US military allows Sikhs to keep turbans


by Rumbold
29th March, 2010 at 12:23 pm    

For the first time since 1984, a turbaned Sikh, Captain Rattan, has graduated from officer training to become a captain in the US army. For the past twenty six years Sikhs had to choose between their turbans (and beards) and joining the military, though prior to this it wasn’t such an issue. There has been no policy change as such, but the army is entitled to grant individual officers waivers. Captain Rattan, a dentist, was given one, probably in part because his skills are in short supply on the front line. Another Sikh, due to graduate as a doctor, has also received a waiver. Potential safety issues were also resolved through testing and modification:

During training, Rattan wore a helmet over the small turban, which he doesn’t remove, and was able to successfully create a seal with his gas mask despite the beard, resolving the Army’s safety concerns, said Harsimran Kaur, the Sikh Coalition’s legal director.

Rattan worked with an Army tailor to create a flash, the insignia patch worn on soldiers’ berets, that could be affixed to his black turban, she said.

We covered this a while ago, and I am glad that they received exemptions. I hope that this will eventually lead to a wider policy change, as Captain Rattan has shown that there isn’t any operational disadvantage to having a turban and beard. Nor would such a change bother non-Sikh soldiers in the US military, if the British experience is anything to go by.

To quote the British general Sir Frank Walter Messervy:

In the last two World Wars 83,005 turban-wearing Sikh soldiers were killed and 109,045 were wounded. They all died or were wounded for the freedom of Britain and the World, enduring shell fire with no other protection but the turban, the symbol of their faith.


(Via Sepia Mutiny)


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  1. Mangles — on 29th March, 2010 at 3:30 pm  

    Thats good news. Thanks for the post.

    Rab rakha!

  2. douglas clark — on 29th March, 2010 at 3:45 pm  

    Rumbold,

    You do realise that this is just silly, don’t you? I have no idea whether more Sikhs died because of their religion or not, but it strikes me as ridiculous that folk see themselves as bulletproof just because of their religion. Fair enough for dentists and doctors, obviously.

    But.

    I quite like the Sikhs that comment on here. I don’t want them dead for a misapprehension.

    Especially not Mangles.

  3. earwicga — on 29th March, 2010 at 6:00 pm  

    it strikes me as ridiculous that folk see themselves as bulletproof just because of their religion.

    Do they? Which religion?

  4. Rumbold — on 29th March, 2010 at 6:31 pm  

    Douglas:

    Sikhs don’t think that the turbans make them invincible. They are willing to face increased danger as a result of wearing it into battle (though, as the article shows, many of the issues have been resolved). As a libertarian, I have no problem with that.

  5. douglas clark — on 29th March, 2010 at 6:32 pm  

    earwicga,

    Well, presumeably Sikhs. There are other cases of bulletproofing through religious or tribal conviction. Off the top of my head Zulus and North American Indians.

    It doesn’t tend to work, that’s all I am saying.

  6. douglas clark — on 29th March, 2010 at 6:41 pm  

    Rumbold,

    Well that is patently suicidal. You may well recall British troops in Basra also believing that not wearing a helmet would win hearts and minds. It didn’t.

    Quite why you bring libertarianism into it is a bit beyond me.

    As an atheist, it strikes me as woo.

    I seem to recall, a while ago, reading about turbans made out of woven Kevlar. That struck me as a reasonable compromise.

    http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/article2416624.ece

    I apologise for the source…

  7. KB Player — on 29th March, 2010 at 6:41 pm  

    I’m all for their turbans. I think they look great.

  8. douglas clark — on 29th March, 2010 at 6:45 pm  

    KB Player @ 7,

    Sure. And I think helmets look ridiculous. S’not the point though, is it?

  9. Rumbold — on 29th March, 2010 at 6:45 pm  

    Douglas:

    If consenting adults wish to increase the risk to their lives (for whatever reason) that is their business. I would not advocate wearing a turban into battle, but then that is not my choice to make. As long as the army makes clear the increased risks, and Sikh soldiers do not expect to be exempt from certain duties because of their turbans, I don’t see a problem.

