Sikh boy forced to attend different school over turban ban

A five-year-old boy has been banned from wearing his traditional head-wear at a Melbourne school, because it doesn't conform with the uniform protocol.

As is custom for men practising Sikhism, each morning, little Sidhak Singh Arora’s parents tuck his uncut hair beneath his patka, the youth version of a turban.

His father, Sagardeep Singh Arora, told SBS it’s part of his identity.

“You have to keep your hair covered all the time.”

“It's not like a fashion, or accessory for us, it's like a basic principle of our religion.”

But it's also the reason five-year-old Sidhak can't attend his local school.

“I really feel bad, and disappointed, because I thought this is a modern society, how can a kid not go to the school of his choice, just because he is wearing a religious clothing?”

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Three years ago, the Arora family settled in Melton, an area with a growing Sikh community in Melbourne's north western outskirts.

They investigated nearby schools and chose to enrol Sidhak into Melton Christian College, which prides itself on its multiculturalism and inclusiveness, boasting at least six different faiths in its student body.

Sidhak’s cousins, who choose not to wear the patka, already attend the school.

“My son really wanted to go to that school,” said Mr Singh Arora.

“This is one of the best schools over there, I say the best school in the Melton area.”

But when Mr Singh Arora asked if his son could wear his patka, he says the school council said no.

“It's very difficult for a father to tell his kid, 'oh you can't go to that school', I can't say because of this religion belief or because he's following some religion that's a hindrance for his education.”

He's now taking the case to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

The school principal cited the hearing as a reason not to speak publicly.

But in its submission to the Tribunal, the Melton Christian College Board acknowledged the Arora family's disappointment, but said its decision not to modify college uniform, was based on upholding existing protocol and the College's history.

According to data collected in the 2011 Census, Australia is home to just over 72,000 Sikhs.

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 Melton Christian College was 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.”  

The story has made headlines in the Arora family's native India.

While they await the VCAT hearing, scheduled for April, young Sidhak will need to attend another school.

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