiences on the LV set?

It was about 50,000 square feet with a huge team of art directors and videographers. The stylists even had their own assistants! LV had the budget to go large. Being the first Sikh that was out there made me feel a bit out of the zone. I didn’t know how the team was going to react. There are some campaigns where Sikhs would be required to trim their beard or change an aspect of themselves to fit in whereas for me, I made it clear that would not allow anyone to modify myself. It’s a warm feeling when the industry is allowing diversity to be championed in campaigns.

Karanjee’s explaining LV as a brand that intends to showcase models of colour is a refreshing narrative considering that much discourse illustrates the ease at which white, Western abled bodied models dominate modelling jobs at the expense of those who do not fit specific, revered criteria. In 2020, The New York Times quizzed 64 influential brands on the percentage of Black people in their ad campaigns, fashion shows and magazine covers. Only 4 brands responded to questions in full with the rest of partly answering or declining to comment completely. Karanjee’s provided insight into the transparency of brand decisions regarding the casting of non-white models, explaining that brand choices to include specific models can, at times, fall down to practicalities and target audiences. 


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Every brand is different and has their target audience. It’s not solely about showing diversity but it’s also about what brands need to do to sell products. If brands have the mindset of wanting to include diversity then they will but if they don’t, they won’t. There are certainly brands out there which are showcasing diversity because they genuinely want to celebrate people. Similarly, there are certain brands that use models just as a tick box exercise. I can’t speak for those brands as the majority of the names I work with genuinely want to champion diversity which of course I’m quite happy to be a part of.

During the interview, Karanjee indirectly raised an intriguing question: does what the modelling industry define as aesthetically pleasing and pertinent to selling clothes, need to be overhauled? Karanjee explained that the lack of South Asian models is in part, due to individuals naturally being unable to conform to boxes which have set the standard for high fashion modelling for decades. 

With modelling, you have to fit into certain categories. There are height restrictions and there are also build restrictions. I’ve had casting agents who have come to predominantly South Asian areas just to cast models but weren’t able to. The height and build of others within the Asian communities often don’t fit into the categories of modelling. I’m 6’1″ and I am still perceived as quite short in certain shows.

When Karanjee is able to share spaces with others, his sense of storytelling comes alive. The travelling that comes with being a model provides its own vehicle to relay to other models on set what it means to be Sikh.

During shoots and shows, I have taken off my kirpan, which is quite sharp and can damage the very clothes I’m modelling. I don’t want to show people I’m aggressive or carrying weapons. Sikhi is above all, a region of peace that’s what I like to teach people. When I’m able to work regularly with people, I am able to teach them what a Sikh is and the meaning of wearing a kirpan. The fashion industry is very on the edge of knowledge but by meeting new people, I have the power to educate them about my faith.

Karanjee explains the need for South Asian communities to harness their power and shift narratives. An important note was made regarding occupying positions of power to fight against white gatekeepers across industries. 

My advice to people is to be part of a journey in the most important ways. Someone had to say yes for me to be the face of something. If you’re the decision maker, that’s when you have the power so shift whole industries and the world. Until that happens things will always stay the same.

There is a great sense of responsibility on the shoulders of Karanjee as an Afghan turbaned model. I was curious to know what was next in his modelling journey and what he hopes to achieve. 

The idea is to celebrate Sikhi, not just in one place but around the world. I want to make a mark in every city and every fashion week. I want to expand my career with more agencies who recognise me as a diverse person and can push me out there to do better. It’s a lifelong career where you have to do a lot of things for people to recognise and celebrate you. LV is just the start for me.

Photo Credit: Tim Walker

By Simran Kaur Takhi

Simran Sahiba Takhi is a scatty psychology graduate with a keen interest in the experiences of BAME groups. Simran is … Read more ›

Painful Sex is More Common Than you Think

Close up on couple having intimacy moments

Ten to 28% of the world’s population of women experience painful sex. Keep in mind, that this is just what is reported. As embarrassing and as vulnerable as you may feel, you are absolutely not alone. The good news is that in addition to your traditional medical care to treat painful sex (also known as dyspareunia) such as medication, injections and surgery — a conservative approach is effective and long-lasting. Conservative care ranges from pelvic floor physical therapy, chiropractic care and acupuncture which are beneficial in treating the root cause of painful sex, as well as symptoms, for long-term healing. 

