Religious symbols in schools; a strange twist


by Rumbold
17th May, 2008 at 9:04 pm    

Normally when religious symbols and schools make the news, it is to do with pupils being denied the opportunity to display the symbols. A Sikh school in the Indian Punjab has done the opposite however, and insisted that the Hindus in the school (who make up around 20% of the pupils), have to wear turbans. A number of Hindu parents are complaining that they were not told about this, while the school claim that this has been their policy for a while and that it was clearly stated. Looking up the school’s code of conduct, one finds that:

“All non-sikh students follow their own religion but they have to cover their head with Patka (up to Class V) or Dastaar (Classes VI to XII) and they have to follow the spiritual and religious curriculum of Akal Academy.”

(A Patka is a cloth head covering, sometimes worn instead of a turban. A Dastaar is a turban)

As far as I can tell, the school has done nothing wrong. It is a Sikh school and insists on a uniform. The rules are clearly laid out, and the rule about non-Sikhs’ headgear is covered in the first point of the freely-available code of conduct. The only bone of contention would be whether expecting non-Sikhs to wear turbans is right from a religious point of view.


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Filed in: Current affairs,Hindu,India,Sikh






26 Comments below   |  

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  1. Gurpreet2 — on 17th May, 2008 at 10:53 pm  

    ^this story comes only a few days after this particular incident in punjab….

    http://www.expressindia.com/latest-news/3-students-punished-for-wearing-turbans/303435/

    sorry i don’t know how to link

  2. douglas clark — on 18th May, 2008 at 8:32 am  

    Rumbold,

    You are a libertarian, right? Why should any school have the right to impose a dress code? Explain that in libertarian language….

    Unless, of course, you have realised that having DK as your mouthpiece, is a step too far….

    Oops, challenging Rumbold on his own turf, that’ll never do.

  3. fugstar — on 18th May, 2008 at 11:11 am  

    turbans are cool and manly, more should be worn generally. wearing something on the head is respectful and noble. back in the day we all used to wear them throughout hindustan (in different ways), not sure what happened.

  4. Mangles — on 18th May, 2008 at 12:31 pm  

    WAHEGURU (OMG) a story on Pickled Politics which supports positive action by Sikhs! My ‘faith’ is restored. LOL

    I wonder what Sunny will have to say about this fundamentalist assault on secular society. Sikhi Saroop Zindabad; Progresivism murdabad! L+LOL

  5. Sid — on 18th May, 2008 at 12:49 pm  

    Rumbold, would you find it acceptable if a Muslim school forced it’s students to wear an abaya for the boys and a headscarf for the girls, if they stipulated as part of “code of conduct”? Likewise, would you find it acceptable if a Christian school to force its boys to wear a sticharion, orarion and cuffs?

  6. Sid — on 18th May, 2008 at 12:57 pm  

    Missed the end clause:

    If the kids were neither Muslim or Christian respectively.

  7. Rumbold — on 18th May, 2008 at 1:33 pm  

    Douglas and Sid:

    As a libertarian, I support the right of people to make their own decisions, free from the state’s influence. If a school wishes to have a particular dress code, they should be free to do so. As a comparison, I don’t support a smoking ban, but I would support pub or bar owners who wished to ban smoking in their own bars, because it is their property. The rule on headgear was clearly stated in the code of conduct, so I don’t see any cause for complaint. As I said in the post, my only question would be whether expecting non-Sikhs to wear Sikh religious symbols is good on a religious level.

  8. Sid — on 18th May, 2008 at 1:35 pm  

    As I said in the post, my only question would be whether expecting non-Sikhs to wear Sikh religious symbols is good on a religious level.

    And what are your thoughts on your own question?

  9. Rumbold — on 18th May, 2008 at 1:38 pm  

    Douglas:

    “Unless, of course, you have realised that having DK as your mouthpiece, is a step too far….”