  10. KB Player — on 29th March, 2010 at 6:47 pm  

    Dunno Douglas. You can feel twice as brave if you think you look pretty good and warrior-like. I bet Scots felt really brave in their kilts. Also,the women really like you, which must be an incentive. It was a miserable day for the British army when they gave up those red coats which made young ladies swoon.

  11. douglas clark — on 29th March, 2010 at 7:12 pm  

    Rumbold,

    Yeah, well, sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. Dunno how many Sikhs were conscripted into the British Army between 1939 and 1945, but their bosses had a ‘duty to care’ about their soldiers. Which could be reasonably argued to be about winning rather than losing. Getting your troops heads blown off is a losing strategy.

    I see your arguement, I just don’t agree with it.

    —————————

    KB Player @ 10,

    It was a miserable day for the British army when they gave up those red coats which made young ladies swoon.

    Yeah but, yet again.

    It seems that bright red uniforms are a very good target acquisition measure. Whether it is the enemy or young women.

    Sure, you can be as brave as you like in your kilt or whatever. Doesn’t stop a bullet. Bravery is over-rated anyway.

  12. notmarvin — on 29th March, 2010 at 10:12 pm  

    PCC complaint against Rod Liddle upheld. Come on let’s get bitching.

  13. marvin — on 29th March, 2010 at 10:14 pm  

    Am I still “coincidentally” marked as spam I wonder…

  14. KJB — on 29th March, 2010 at 10:40 pm  

    Marvin – erm, why? I thought you lurrrved Rod Liddle. I find him about as interesting as Jeremy Clarkson, in all honesty.

    Douglas – I’m also an atheist and frequently uncertain about religious ‘special exemptions,’ but your points don’t hold. Sikhs DO NOT believe that their turbans give them any sort of protection – Only Fools and Horses bloody well put that perception into people’s minds. Furthermore, not all Sikhs wear them. Baptised Sikh men have to wear them, and baptised Sikh women can choose whether they want to or not – some do.

    Regarding your second point – in this instance, safety is not an issue.

    During training, Rattan wore a helmet over the small turban, which he doesn’t remove, and was able to successfully create a seal with his gas mask despite the beard, resolving the Army’s safety concerns

    So this:

    Sure, you can be as brave as you like in your kilt or whatever. Doesn’t stop a bullet

    is irrelevant.

    Wrt to Sikhs in WWI & II wearing turbans – complaining about it now is pointless since they’re all dead.

    Dunno how many Sikhs were conscripted into the British Army between 1939 and 1945, but their bosses had a ‘duty to care’ about their soldiers.

    Douglas, you really ought to read up on how the British Empire worked, and the construction of the notion of ‘martial races’ in particular – as well as how Orientalism influenced British administration in India. Though when it comes to out-and-out exploitation of the non-white colonies in wartime, blacks got it far worse than South Asians, especially in WWI. The British wouldn’t let them fight, but were quite happy to let them get shot to pieces performing repair works and labouring on the battlefield.

    Rumbold can hopefully suggest some good books, as can I if you wish. The impression I’m starting to get is that we may well have the British to thank when it comes to the race-based ‘identity politics’ that so many right-wingers complain about on Cif and elswhere, at least when it comes to the Asian subcontinent.

  15. Jai — on 30th March, 2010 at 10:51 am  

    Dunno how many Sikhs were conscripted into the British Army between 1939 and 1945,

    Indians weren’t conscripted into the British Army during WW2; they volunteered – eventually 2.5 million of them – forming the largest volunteer army in recorded history.

    The impression I’m starting to get is that we may well have the British to thank when it comes to the race-based ‘identity politics’ that so many right-wingers complain about on Cif and elswhere, at least when it comes to the Asian subcontinent.

    Exactly. This isn’t a recent concept in Britain, and certainly not something which has arisen purely during the past few decades, re: “multiculturalism”, “large-scale Asian immigration since the 1960s” etc.

