A Melbourne Sikh student has joined a Christian school that recently changed its uniform policy after losing a discrimination case over his right to wear a turban.
After winning his legal battle at the Victorian Administrative and Civil Tribunal (VCAT), 6-year-old Sidhak Singh had his first day at school that refused to enrol him in 2016.
VCAT in September 2017 found that school had breached the Equal Opportunity Act by not allowing Sidhak Singh Arora, then aged five, to attend the school wearing a patka, or children's turban.
The Melton Christian College (MCC) recently changed its uniform policy to enrol Sidhak in the new academic year.
"To allow exceptions where genuine medical or religious grounds exist, such that Sidhak will be able to start at MCC in the beginning of the 2018 school year," reads the statement jointly made by Sidhak's parents and the school.
"MCC regrets the difficulties that took place with respect to the enrolment and the Arora family is grateful to the school for the amendments it has made to the uniform policy in order to welcome Sidhak to the school".
UNITED SIKHS provided 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 told SBS Punjabi that their organization is raising this issue in the interests of all religious minorities.
“This case sets a precedent for religious freedom in Victorian schools, for students of all faiths,” she said.
“We couldn't be more pleased with the outcome and happy for Sidhak Singh and his family.
“If you experience any such issues within your schools, please get in touch with us.
“On behalf of Sikhs in Australia, and in Victoria in particular, we are very pleased that VCAT has upheld religious freedom in schools.
Sidhak's parents, Sagardeep Singh Arora and Anureet Kaur Arora, tried to enrol their son at the school in 2016 because it was close to home and where Sidhak's cousins studied.
The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, which had intervened in the case, had said in a statement, "The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal's decision in the Arora v Melton Christian College case was an important test for clarifying the exceptions in the Equal Opportunity Act 2010. This is the first time that these exceptions from discrimination have been considered in Victorian courts or tribunals."
"I consider that MCC's uniform policy in so far as it prohibits head gear of a non-Christian faith, could be described as 'openly discriminatory," said VCAT member, J Grainger, in a 50-page judgment. You may read the full judgment here.
"I was approached by UNITED SIKHS in January this year when they learnt that I did not have legal representation. They assisted me and arranged pro bono representation by Herbert Smith Freehills, a top law firm in Australia," Sidhak Singh's father, Sagardeep Singh, said after VCAT's ruling.
Sagardeep Singh Arora had earlier told SBS Punjabi that VCAT had ruled MCC has breached the state's Equal Opportunity Act by placing uniform conditions on his son’s enrolment.
“It is a great outcome. We are very pleased to hear this decision,” said Mr Arora.
“The case will set a precedent for everyone else who wants their children to practice their religion or faith and cannot do it because some schools’ uniform policy excludes them from enrolment due to their appearance or their religious beliefs.”
The landmark case of Sidhak Singh Arora may have wide-ranging implications for schools and the uniform policies they set.
Video - The family of 5-year-old Sidhak Singh was fighting for what they call his right to study in a Christian school.
The story that was first broadcast on SBS Punjabi triggered a nation-wide debate about the ‘right to education’ of children struggling with issues of ‘identity’ and ‘religious freedom’.