    I don’t think that he is my mouthpiece, simply because we agree on a number of issues. You and I agree on a number of issues as well, but we would be hard-pressed to claim to be parroting the other one’s thoughts. What is it with you and Devil’s Kitchen? Why does he get your goat so?

  10. Rumbold — on 18th May, 2008 at 1:41 pm  

    Sid:

    “And what are your thoughts on your own question?”

    I have not really formed a concrete view one way or t’other. I just wonder whether expecting people to wear your religious symbols when they don’t subscribe to your religion really makes sense (especially with modern Sikhism, which tends to place a great deal of emphasis on symbols). However, if it is just out of a desire for neatness and uniformity, that is fine, because I think that school uniforms are a good thing.

  11. Don — on 18th May, 2008 at 2:03 pm  

    Requiring someone to wear a symbol of a religion to which they do not subscribe is fine as long as it is out of a desire for neatness and uniformity.

    Rumbold, for some reason that idea is making me uneasy. If an RC school in this country said that it would accept non-RC pupils but only on condition they wore a cross, would that be fine if it was out of a desire for uniformity?

    I confess I’m baffled by the amount of time and energy religious people put into questions of head gear and other accessories.

    I don’t have a high regard for religions in general, still less for those which are concerned with making an outward show of their piety, and none at all for those which feel a need to tell others how to dress.

  12. Sid — on 18th May, 2008 at 2:14 pm  

    However, if it is just out of a desire for neatness and uniformity, that is fine, because I think that school uniforms are a good thing.

    Which I suppose means you’d be fine with Sikh symbols being thrust onto non-Sikh students but you’d probably not support a Muslim school to force it’s non-Muslim post-pubescent female students to wear a face-only burkha even if that is a desire for uniformity.

  13. Rumbold — on 18th May, 2008 at 2:29 pm  

    Don and Sid:

    “If an RC school in this country said that it would accept non-RC pupils but only on condition they wore a cross, would that be fine if it was out of a desire for uniformity?”

    “Which I suppose means you’d be fine with Sikh symbols being thrust onto non-Sikh students but you’d probably not support a Muslim school to force it’s non-Muslim post-pubescent female students to wear a face-only burkha even if that is a desire for uniformity.”

    I would support the right of the school to insist on a particular uniform. I might disagree with them over what uniform they imposed, but I would still think that it should be their choice.

  14. Raul — on 18th May, 2008 at 2:45 pm  

    Probably they would like to run a sikh only school and this is their way to get around some law against running that type of school. A turban is a sacred symbol and to force it on others who may not value its significance doesn’t seem to be sensible. If you go to a gurudwara you may have to cover you head if you are a non sikh, not all gurudwaras require this but definitely when you go to the room that holds the Granth Sahib.

    This is not a liberal issue because liberals do not stand for segregation of any kind on religious or racial basis. Isn’t liberalism about not imposing your beliefs on others and standing up for the rights of individuals or groups but not their right to impose themselves on others?

    This is a misguided initiative and I honestly do not see many people including sikhs standing up for this sort of thing. In my experience sikhs have not been extremist or exclusive in their beliefs towards others, they have always been welcoming, open and non nonjudgmental and it is a surprise that something like this has been suggested.

  15. Gurpreet2 — on 18th May, 2008 at 3:34 pm  

    If you look closely, you see that akal academy is actually a branch of Baru sahib. Baru Sahib are by definition a organisation the the aim of upholding the values of sikhism, whether they are external or internal. So this doesn’t really come as a suprise to me.

  16. douglas clark — on 18th May, 2008 at 3:36 pm  

    Rumbold,

    Liberty, who’d speak against it?

    I don’t have the goat with DK. I just think he is incredibly naive. If I keep pointing that out then I am guilty of attacking easy targets. Guilty as charged your honour.