    In this country, a mountain of British historical records from administrative, military, trading, religious and civilian sources confirm that the notion of thinking primarily in terms of “race” and religious identity in terms of attitudes towards the Indian subcontinent and its inhabitants began approximately 200 years ago; first with the rise of fundamentalist Evangelical Christianity towards the end of the 18th century (with its influence continuing throughout the 19th) and subsequently exacerbated by the creation of dubious pseudo-scientific racial theories a few decades later. Mainstream British attitudes had been very, very different before that, for centuries; in fact, compared to what later happened, the difference is staggering.

    As discussed extensively in “White Mughals” and “The Last Mughal” by William Dalrymple along with “Empire” by Niall Ferguson (and recently mentioned by David Dimbleby in the BBC documentary series “Seven Ages of Britain”), it was from this point onwards that what had previously been relaxed British attitudes towards notions of their own identity and attitudes towards cultural & social interaction with Indians were effectively and systematically sabotaged. British viewpoints became less about objectivity and finding amicable common ground, and more about defining themselves in terms of perceived contrasts, differences, and separation with the colonised.

    Matters continued to deteriorate, and the events of 1857 pretty much completely killed off the residual scope for open-minded tolerance and cultural syncretism & assimilation amongst the British of that era. Notions of hermetically-sealed, polarised “inherently superior colonisers versus the inherently inferior colonised” divisions became the norm, were encouraged, and became a matter of formal imperial policy. This lasted until the end of the Raj in 1947, and its effects continue into the present day.

    So, again, this has been par for the course in this country for about 200 years. Race-based identity politics when it comes to British perspectives towards the subcontinent and people originally from that part of the world didn’t suddenly appear out of thin air the moment Asian immigration to Britain began in earnest during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

  16. earwicga — on 30th March, 2010 at 11:47 am  

    it was from this point onwards that what had previously been relaxed British attitudes towards notions of their own identity and attitudes towards cultural & social interaction with Indians were effectively and systematically sabotaged.

    Probably a really niave question, but what were the mechanisms that achieved this sabotage?

  17. question — on 30th March, 2010 at 11:55 am  

    Given the cultural ignorance of many US soldiers how will they distinguish between a Sikh US soldier in a turban and say a Taliban in a turban?

    Id expect quite a few “friendly fire” incidents involving Sikh soldiers getting shot.

  18. Jai — on 30th March, 2010 at 1:35 pm  

    Earwicga,

    Probably a really niave question, but what were the mechanisms that achieved this sabotage?

    I recently posted some extracts from “White Mughals” by William Dalrymple which summarise many of the key policies:

    http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/7827#comment-195814 , continued at http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/7827#comment-195817 .

    An article by Dalrymple himself on the same subject : http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2002/dec/09/britishidentity.india

    Basically it was a 190-year-long combination of racial apartheid, historical revisionism, deliberate penalisation (both informally and via formal policies) and ostracisation of anyone who didn’t toe the line, and racial & religious propaganda geared to inculcate notions of inherent racial, religious and moral superiority in one party, reinforce claims of the other party’s inherent inferiority, simultaneously justify the former’s actions of dominance and conquest over the latter, and firmly deter anyone from excessively sympathising towards (and identifying with) the Indians, especially if it involved “too much” interest in/respect towards aspects of the latter’s culture, religions and history.

    In a nutshell, it was a near-complete reversal of the far more broadminded and respectful attitudes that had previously been the norm both amongst British people living in India and those back here in Britain. To describe it as a tragedy would be an understatement, and it had disastrous long-term consequences for relations between Indians and the British.

  19. Jai — on 30th March, 2010 at 1:42 pm  

    (continued)

    As I’ve said a few times previously on PP, when it comes to their attitudes towards South Asians (in matters of “race”, religion, culture, and “miscegenation”), the modern-day British far-Right and people with similar views amongst the rest of the white British population are essentially the legacy of a large-scale Victorian propaganda and social re-engineering campaign.

  20. Jai — on 30th March, 2010 at 3:21 pm  

    Basically it was a 190-year-long combination

    Correction: More accurately that should state “approximately 150 years”. The Raj can be viewed as starting from Robert Clive’s actions during the Battle of Plassey in 1757, but it wasn’t until decades later — around the end of the 18th century — that the aforementioned policies were systematically implemented and the resulting negative attitudes eventually became widespread and officially condoned.

