After Melton resident Sagardeep Singh Arora, six more Victorian Sikh families have alleged that their children have been subject to discrimination during the school enrollments.
At least six Sikh families from Melbourne have spoken to SBS Punjabi, claiming they were forced to abandon the school of their choice due to their religious beliefs.
They mentioned that they had no options other than to opt for schools which will allow their children to wear ‘patka’ or turbans in school premises.
SBS Punjabi has recorded interviews with five Victorian Sikh families, represented by Mandeep Singh, Manpreet Singh Kharoud, Palki Bansal, Sohan Singh Makkar and Paramvir Ahluwalia. The sixth family wanted to be anonymous but shared similar views as expressed by the above said five families.
These families claim that in the recent past, the following Melbourne schools have denied enrolling their ‘patka’ or turban-wearing children: Gilson College, Mernda, Good News Lutheran College, Tarneit, Plenty Valley Christian College and Melton Christian College.
Mandeep Singh from the Melbourne suburb of Tarneit mentioned that Good News Lutheran College in Tarneit did not enrol his son due to its ‘strict uniform policies’.
"I can’t believe it happened," Mandeep Singh told SBS Punjabi. "We were quite optimistic until we were refused.”
"After pre-selection, we went for a parent-teacher meeting where we were advised by the Principal that they have 'no headgear' policy.”
"I tried to convince the management, but it was in vain.”
"I told them ‘turban or patka’ is not like a hat or any occasional ‘on-off’ fashion thing. It has a religious significance."
"A Sikh doesn’t cut his or her hair. Turban is our protection and our respect to our God-given appearance."
Singh argued, “As per my understanding of the Christianity, no one forces you to cut your hair. There is no mention that you can’t cover your hair. Even highly respected religious people like nuns and priests cover their hair. So what’s wrong in it?”
“My brother and I studied in Convent Schools in India until 12th grade. These schools in India are run by the Christian community. The higher standard, discipline, ethics and the respect for religious values is what we learnt in these schools.”
“All I want is the same for my son. Why he is denied his right to avail the best available education under the name of ‘school rules’."
Singh says that in spite of the difficulties he faced, he still very much wants his son to join: “I have a high respect for this school. I really wish my son could be part of it.”
“I request the school management to review its uniform policy.”
“Moreover, I wish they could put the human element in this context.”
“Christian schools give priority to Christian children and for the left-over seats, they take students from other religions.”
“But it’s quite sad that schools accept students from other faiths to generate revenue, but when it comes to respect others’ religious beliefs, they don’t care.”
Mandeep Singh was also of the opinion that the Government should provide some clarity to the situation.
“They should enforce it as it is a ‘win-win’ situation for the communities as well as the schools.”
“These schools are heavily funded by both state and federal governments.”
“It’s my government, our government. So why can’t government come forward to help our kids.”
“It’s a secular government and they should promote the secular thoughts from the very beginning at the doorstep of the education, our primary schools.”
“Australia boasts of an established multicultural society. But are we really encouraging it?”
“These so called ‘school rules’ would encourage individual communities to build their own schools. How will kids mix up when it comes to social cohesion.”
“If a Sikh student is denied wearing a turban at such a tender age, how will country accept it later when it comes to avail other opportunities.”
“I would request the wider Australian community to come forward to support the cause. Moreover, it’s not a question of supporting one community but ‘One Australia’.
Paramvir Singh Ahluwalia is also of the opinion that ‘faith’ based schools should come forward to encourage a multicultural society.
“We’re denied admission due to my son’s turban.”
“And another school had an indirect policy to keep us away. They said ‘no seat’. But the very next day one of my Indian friend’s non-turban son got admission. So what should I take this to mean?”
“I know one Sikh family who even changed their son’s religion to Christianity, just to get school admission.”
“I don’t want to go into a debate on what they did was right or wrong.”
“But the most important question is – is the existing system ‘encouraging or forcing’ families to sacrifice their religious beliefs to give their kids the best available education?”
“It is a big problem for our community. Even I wrote to Minister of Education but did not get a reply.”
After accessing Sagardeep Singh Arora’s story, many commentators on social media asked us the question - Why then enrol in Catholic or Christian Schools only, why not any other schools?
SBS Punjabi asked this question to all six families. Each time the answer they provide is almost same:
“The standard of education is excellent."
“The school is very close to where we live.:
“Are you asking me to abandon my religious beliefs to be part of a ‘faith based’ school?”
The Chairperson of the Sikh Interfaith Council, Jasbir Singh Suropada, told SBS many Sikh children attend Christian and public schools where uniform exceptions are made.
“There’s no issue, they’re very accommodative and we are very happy with how things are going.”
“I always perceive Australia, and especially Victoria, to be a very diverse society, and very tolerant and embracing of all faiths.”
Mr Singh Suropada said it was disappointing that schools were using uniform protocol as a reason to ban the turban.
“By not allowing it, it is actually going against their own statement of saying they are accommodative of all cultures and faiths.”
SBS Punjabi has contacted the office of the Minister for Education, Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner for their comments on this issue but has not yet received a response.
According to a draft published by the Independent Schools Victoria, nearly a third of Victoria’s schools are non-government, and they are attended by more than 36 per cent of all Victorian students.
“Independent schools support the diversity of Australia by educating nearly 129,000 students in Victoria from across the cultural spectrum.”
The proportion of government funding for individual Independent schools varies greatly.
Independent schools on average receive 42 per cent of their funding from governments and 58 per cent from private sources, mainly from parental contributions through fees.
Sources of Independent sector income, 2014