    Where libertarians probably have it right is in standing up for individuality. It seems to me at least that our governors are only willing to look at us as some sort of composite evil that requires administration. I discovered only the other day that our lords and masters have decided that, should I catch lung cancer – I do smoke – that the most I can expect from them is palliative care. They are not going to waste resources on trying to cure me. Which is verging on ludicrous. I have contributed a small fortune in NI, and now they tell me!

    I’m not fat, but you’d think fat folk were actually evil, if you take the governments pronouncements to heart. And so it goes. They have a tendency to treat us as statistics rather than folk.

    To that extent, I too am a libertarian.

    However, where Libertarianism sucks is in the concept that the individual is better than the collective. I don’t agree with a lot of what Shuggy says, but his header is probably something I’d subscribe to:

    “We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason; because we suspect that this stock in each man is small” – Edmund Burke

    Whether that was meant ironically or not is beyond the point. The corollary is to deny society a place. We are a social species, and there is probably a good reason for that.

    So, when I’m in a good mood and not thinking too negatively, I view the state as necessary. Partly to arbitrate between us, for as you rightly say no two human beings will see eye to eye on everything, and also because consensual democracy is better than the alternative.

    Of particular concern to me, especially if you take the nation state largely out of the equation, is that you end up with only two parties at the table, the capitalists (read plcs) and labour (read you and me). It doesn’t need expanding that the vacuum that you have left in terms of social interaction mediated by the state will be replaced by something. Neither option seems desireable to me.

    Indeed, some of the dafter notions of Libertarians, particularily US libertarians are a recipe for electoral suicide when played out on a European stage. Gun ownership, for instance, or awaiting a car crash before you can accuse someone of drunk driving. These are, frankly, freedoms too far, and Libertarians always take it too far.

    Equally, the viewpoint that your party subscribes to on climate change is agenda driven and not evidence based. If there were no other reason, that’d be enough for me to see the sterility of the Libertarian message.

    Anyway, have you more than five members yet?

  17. MaidMarian — on 18th May, 2008 at 4:34 pm  

    Religion is a cancer that should be cut out of every school in the land!

    Simple as that.

  18. Sunny — on 18th May, 2008 at 5:16 pm  

    It is a Sikh school and insists on a uniform. The rules are clearly laid out, and the rule about non-Sikhs’ headgear is covered in the first point of the freely-available code of conduct.

    Well, end of controversy then. I don’t have a problem with a school laying down openly stated rules… within reason. This is within reason.

  19. Sid — on 18th May, 2008 at 5:53 pm  

    Gurpreet, you’re probably right. This school sounds very doctrinare.

    I went to a couple of excellent catholic schools run by Jesuit priests and nuns. They did not have non-Christain students forced to wear Christian vestaments or sacred symbols as part of the uniform. They were schools for children not religious academies for the priesthood. Where does this school get off making students wear their favourite symbols as part of the school uniform?

  20. Gurpreet2 — on 18th May, 2008 at 10:40 pm  

    I’ve been to Baru Sahib headquarters in India, very nice place in the mountains. They run a boarding school there and also an orphanage. Many sikhs from abroad send there kids to india to get schooling there because as well as a high standard of education they also get a rigourous education in Sikhism.

    To be honest I can’t even understand why hindu parents would send their kids to a sikh school when they know a major focus is on the Sikh religion? Therefore you can’t blame the school for upholding one of the fundamental principles of their religion. Like said, the rules are clearly documented.

    You can’t really compare schools here to schools over there, different culture. Plus as far as im aware there is no compulsory physical identity for christians?

  21. kELvi — on 18th May, 2008 at 11:37 pm  

    So Sunny, it is within reason for a Sikh school to impose its code on a non-Sikh? That’s taking the phrase “within reason” to a new level entirely. This is extreme fundamentalism gone off the deep end. Call yourself anything Sunny, but secular. So these are your true colours. Thanks or showing them up, better late than never. It is one thing for a Sikh school to insist that its Sikh pupils follow a certain dress code, but in no circumstances should a country and its truckloads of progressive/secularist poseurs should ever keep quiet when the said school imposes these rules on its non-Sikh pupils. But then we know secular etc. is simply a code word for anti-Hindu isn’t it?

