The following appeal has been submitted by Iqbal Singh, University of Chicago, to the Judiciary
Subcommittee of the U.S. Congress He call upon the Sikh community to send the same to their respective Congress and Senators
House of Representatives
House Office Building Washington, DC 20515
As a member of your constituency I bring to your kind attention a matter of great urgency concerning me, my family and community.
The issue relates to the very intrinsic values upon which United States of America is founded upon equality before the law, equal opportunity and liberty to pursue civil rights enshrined in our Constitution. Although Sikhs have served in the U.S. armed forces since World War II without any bar to their wearing turbans, new regulations introduced on August 21, 1981, banned the headdress, and in effect the hair for those wishing to pursue armed forces as a career. This regulation, manifested in Department of Army in response to Department of Defense Directive 1300.171, Accommodation of Religious Practices within the Military Services, read with AR 60020, August 26, 1985. Unfortunately and unexpectedly the scope of such a ruling has had unintended side effects to quote just two instances. Cadet Ravneet Singh, grade 9, of Marion Military Academy, Aurora Illinois, has been denied permission to wear normal army uniform because of his turban; Mr. Singh, a student of University of Michigan, Ann Arbor was disallowed participation in the University Marching Band unless he wore a hat instead of his turban.
THE BACKGROUND AND FACTS:
Sikhism is a 500year old religion of about 17 million Sikhs the world over, which believes in one God, universal brotherhood and equality of mankind. Sikhs have particularly distinguished themselves as one of the finest lot of farmers and soldiers constituting two percent of India’s population they produce nearly 35% of India’s total food and form 10 percent of the Indian Army. Under the British prior to 1947, Sikhs constituted nearly 30 percent of the British Indian Army of three million defending the free world in every battle that the British fought and winning every known award for bravery from Victoria Cross to Order of British Empire. In today’s Indian Army Sikhs are known to have won the highest number of bravery awards in various battles. Over thirty Commonwealth and other countries enroll Sikhs with turbans in their regular army and police units. Sir John Maynard wrote that towards the British World War I and II effort “the Sikh community contributed in men and materials ten times that of any of the other communities of India”.
During these years Sikhs have always worn their hair and turban which have in no way hindered their “operational and administrative performance or posed a hazard to their health, safety or discipline” the grounds on which the U.S. Sikhs have been disallowed wearing of turbans. I submit that a proven record of excellence, both in war and peace, over the last 150 years should not be disregarded by the Department of Defense and the four services. The British, the Indian and numerous other armies and police forces appreciate this and have used the potential of Sikhs citizenry for upholding the honor, security and intrinsic values of their respective countries.
I submit that as a result of the above referred restrictions I, my otherwise eligible family members and the community, are not allowed to exercise our fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution so carefully created by the founding fathers for we are being unintentionally denied “equality” to saviour country as members of the armed forces and the opportunity to follow a career of our choice. Furthermore, we are by implication being discriminated on the basis of our religion. I wish to add that hair is a natural form of man which God created. It should not be treated as a religious symbol like the robes of a sect or Rastafarian hairstyle called dreadlocks. In the case of my religion it is the very essence of Sikhism, of the natural form of man. I may mention here that all Sikhs and not the Orthodox Sikhs alone are required to wear a turban.
A bill was indeed initiated although not pursued to the end during the final stages of the 99th Congress, by Senators Frank R. Lautenberg (D.N.J.) and Alfonse D’Amato (R.N.Y.) on military uniforms with a view to overriding a Supreme Court decision (March 25, 1986) upholding the ban on service personnel wearing yarmulkes, the skull cap worn by Orthodox Jews. Though not specifically indicated, this bill was, by implication, expected to benefit the Sikh community also.
THE PETITION FOR CONSIDERATION:
I most earnestly request you, the Honorable lawmaker, to initiate the necessary bill to enable the American citizens of the Sikh religious denomination equal opportunity to serve the country as a member of the armed forces. Meanwhile, please consider taking up this case with the Department of Defense to remove the restrictive regulations since it is well within their power to exercise such discretion.
With warm regards and happy stay at the Capital.
Article extracted from this publication >> March 6, 1987