    Beyond that, anyone wishing to learn more details about the specific actions undertaken and their ramifications should read the contents of the links supplied in #17 and especially the books I mentioned.

  21. earwicga — on 30th March, 2010 at 3:29 pm  

    Thanks Jai. It’s the propaganda that particularly interests me, especially after watching the current Christianist propaganda since 9/11 and the terrible effects it has had.

  22. Dalbir — on 30th March, 2010 at 3:30 pm  

    Id expect quite a few “friendly fire” incidents involving Sikh soldiers getting shot.

    Well, if they were wearing salwaar kameezes maybe, but being in the conspicuous western camo uniform, maybe not. Unless someone targets them deliberately.

    Besides these guys are in the medical core not in fighting units.

  23. AngryAzn — on 30th March, 2010 at 9:00 pm  

    I wonder why kikebold added the fact that uncle tom indians in the same vain as a Bobby Jindal or ‘Sooty’ died protecting a fascist shithole called the Shitish Empire.

  24. Desi Expat — on 30th March, 2010 at 11:04 pm  

    KJB

    Yeah the British came up with and promoted the whole Marital Races theory in India, to ensure that they had groups who were ‘loyal’ and to maintain control after 1857. The sad thing is these beliefs were then picked up by people in the subcontinent themselves, and it’s funny to hear people even now take such pride in their genetic prowess as warriors and being part of a ‘martial race’ without realising the true origin of those views.

  25. douglas clark — on 31st March, 2010 at 1:08 am  

    Jai @ 15,

    I was referring to Sikhs living here in the UK. I am well aware of the Indian volunteer army. I think it was you that made me aware of it!

    I am certainly not about to defend the imperialism that Indians suffered as a consquence of the playing fields of England.
    ___________________________

    KJB @ 14,

    I have never been under the impression that Sikhs did believe in a North American Indian Ghost Dance analogy. I do however think that kevlar turbans are a good idea!

    By the way, it is you that raised the issue of kilts, not me:

    Dunno Douglas. You can feel twice as brave if you think you look pretty good and warrior-like. I bet Scots felt really brave in their kilts.

    So saying it is irrelevant is something we agree on?

    Bravery counts for nothing in modern warfare. Attrition is the name of the game.

  26. earwicga — on 31st March, 2010 at 10:51 am  

    Bravery counts for nothing in modern warfare. Attrition is the name of the game.

    Personally, I think L/Cpl Joe Glenton has showed significant bravery.

  27. Leon — on 31st March, 2010 at 12:39 pm  

    So if this is a libertarian issue does that mean that Sikhs should be exempt from wearing crash helmets while riding a motorcycle?

  28. douglas clark — on 31st March, 2010 at 1:46 pm  

    Earwicga,

    Of course people are brave. It just doesn’t sway outcomes. To take a slightly less contentious example, there were lots of purple hearts awarded in Vietnam. Who won? Who lost?

  29. douglas clark — on 31st March, 2010 at 1:57 pm  

    Perhaps a better example is the Medal of Honour, which is the highest US decoration. 246 of them were awarded during Vietnam.

  30. Dalbir — on 31st March, 2010 at 2:11 pm  

    Perhaps a better example is the Medal of Honour, which is the highest US decoration. 246 of them were awarded during Vietnam.

    There’s me thinking it was the clever name of a cool computer game….duhh….

  31. Rumbold — on 31st March, 2010 at 5:29 pm  

    Leon:

    Every adult should be exempt from wearing crash helmets- their safety is up to them.

  32. Gurpreet — on 1st April, 2010 at 6:57 pm  

    Sikhs should have to wear helmets in the army… On bikes..on a construction site as should everyone else in a situation that requires it in my opinion. I have never really seen what the trouble is… My brother and Dad and every other Turban wearing Sikh man/boy i know never wear them whilst playing sports or going go-karting etc instead choosing to wear a patka (another way to cover ur hair often seen on little sikh boys)… So surely you just adopt the same method in the army (or wherever else wearing a Pug is not suitable). If it can be done when it is convenient, it should be done when it is necessary … It is not racist/culturally un-PC to ask that someone should be safe.

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