Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Great news! U.S. Army accomodates Sikhs

Khalsa Sikh service in the United States military began in World War One, in the days before Indians, being "non-white" could become legal citizens of this country. Observant Sikhs served in the U.S. military during that war, World War Two, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and other less famous conflicts.

That pattern came to end in 1984, when the U.S. military removed its religious exemption on its ban on facial hair. For the most of my lifetime, American Sikhs have either had to compromise their religious practice or avoid military service.

I had no idea about this until my dad sent a link to an article celebrating the Army's recent accommodation of Tejdeep Singh Rattan. Capt. Rattan has been allowed to keep his beard and turban during his service. At least one other Sikh is currently cleared to do likewise. Hopefully, many more will follow.

Capt. Rattan at officer school graduation

I am particularly encouraged by this news for two reasons:

1) The murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi and other hate crimes against Sikhs after 9/11 show that prejudice against bearded people matters. Having bearded Sikhs in the U.S. military strengthens our country by showing that we are capable of unity in diversity.

2) If the United States army can accommodate Sikhs again 26 years after eliminating their exemption, it's possible that BYU will also accommodate Sikhs again. Perhaps it would help if someone (who is not me) would send Stephen Baker, Jonathan Kau, Vernon Heperi, and/or Jan Sharman copies of articles about Tejdeep Singh Rattan?


  1. 1984...I bet the fact that the end to the US armies exemption for Khalsa Sikhs came in the same year as the worst violence between militant Sikh separatists and the Indian government was no accident.

  2. I'll actually bet it was an accident. I doubt the army thought much about Sikhs one way or the other. They probably just wanted things simplified, loopholes closed, whatever.

  3. Hmmm...You're probably right. I guess I'm just inclined to be suspicious.

    I also found another article about this, written while Captain Rattan and Captain Kalsi were still petitioning for an exemption:

  4. As of yet, exemptions are only being granted in individual cases-- there is still no blanket policy allowing a religious exemption for Khalsa Sikhs.

    Part of what happened in the cases of Captain Rattan and Captain Kalsi is that recruiters told them they would be able to maintain beard, long hair, and turban and then when they finished training they were informed that they'd have to shave before entering active duty. They appealed, and received personal exemptions.

  5. I'd offer to send a copy of the article to the Honor Code people... but I'm probably blacklisted after my involvement in the Save the WRI movement. Especially after the remarks I made at the dinner the FHSS threw to thank Dr. Ballif-Spanvill for unbelievable work... as they boot her out the door. (I was quite diplomatic, mind you, but I don't think that goes a long way here at the Y).


Related Posts with Thumbnails