Some of the signs to look out for if you experience pain are:

  1. Deep pain/burning during or after sex
    • Pain descriptors: sharp, stabbing, deep, dull, burning
  2. Vaginal Dryness
  3. Low Libido
  4. Tightening at the vaginal opening

[Read Related: 12 Beliefs About Sex That South Asians Need to Throw Out the Window]

Treatment Options 

Treatment options for painful sex such as pelvic floor physical therapy, chiropractic care and acupuncture provide a long-lasting and profound effect on the pelvic floor and address your entire physical well-being.

The pelvic floor is a layer of muscles that range from the pubic bone to the tailbone. The purpose of these muscles is to assist in bowel and bladder control, support a baby during pregnancy and contribute to sexual sensations. Just like any other muscle in your body, these pelvic floor muscles can become tight or weak which can be a contributing factor to pain.

Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy

Pelvic floor therapy can assist by strengthening and relaxing the muscles which is necessary to relieve pain during sex. 

[Read Related: My Awkward First Time at the Gyno]

Chiropractic Physician

Chiropractors can be extremely beneficial with assisting in helping relieve pain. Associated pain and discomfort can originate from the lower back and buttock muscles. Chiropractors are trained in taking a history and performing a neurological, orthopedic and soft tissue examination to identify treatment options. Deep tissue massage, skin rolling, Active Release Technique, muscle energy technique, ice, heat and electrical stimulation are just to name a few.


Acupuncture can activate the human dopamine system which helps regulate hormone levels and can assist in psychological factors. Acupuncture can improve mood, decrease pain and can be vastly beneficial in managing pain and mental health symptoms. 

Ask for help

“Everyone is having pelvic pain and no one is talking about it”

  1. Start with seeing your gynecologist who you trust for a history and examination of current symptoms to rule out any other medical conditions that could be a contributing factor to symptoms. 
  2. Locate a pelvic floor physical therapist through Apta Pelvic Health or Pelvic Rehab.  
  3. Locate proper chiropractic care that is trained as a licensed acupuncturist; look for credentials such as DC, LAc. 

[Read Related: Not Your Auntie’s Tips: 5 Sex Myths Busted]

How to talk to your partner about this in a safe/healthy way

Being open with your partner about your symptoms and painful sex may seem like a difficult conversation. Intercourse should never be painful and learning when to stay ‘stop’ is important in communication. Talking about pain before, during and after sex is important also in your own health diagnosis to see if pain symptoms are improving or becoming worse. Having open communication does not only benefit your relationship but most importantly, your own health.

To experience these symptoms may seem taboo or unheard of but quite frankly, they are common in many women. Women deserve to be directed to proper healthcare. 

Disclaimer: These are based on recommendations from a board-certified chiropractic physician and licensed acupuncturist. If symptoms become new or worse, consult with a primary care physician and or OBGYN to co-manage symptoms.


Reference: Tayyeb M, Gupta V. Dyspareunia. [Updated 2022 Jun 11]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from:


Photo by anushkaniroshan stock photo ID: 2071991336

jasmine bhoola
By Jasmine Bhoola

Jasmine Bhoola DC, LAC - A chiropractic physician and licensed acupuncturist in Midtown East Manhattan. A graduate from the University … Read more ›

Shedding Light on South Asians and Intimate Partner Violence


In July 2022, Sania Khan’s life was ruthlessly taken from her by her ex-husband. Sania was a young, vibrant South Asian woman – a creator and photographer who had the courage to step out of an abusive marriage, even in the face of community norms that discourage women from speaking out. While this tragedy seemed to stir a consciousness in the South Asian diaspora that we can no longer justify the status quo, it is far from the only such incident. Just months later in December of 2022, Harpreet Kaur Gill was stabbed to death by her husband in Vancouver. While the most extreme cases like those of Sania Khan and Harpreet Kaur Gill are highlighted by mainstream media, a small body of research provides evidence that intimate partner violence experiences are equally, if not more, prevalent in South Asian communities than the general population in the US or Canada. That’s why we need to do more as a community and throw light South Asians and intimate partner violence.

[Read Related: A South Asian Daughter of Divorced Parents Speaks up After the Tragic Death of Pakistani-American Photographer Sania Khan]

Violence prevention researchers have long used traditional gender roles to explain intimate partner violence in South Asian countries. These norms are deeply entrenched beliefs in society about appropriate roles for people based on their gender. In South Asian communities, these norms typically privilege men in intimate relationships. These beliefs are further perpetuated by mainstream media. For example, despite historic criticism for its depiction of harassment as “romance” or abuse as “lovers’ quarrels,” Indian cinema has only normalized toxic masculinity and violence as a form of conflict resolution with its hundreds of millions of viewers.

