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Melbourne Sikh family approaches court against alleged discrimination by school

Sidhak Singh Arora and his father Sagardeep Singh Arora. Source: SBS

A Melbourne tribunal has started hearings to decide if a school discriminated against a Sikh boy for wearing his patka - the youth version of a turban.

A Melbourne Sikh family has launched legal action against a Christian college that refused entry to their son because he wears a turban.

Sagardeep Singh Arora told SBS Punjabi that his five year old son, Sidhak, couldn't enrol at Melton Christian College because the school didn't allow the headwear.

Melbourne's Melton Christian College (MCC) has maintained its position on its current uniform policy.

In court today, the college compared the patka to a cap, with the school principal telling the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) he wanted to maintain neutrality between students.

Sagardeep Singh Arora, the father of 5-year old boy claims that the institute's uniform protocol inflicts indirect discrimination against their religious belief.

In a previous interview with SBS Punjabi, Sagardeep Singh Arora alleged that MCC has breached the state's Equal Opportunity Act by placing uniform conditions on his son’s enrolment. 

"It is disappointing that my son has been forced to abandon his religious practices and identity to access to an education of his choice," Arora tells SBS.

"I believe the historical nature of the uniform standard does not take into account or properly reflect the current school community views in which the school is operating.”

"For a standard to be reasonable it should not permit unjustifiable discrimination."

As to why the family chose to enrol the boy in a Christian school, Arora says, "my son wants to join his friends and cousins who are already studying there. This school is very close to our residence."

"Moreover, it is very hard for me to explain him why he can’t be part of this school."

Sidhak Singh Arora, 5, was due to start prep at Melton Christian College, in Melbourne's north-west, this year. He is currently enrolled in a public school.

UNITED SIKHS is providing legal representation to Singh family with the support of a local law firm the Herbert Smith Freehills.

Mejindarpal Kaur, International Legal Director from UNITED SIKHS has travelled from UK to provide legal assistance to Singh family.

Mrs Kaur told SBS radio’s Punjabi Program that their organization is raising this issue in the interests of all religious minorities.

While talking about the tribunal proceeding, she mentioned that the hearing is scheduled for three days between 24 – 26 July.

“Sidhak’s mother and father told the tribunal that they were disappointed with MCC’s decision of denying their son school enrolment.”

“MCC’s principal and a founder member provided reasons why school won’t change its uniform policy.”

“Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) intervened in the matter in the tribunal.”

“MCC’s previous argument was based on Section 42 of Equal Opportunity Act 2010. It provides an exception based on the standards of dress and behaviour.”

“But VEOHRC found that it can’t be the case as Sidhak is not enrolled as a student at MCC.”

“The second day of hearing is vacated for more submissions and interpretations.  We are told that MCC will fight the case based on exemptions provided to faith schools in Section 39.”

“It’s a very important case. The decision on this matter will set precedent for the other Sikh families who feel discriminated in similar matters.”

MCC’s principal David Gleeson told the tribunal he was proud of the "neutrality" of the uniform, and said the case was similar to a situation where a Year 11 student was not allowed to wear a hat from sportswear brand New Balance.

The college claimed it was not breaching the Equal Opportunity Act as there was an exemption allowing it to enforce reasonable dress standards.

SBS Punjabi will provide a ‘Live’ coverage for the hearing that will continue on Wednesday the 26th July, 2017.

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