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International lobbying to stop 'school turban discrimination'

Sagar Arora with his son Source: Supplied

International civil rights and humanitarian organization ‘UNITED SIKHS’ plans to provide legal representation to Sikh families affected due to the ‘school turban discrimination’ in Australia.

International civil rights and humanitarian non-profit organisation UNITED SIKHS* now plans to provide legal representation to Sikh families affected by the ‘school turban discrimination’ in Australia. 

Mejindarpal Kaur, International Legal Director from UNITED SIKHS has told SBS radio’s Punjabi Program that their organization is ready to raise this issue in the interests of all religious minorities, who face discrimination while trying to admit their children to schools.

Listen to Mejindarpal Kaur’s interview with SBS PunjabiPreetinder Singh Grewal (In Punjabi)

Mejindarpal Kaur emphasized that their organization has vast experience in providing legal representation to religious minorities with a special focus on the Sikh community.

“The issue is not only important to the Sikh community but to all minorities religious who today feel challenged by these types of circumstances.”

The response comes after SBS Punjabi shared the story of six Sikh families who claim that they were forced to abandon the school of their choice due to their religious beliefs.

“As we prepare for Sidhak Singh’s case, we have been contacted by many Sikh families who want to be part of our legal campaign,” said Ms Kaur.

"There should be a political will to resolve this issue. It is not just one school but a trend. So, rules need to be put at a government level and political leaders should set it as an example to support religious freedom and freedom of education.”

"We have lot of faith in Christianity’s principles. It is not against any other faith or any other human being.”

“Jesus Christ is well known to have sported long hair and wore a turban. So, to blame Christianity for it or Christian schools for it, the people who do so, even the schools themselves, are actually staying shy of Christ's own teachings.”

"The world is meant to be equal. Yes, it is not equal. But if you accept that the world is not equal then you will not work towards equality." 

"There should be equal treatment of a child who wants admission. Because he wears a patka or turban, for him to be denied that equality, is against human rights."

Listen to Mejindarpal Kaur’s interview with SBS PunjabiPreetinder Singh Grewal (In English)

Ms Kaur also emphasized on the current global need for discussions about religious tolerance and world peace.

“We have seen a wave of fear post 9/11, which is growing more and more with recent developments in the USA and the recent mosque incident in Canada."

“Specifically, I'd like to point out the brave statement by Sagardeep Singh that he was prepared for his child to attend catechism classes offered in the convent school because the Sikh religion promotes learning.”

“I attended a convent school in Malaysia and we went to catechism classes and we even went to chapel.  But that didn't make ourselves less Sikh or less humans.” 

“In fact, we now know more about the Christian faith to be able to say that it's not Christianity to reject someone or put down their faith."

“I would also like to make a reference to a similar case from UK, known as Mandla (Sewa Singh) v Dowell-Lee [1983]. It was about what the Melton Christian College is saying to Sagardeep's son, and on the facts both these cases are identical.”

“It’s beggar’s belief that 33 years later in the country which still deems the Queen as the head of the state, and which is a part of Commonwealth, and is subjected to same jurisprudence that we should have schools, whether they are Christian schools or whether they are non-faith schools, who should discriminate a child based on religious preference."

Ms Kaur is a full time pro bono lawyer with UNITED SIKHS since the past 14 years. She feels that cases like these also need a constructive discussion within local communities.  

“We don’t fight these cases on an individual’s basis but from a community point of view as they set a precedent for coming generations.”

“In 2004, France passed a law that banned all religious signs and symbols in state schools that was passed after 3 months’ notice of declaring that there would be such a law.”

“At that time, UNITED SIKHS gave legal representation for five similar cases in the French Courts.”

“We’re fighting against French government, which we expected to lose given that the law had overwhelming support and France’s constitution would be used to ban religious signs in the name of secularity.”

“Our legal team which comprised international lawyers from different parts of the world including UK, USA, INDIA participated in this long legal battle.”

“Sukhwant Singh, our Legal Director at Perth, Judge (Late) Sir Mota Singh and Judge Rabinder Singh QC gave their services pro bono.”

“We joined hands to mount the challenge at European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Committee,  and in last few years we won all three cases before the UNHRC.”

“And that is our experience and our commitment to any religious minority and in particular the Sikh religious minority, who face challenges because of the turban.”

Mejindarpal Kaur, the Director and the International Legal Attorney from UNITED
Mejindarpal Kaur, the Director and the International Legal Attorney from UNITED SIKHS
Supplied

Ms Kaur said that the Sikh community has suffered due to a wave of hatred for the turban in the post 9/11 era.

"We have seen a fallout ever since 9/11 where turban has been equaled to terror. Therefore, the attitude towards people wearing a certain religious garb is to either ignore them, to discriminate against them or to live in fear of them.

“So this is the reason why UNITED SIKHS as an organization take it very seriously whenever we hear of such cases around the world.”

“We are also in touch with Sikh community lawyers from Australia including Gurpal Singh and Harjit Singh of Melbourne who are willing to provide their help to resolve this issue.”

“UNITED SIKHS has been registered in Australia for the last eight years, and was initially set up in Perth. We also have a chapter in Melbourne, if any one wishes to contact our director Gurvinder Singh, he's available on +61 420 391 982.”

Sikh boy with his father
Most Sikh boys will wear a patka (L), which is the youth version of a turban (R)
Supplied

*UNITED SIKHS is registered as a national charitable institution (ABN 24 317 847 103) with the Australian Taxation Office. It has a global reach with its chapters running in various countries in USA, Asia, Australia and Europe.

Are you one of the Sikh families who had to abandon the school of their choice due to your religious beliefs e.g patka or turban. We would like to hear from you. Please contact SBS Radio’s Preetinder Grewal on Preetinder.singh@sbs.com.au

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