  22. Rumbold — on 19th May, 2008 at 4:57 pm  

    Douglas:

    “However, where Libertarianism sucks is in the concept that the individual is better than the collective.”

    I diasagree. The state is a necessary evil at best, and should only operate in areas (such as law and order and defence) where it is really needed, not in areas where consenting adults are doing things which harm the lives of others.

    “Of particular concern to me, especially if you take the nation state largely out of the equation, is that you end up with only two parties at the table, the capitalists (read plcs) and labour (read you and me). It doesn’t need expanding that the vacuum that you have left in terms of social interaction mediated by the state will be replaced by something. Neither option seems desireable to me.”

    So if the government stopped introducing thousands of laws and regulations every year we would suddenly find ourselves chained to a big wheel being whipped by an angry-looking bald giant? I suspect not.

    “Indeed, some of the dafter notions of Libertarians, particularily US libertarians are a recipe for electoral suicide when played out on a European stage. Gun ownership, for instance, or awaiting a car crash before you can accuse someone of drunk driving. These are, frankly, freedoms too far, and Libertarians always take it too far.

    Equally, the viewpoint that your party subscribes to on climate change is agenda driven and not evidence based. If there were no other reason, that’d be enough for me to see the sterility of the Libertarian message.

    Anyway, have you more than five members yet?”

    What I would be interested to know would be which of the nations that signed up to Kyoto actually met their targets? One, two? Have emissions increased under the Labour Party? Yes. Why are dissenting scientific voices being harrassed by the media and the green lobby? Why did Al Gore win a nobel peace prize for emitting more carbon than a dozen ordinary Americans?

  23. Deep Singh — on 19th May, 2008 at 6:17 pm  

    Mangles wrote:
    “WAHEGURU (OMG) a story on Pickled Politics which supports positive action by Sikhs!

    QUESTION 1: Forgive my ignorance, but what exactly qualifies the above as “positive action”?

    Mangles went on to say:
    “I wonder what Sunny will have to say about this fundamentalist assault on secular society. Sikhi Saroop Zindabad; Progresivism murdabad! L+LOL”

    QUESTION 2: Leaving Sunny aside, what exactly makes you think enforcing what you regard as “Sikhi Saroop” upon non-Sikhs acceptable? Why is it OK for the above to happen, yet when Schools or Institutions in the West demand a grooming policy, which may well be “la(id) down openly (within their) stated rules” that require their members to have cropped hair and/or shaved faces, this then becomes an issue – no doubt here, you will be all too keen to vote for the progressive values that you seem to want to kill off in your statement above?

  24. Deep Singh — on 19th May, 2008 at 6:18 pm  

    Gurpreet, you are right, it is interesting that non-Sikh students are sent to Baru Sahib, however this is not the only school run by a Sikh sampradha (order), the Buddha Dal Nihangs also run a very successful school, yet we don’t find their students being forced to adopt blue clothes and tall conical turbans.

  25. Mangles — on 21st May, 2008 at 1:05 pm  

    Deep Singh wrote:
    “WAHEGURU (OMG) a story on Pickled Politics which supports positive action by Sikhs!

    QUESTION 1: Forgive my ignorance, but what exactly qualifies the above as “positive action”?

    Why in my view is this positive action. It goes against the unrestrained obsession of mainstream media with western values and attire. This crusade for a homogenous exterior constantly preys on anything which does not project or depict an European accent on popular lifestyle.

