Military service is in Capt. Kamaljit Singh Kalsi's blood.
and grandfather were part of India's
His great-grandfather served in the British Indian army. So when US
army recruiters talked to him during his first year of medical
school, he readily signed up.
plans to go on
in July are now on hold. An Army policy from the 1980s that
regulates the wearing of religious items would mean he would need to
shave his beard and remove the turban he wears in accordance with
his religious precepts.
another Sikh man with the same concerns, Second Lt. Tejdeep Singh
Rattan, are the centerpieces of an advocacy campaign launched by the
Sikh Coalition as it tries to persuade
to let them serve without sacrificing their articles of faith.
American, there's no reason why I can't serve," Kalsi, 32, said.
has a long-standing interest in how its members carry themselves,
with policies that ban exotic hair colors, long fingernails or
certain colors of lipstick. Army officials declined to comment on
the reasoning behind its policy that would force the Sikh men to
give up their religious displays. Sikhs who were active-duty
military when the policy was adopted were allowed to continue
serving without shaving their beards or removing their turbans.
Pentagon and other military institutions would not comment. The
Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an advocacy group, was
unfamiliar with the policy's origins.
As the Sikh
diaspora has spread across the world, the issue of turbans and
beards on Sikhs in uniform has come up in a number of places. In New
York City, for example, Sikh traffic officers took successful legal
action to force the city to allow them to wear turbans and beards.
community is hopeful it will win the policy appeal; in an April 29
letter to the Sikh Coalition, the director of the Army's Human
Resources Policy Directorate said senior leadership was aware of the
issue and was gathering information to make a decision. Toni
Delancey, a spokeswoman for Army personnel, said the appeals are
Coalition executive director Amardeep Singh said he hopes that not
only are Kalsi and Rattan allowed to serve, but that the rule will
be changed for all turbaned and bearded Sikhs who would want to
country's military needs to reflect what America is right now," he
said. "It's a diverse country, it's a country that puts forth for
the rest of the world the values of liberty, particularly religious
Sikhs to serve with beard and turban ``will send a very strong
message to the rest of the world that we are who we say we are.''
faith requires adherents to follow certain rules, among them that
hair is not to be cut and for men, the wearing of a turban. Both
Kalsi, an emergency room doctor, and Rattan, a dental surgeon, say
they were following those rules when they were recruited and never
had any problems or were told they would not be able to serve with
their beards or turbans.
they raised the issue over the years and were reassured, and that it
was not until the end of last year when they were told they would
not be allowed to serve as they were.
that he would have to choose between his country and his faith is
hard for Rattan. "I'm offering my life, but I'm not willing to
sacrifice my religious beliefs," he said.
it would be in the military's best interest to lets Sikhs serve. The
community has a long tradition of military service, both in India,
where most of the faith's adherents are, as well as in the countries
where Sikhs have made their homes, like Canada and the United
"As part of
our religious heritage, we're taught that we have an obligation to
actively serve and protect the communities in which we live," he
regulations for the
allow Sikhs to keep their turbans and beards, and even determine
what colors the different military branches can wear. The Royal
Canadian Mounted Police allows turbans as well.
army allows Sikhs to generally keep their articles of faith. For
Sikhs who serve as civilian police officers, the British
Sikh Association is pushing for development of bulletproof turbans.
That would allow Sikhs to be part of firearms units, since safety
helmets do not fit over them.
a long history with the US military, serving in World Wars I and II,
the Korean and
and in the Persian Gulf.
(The Times of India)