By Moni Basu, CNN
(CNN) – Harkirat Singh Soin remembers a day in 1999 when, after much contemplation, he finally took a seat in a barber's chair.
All his 18 years, he'd worn long hair, first in a top knot, then in a dastar, or turban. It was an expression of his Sikh faith and a distinct mark of his identity.
As his locks tumbled to the floor, Soin felt ashamed.
He thought of his upbringing in a suburban Milwaukee neighborhood by Punjabi parents who emigrated from India. He grew up on meals of homemade roti and daal makhani and sessions at Sunday school that instilled Sikh values. He thought also of how his mother had taken time to maintain her boys' long hair with love and care.
With every snip of the shears, he felt, he lost not just hair but parts of his being.
But he was tired of not fitting in, of being teased. Once when he was in elementary school, he was even beaten with sticks by neighborhood troublemakers, he says.
"I am guessing that they turned on me because I was different," says Soin, now 32 and studying for his U.S. medical license in Illinois after finishing medical school in China.
He became the first member of his family to shed the most visible signs of his faith. His father and older brother still wear a turban and beard.
He is like thousands of other Sikh men who have abandoned turbans to avoid discrimination or bias. Others simply feel they are old hat and interfere with modern lifestyles.
The turban, tied in distinctive fashion, was a way to manage long hair and serves as the most instant way to recognize a Sikh.