    Mangles went on to say:
    “I wonder what Sunny will have to say about this fundamentalist assault on secular society. Sikhi Saroop Zindabad; Progresivism murdabad! L+LOL”

    QUESTION 2: Leaving Sunny aside, what exactly makes you think enforcing what you regard as “Sikhi Saroop” upon non-Sikhs acceptable? Why is it OK for the above to happen, yet when Schools or Institutions in the West demand a grooming policy, which may well be “la(id) down openly (within their) stated rules” that require their members to have cropped hair and/or shaved faces, this then becomes an issue – no doubt here, you will be all too keen to vote for the progressive values that you seem to want to kill off in your statement above?

    I am not suggesting that enforcing ‘Sikhi Saroop’ on non-Sikhs is acceptable- this would if anything go against the ethos of Sikhi. However, it is clear that the only thing that this school is enforcing is their school policy. Sikh values and ethos embrace respect for others’ values, customs and beliefs. Having heard many inspirational stories of the great Mahapurash (Saint) who started this academy, I would have no doubt that an appeal on religious grounds would be considerately and compassionately considered. Sikhs and other faiths in the West, as Deep Singh will be aware, have sought acceptance of their practices and amendments to school dress and policies, through such procedures of appeal to the common sense and good will of school governing boards, education authorities and governments.

    I doubt the school will override the Sikh turban over a Muslim or Jewish head-covering as this would go against Sikh ethos. However, in some faiths, especially in some Islamic regions the turban remains the common form of head-dress. Although worn by Sikhs for religious reasons, the turban is still part of Indian culture, and is often still adorned by Hindu and Muslim leaders, local chieftains as well as during Hindu marriages across many parts of India. Therefore, the crucial difference in it becoming an issue at Akal Academy is that we have a political agenda at play with the Hindu community who are making an issue out of this for political reasons, not for religious reasons.

    Deep Singh you have missed the point in my earlier (though jestful) contribution. My issue is with the nutty secularist lobby (often atheists) who masquerade as progressives, will try to pass off as liberals, and essentially do anything to enforce their fundamentalist values on the rest of society, in order to pigeon hole religion and practice of faith in The Primal Being (Parm-aatma -Waheguru) to the home.

    Sid to respond your point ‘ … you’d probably not support a Muslim school to force it’s non-Muslim post-pubescent female students to wear a face-only burkha even if that is a desire for uniformity.’

    I can’t speak for Rumbold, but as a Sikh I couldn’t support the practice of non-Muslim female students being asked to wear a face-only burkha as part of school uniform. That’s not because I’d deny Muslims their choice, but just as Sati in Indian culture this practice goes against Sikh ethos. If anything, in the midst of Mughal-era 16th century India, Guru Amar Das Ji asked women wearing the burkha to remove it before seeking an audience in sangat (congregation)- those Muslim women who cherished Sikh teachings removed the burkha in sangat, and many went onto embrace Sikhi.

    Anyway, I am yet to hear of a religious or spiritual reason for wearing a burkha, and why it only applies to women. Conversely, the requisite for keeping the head covered, as for any other rules of Sikh dress, lifestyle and spiritual practice, apply equally to men and women in Sikhi.

  26. Deep Singh — on 29th May, 2008 at 8:00 pm  

    “I am not suggesting that enforcing ‘Sikhi Saroop’ on non-Sikhs is acceptable- this would if anything go against the ethos of Sikhi”

    I am glad you have clarified this much.

    “Deep Singh you have missed the point in my earlier (though jestful) contribution. My issue is with the nutty secularist lobby (often atheists) who masquerade as progressives, will try to pass off as liberals, and essentially do anything to enforce their fundamentalist values on the rest of society, in order to pigeon hole religion and practice of faith in The Primal Being (Parm-aatma -Waheguru) to the home”

    This and your points from the opening sentence (mainsteam media) are all worthy of discussion, however you do appear to be mixing issues here, however as above glad you have clarified the main issue (i.e. enforcing one’s views on another) I personally had with your statement – as for the remainder of your comments concerning Islamic dress codes, I will allow those more qualified to comment, however I would recommend that looking into the matter further since you appear to have a rather superficial view of the subject, especially regarding conduct and customs for Islamic women.

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