Home Ready to wear Despite the decisions, American Sikhs in the US military still struggle to wear turbans and beards

Despite the decisions, American Sikhs in the US military still struggle to wear turbans and beards

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The calculation of social justice that has taken place in the United States is very public, but in the private ranks of the military a similar battle is being waged.

Sikh Americans who serve in the US military assert their right to wear articles of faith while in service, which has long been prohibited. And in many cases, those demands are met, but not until some legal battles.

“The idea is that I would rather let go of my head, I would rather give my life than give up that [Sikh] uniform which is indicative of the principles and values ​​I stand for, ”said Major Simratpal Singh of the US Army.

Major Singh joined the US Military Academy at West Point in 2007. Shortly after, a commander approached him telling him that if we wanted to stay he would have to shave his beard and remove his turban.

“This idea as the very values ​​and principles that drove me to serve this country, which were such a fundamental part of my education; I felt like I was betraying those values ​​and principles, ”said Major Singh.

Until 1981, Sikhs in the military could serve freely with their articles of faith, but that year the military banned them, saying beards and turbans could prevent the military from meeting health requirements. , security and mission. It became a norm in all branches of the military, and it continued until 2010, when the military made its first religious accommodation for a Sikh serviceman.

A few years later, in 2016, Major Singh sued the military over the same issue and won, reinforcing the precedent for other servicemen to follow suit.

“The only promise I made to myself was that I would find a way to wear my articles of faith again and go back to my roots and practice my faith however I want,” said Major Singh, whose landmark decision paved the way for other servicemen to follow in his footsteps.

IN 2018, the Air Force made its first religious accommodation by allowing Captain Maysaa Ouza to wear a hijab. Just a year later, the Air Force granted Airman 1st Class Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa permission to wear a turban and beard while on duty, before permanently changing its regulations in February 2020 to officially allow Airmen to request an exemption to wear religious clothing for religious reasons.

“There are young Sikh kids right now in this country who might actually have a passion to be in the Marines and always have been since they were kids, but look at the policies; they look at the uniform and grooming rules, and they realize that I am not accepted there, ”said Giselle Klapper, a lawyer for the Sikh Coalition who currently represents First Lieutenant Sukhbir Toor, a Marine who has threatened the Marine Corps with justice.

In April of this year, First Lieutenant Toor became the last American Sikh to request religious accommodation to wear religious clothing. The Marines acceded to this request, but only while he was on base, saying that if 1st. Lieutenant Toor has been deployed to combat zones where he is expected to adhere to his dress code which prohibits him from wearing a turban and beard.

First Lt. Toor appealed the decision, threatening legal action if the Marines did not comply with his request.

“We are prepared to do the same against the Marine Corp. and unfortunately ask a judge to rule against them because we understand that we are on the right side of the law,” Klapper said.

The Sikh Coalition estimates that there are currently 100 active duty military personnel serving in turbans and barbs.