Despite the identification and investigation of these norms in South Asia, there’s so much we still don’t know about diaspora communities, especially in relation to South Asians and intimate partner violence. In the US, South Asians have become one of the fastest-growing populations, but we remain unaware of how the stresses of raising a family in a different culture, and the weight of growing up between two worlds, affect these norms, expectations, and experiences among South Asian immigrants, the second generation and beyond. 

In this article, we’ll take a deeper look at how these norms are enacted to influence intimate relationship dynamics, discuss the recent rise in intimate partner violence, and explore the work that researchers, policymakers, and program implementers can do to address violence in South Asian diaspora communities.

[Read Related: On Domestic Violence: Model Minority, Private Pain]

Social Norms and Violence in South Asian Diaspora Communities

Why does it take catastrophic events to serve as a call to action? For one, the “model minority myth” continues to portray South Asians in America (who originate from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) as a healthy and wealthy group. As a child of Indian immigrants, I always thought this was just a frustrating trope that lived rent-free in my head next to the eternal question, “Log kya kahenge?(What will people say?) However, I have realized that this constant worry is not just an innocent preoccupation. It’s the result of a dangerous spiral beginning with the portrayal of South Asians as a model minority and the need to maintain that well-to-do image. This only reinforces the traditional gender norms that overlook men’s perpetration of violence and encourage women’s silence, crippling any efforts to understand the scope of the problem and draw attention and resources to address it. 

The Impacts of COVID-19 on Intimate Partner Violence

Prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the frequently-uttered phrase among researchers, practitioners, and advocates alike was “one in three” — one in three women ages 15-49 experiences physical and/or sexual violence inflicted by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Under the cover of the COVID-19 pandemic however, rates of violence against women rose dramatically, prompting UN Women to call for recognition of this “Shadow Pandemic.” During the height of the pandemic, the social isolation that came with lockdowns and quarantine procedures to curb the spread of disease made home a more dangerous place for an increasing number of women. As communities seek to rebuild, the inequities in access to and use of potentially lifesaving services have deepened. Now more than ever, it is critical that we shine a light on the many intersections of our society to prevent South Asian women’s experiences of intimate partner violence from being pushed even further into the shadows. 

[Read Related: How to Talk to Your Child About Domestic Violence: 5 Tips for Parents]

Addressing the “Shadow Pandemic”

First and foremost, to better understand South Asians and intimate partner violence, we need better data disaggregated by racial/ethnic group. Since the 1980 Census, only those of Indian origin have had a fill-in bubble. All other South Asian groups have to write something in, decreasing their participation. South Asian communities in the US are not a monolith and they are certainly not all of Indian origin. This perception, fed by our lack of data, likely privileges the Indian community in America and limits the visibility of other South Asian communities. 

More accurate information will help us better understand where the need is greatest. We can make a stronger case for more equitable resource allocation, improve South Asian language materials for survivors, and enhance provider training programs, accounting for the specific cultural implications of disclosing and seeking treatment for violence in South Asian communities. Public health researchers should increase efforts to understand the prevalence of experiences of violence, the environmental factors that make South Asian women in America vulnerable to experiences of intimate partner violence, and how it impacts their health.

While outstanding organizations such as Narika in California and Sakhi in New York are leading the charge in raising awareness, running active helplines, and providing support, they cannot be the sole safe space for survivors. While the system’s failure to protect Sania is not an isolated incident, it has served as a wake-up call.

All South Asian women in America should be able to be healthy and safe and lead lives free from violence, coercion, or abandonment. To achieve this, we need better data, more research, culturally-tailored resources, and appropriate legislative action that will allow for prevention, screening, and treatment efforts to finally take root.

 Intimate Partner Violence Resources:

  1.     National Domestic Violence Hotline Call: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224; Text: “START” to 8878
  1.     National Dating Abuse Helpline Call: 1-866-331-9474
  1.     National Sexual Assault Hotline Call: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
By Sneha Challa

Sneha holds a PhD in Global Health and is currently a researcher at the University of California San Francisco working … Read more ›

South Asian Masculinity and Mental Health: Can we Find a new way Forward?

toxic masculinity

What is South Asian masculinity?

Masculinity and mental health have come under greater scrutiny by researchers, particularly as traditional masculinity is often cited as the reason why men are less willing to reach out for support regarding psychological issues. However, the influence of masculine norms on well-being has been insufficiently viewed through an intersectional lens and is understudied within South Asian mental health. From a South Asian context, traditional masculinity can include focusing on material success while displaying suppressed emotionality, which can be manifested through anger or practicing other harmful behaviors.

