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Melbourne school amends uniform policy to allow Sikh students to wear 'patka', turban

Harsanjog Singh (R) with his parents and sister. Source: Supplied

Melbourne’s Good News Lutheran College has changed its uniform guidelines to allow its Sikh students to wear a head covering in accordance with their religious ethos.

It all began four months ago with a campaign started by a handful of Sikh families associated with Good News Lutheran College in Melbourne’s western suburb of Tarneit.

It has culminated with this Christian denominational school accepting and implementing a request made by Sikh families to allow their children to wear a patka (headwear worn usually by young Sikh boys) or a turban as part of the school uniform.


Highlights:

  • Good News Lutheran College, Tarneit amends uniform guidelines to allow Sikh religious headwear
  • Families petitioned to seek amendment, the school acted swiftly
  • Students will be able to wear patka/turban when school reopens for Term 3 after COVID-19 lockdown

Many Sikhs, along with a large Indian-origin population of other faiths, call Tarneit home. Unshorn hair is one of the five articles of faith in Sikhism. The hair is tied into a bun atop the head and draped with a piece of cloth, which is either a patka or a turban, depending upon its size.

Many schools in the area have included the patka as part of their uniform policy. 

But the family of Harsanjog Singh, a Year 5 student at Good News Lutheran College, was faced with a difficult situation since the school didn't have a clear policy on headwear. 

His mother Sharanjeet Kaur explains: “Our son had to go to school with a ponytail and got teased by other children as being a girl. This is where my husband Jasleen Singh and I decided to start a campaign to attract like-minded Sikh families associated with the school.”

Harsanjog’s parents say that the stumbling block in their way was that there was no rule or guideline in the school prohibiting religious headwear.

"Rather, the lack of it made everyone feel religious headwear wasn’t permitted. Most people told us that a school run according to the Christian faith will not make room for Sikh religious headwear.

"But the principal, Fiona McAulliffe was very attentive to our needs and took fast action on having the uniform guidelines amended to accommodate this all-important Sikh value,” Ms Kaur says.

Harsanjog Singh in his new school uniform.
Harsanjog Singh in his new school uniform.
Supplied

School principal Fiona McAullife, considered instrumental in this change, told SBS Punjabi: “Through diversity, we can express the totality of God’s human creation and be blessed with an assortment of perspectives and gifts.”

She said in the absence of clear guidelines, there was an "understanding rather than a direct instruction" that the patka was not part of the school uniform.

“I was surprised by this understanding as it is not in line with our Lutheran beliefs around inclusivity," Ms McAullife said.

Following discussions, the executive leadership of the school decided to allow "hair accessories or religious/cultural headwear", including turban/patka.

Fiona McAullife is the principal of Good News Lutheran College, Melbourne
Fiona McAullife is the principal of Good News Lutheran College, Melbourne.
Supplied

In Victoria, there is no specific government uniform policy that binds schools and each one determines its own.

Once schools reopen for term 3 after the coronavirus lockdown is lifted, Ms McAuliffe says that all 44 of her school’s Sikh boys will have the freedom to wear a patka or a turban in school colours.

“I’m feeling very proud now that I can wear my patka. I’ll tell my friends from other cultures that this is the Sikh culture, that all religions are one,” says the 10-year-old Harsanjog.

His mother says she was optimistic about a positive outcome because she has "seen Australia change" during the past 10 years that the family has been living here.

“It was all done in just about four months. It probably took us more time to have people of our own community join forces with us than have a Lutheran school change its policies,” Ms Kaur adds.

Harsanjog’s parents add that they requested local Labor politician Jasvinder Sidhu to petition the school to make this change and he was successful in making their voice heard.

In 2017, a similar case in nearby Melton brought to light Sidhak Singh Arora, a Sikh schoolboy who was permitted by a Melbourne court to wear the patka to school. His school, Melton Christian College, was found in breach of Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act as it denied him admission with his patka on.

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