The Irish Sikh Council has called for Sikhs to be allowed to wear turbans instead of caps when they join the Garda.
The call follows a case where a Sikh who volunteered to join the Garda Reserve was refused permission to wear his turban as part of his uniform. The Garda SÃochÃ¡na today rejected the call for any variation in the standard uniform.
According to Harpreet Singh, President of Irish Sikh Council, asking a Sikh community member to get rid of his turban “is like asking him to remove his head”.
“We strongly believe and accept that as an immigrant community we should respect and adopt cultural values of Irish community,” he said. “But we would like to stress that integration is a two-way process. Integration can never be brought about by asking the migrant communities to give up their basic beliefs.”
Asking any turban-wearing Sikh to cut their hair is akin to asking them to cut their head off. It should be a personal choice. This has historical connotations because the Mughal emporer Aurungzeb had at one time ordered for any turban-wearing Sikhs to have their heads cut off. Many Sikhs of course preferred death to cutting their hair.
History aside, it’s another case asking that controversial question: where does the line between public vs private expression of religion lie? In Britain this question has already been answered.
As Dr Gurharpal Singh explained a few months ago:
Since the 1960s, successive campaigns over the right to wear turbans, beards and kirpans (small daggers carried by orthodox Sikhs) in public places and at work and schools have generated intense debates about the limits of public accommodation of Sikh demands. While conservative opinion has generally been reluctant to make any concessions to such demands, a combination of persistent campaigns and appeals to the long history of British-Sikh cooperation since the annexation of Punjab in 1849 has secured a form of â€˜negative accommodationâ€™: what some have called an â€˜opt outâ€™ from general rule-making.
For example, in the famous Mandla v Dowell Lee judgment (1983), following intense lobbying, Sikhs secured a House of Lords ruling that they were an â€˜ethnic groupâ€™, and entitled to protection under the Race Relations Act 1976 from direct and indirect discrimination. Sikhs have also won exemptions for wearing turbans in the building industry, and the right to carry kirpans in public spaces, notwithstanding the security backlash since 9/11.
If the law is offering exemptions to one minority group then it must follow that other minority groups could also qualify. British Muslims for example are allowed to wear the hijab at school and get halal meat choices.
There is a separate point to be made about some Sikh groups taking the whole classed as an ethnic minority thing too far but I’ll come back to that some other time.
See, this case would be open and shut in the United States where freedom of expression (including of religion) is a tightly held right. This is why they allow privately funded religious schools run by nutjobs too.
But in the UK we have all sorts of muddles. The National Secular Society, which as I said earlier is more about atheism than secularism, would probably reflect the view that in a secular society everyone should have the same rules.
True, but this isn’t about secularism in my view. Secularism would be to separate religion from the state and ensure that the latter does not favour one religion over another or even religion over atheists.
Anyway. In this case neither of those two yardsticks apply. It is simply an exemption to ensure further inclusion. Don’t why the Irish are being so stubborn when the English saw sense 40 years ago.
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