[Read Related: Brown Boys Do Cry: How Toxic Masculinity Screws With Us, Too]

In order to understand its influence, it is critical to examine the impact of traditional paradigms of masculinity across the diaspora. For instance, some traits associated with traditional masculinity among South Asian men include displaying control over others. A Sri-Lanka-based study found that most male participants “associated manhood with dominance…” A Forbes India article asserted how boys in India are “taught to … apply themselves to the task of growing up to be a strong, unwavering support system for their families,” which in turn forces them to be silent about topics that may make them seem weak. This pattern of behavior becomes manifested in a particularly harmful way because boys grow up with the inability to handle their emotions or formulate healthy coping strategies during challenging circumstances. 

These norms can have drastic implications and harm other community members. For instance, a focus group conducted among Nepali men found that failure to deliver for their household economically as breadwinners eventually resulted in heated disputes, which escalated and led them to engage in domestic violence. The presence of domestic violence can also be observed through media stories on the pervasiveness of gender-based harm within South Asian communities, as seen in the murder of Sania Khan. 

Traditional masculinity also hides the wounds that South Asian men may be battling within themselves. One paper asserts that for a sizable number of Indian men, “…sadness and despair find a distorted manifestation in destructive behaviors that deny their emotional pain to themselves and to others.” Thus, performing conventionally masculine behaviors can mask deeper mental health issues. 

Repercussions of South Asian masculinity on mental health

Because of the pressure to adhere to such strict standards of conduct, traditional masculinity has significant, greater repercussions for mental health and well-being. For instance, because of the narrow ability of men to compartmentalize their feelings, this restrictive emotionality can result in an inability for others to recognize their mental health issues, thus failing to target the deeper causes of men’s behavior. Furthermore, men themselves might engage in fewer help-seeking behaviors. This is also further complicated due to gaps in culturally competent services that can serve South Asian men when they do utilize support systems. 

Additional social forces experienced by South Asian men might explain mental health outcomes, particularly when considering the role of immigration. Among South Asian American men in the United States, one study noted that “a lower social position” within their community was linked to higher distress, indicating how critical it was for first-generation men to be leaders and actively participate in their ethnic community’s organizations. Thus, social expectations of men within South Asian communities influenced their well-being, as did their social status and relative power. 

What we can do to change the status quo on South Asian masculinity and mental health 

In order to ensure that men in South Asian cultures can embrace their mental health, it is important to formulate a prudent, welcoming paradigm that encourages greater help-seeking behaviors. Greater attention to this topic can also contribute to theories on feminist and sociocultural therapeutic frameworks, which both offer the following includes suggested remedies:  

Challenging gender stereotypes and encouraging mental health care as a means to discuss issues about well-being

It is imperative to encourage South Asian men to show more emotion, thus changing the existing narrative and social pressure they face to limit the expression of their feelings. Fortunately, there is a platform, known as @BrownManTherapy, that posts content about the struggles South Asian men experience. Furthermore, therapy ought to be recommended as a means to deal with mental health concerns, which should be combined with support from the community. 

More South Asian male clinicians

In addition to instituting changes in community norms, there needs to be more diverse representation in the mental health field. In doing so, there will be greater platforms to have conversations about the negative repercussions of traditional masculinity that are unique to South Asian men. Furthermore, it is critical to challenge the social stigma that mental health is a female-dominated profession or that seeking therapy is emasculating. 

More research studies examining cross-cultural differences in masculinity across South Asian cultures

The connection between masculinity and mental health ought to be investigated much further. Studies should particularly assess masculinity within non-white contexts in order to examine the standards of manhood across several communities and truly understand the unique stressors men face across different cultural backgrounds.

[Read Related: These 5 South Asian Men Are Opening up About Their Mental Health and Toxic Masculinity]

While the connection between South Asian masculinity and mental health is not discussed among psychology professionals, it is critical to study the association since it plays a role in South Asian gender inequities and in mental health behaviors among South Asian men. More broadly, given the prevalence of intimate partner violence within the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and the role of patriarchal norms in inflicting this harm, it is now more important than ever to reimagine expectations surrounding men’s behavior. 

By further examining the problems caused by adherence to traditionally masculine norms and implementing certain solutions, these ideas can be challenged and dismantled to create a progressive and more inclusive model of manhood. Above all, identifying and eradicating toxic ideas rooted in traditional South Asian masculinity will lead to liberation for all people.

If you need additional resources, please visit:

Photo: Shutterstock/Roxanne 134

paritosh joshi
By Paritosh Joshi

Paritosh Joshi is a graduate student in Clinical Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University. His background includes a Master of … Read more ›