Sikhs Fight for Right to Wear Turbans, Beards In Military, Law Enforcement

July 11, 2009

Author: Sargunjot Kaur

Source: San Jose Mercury News

Two U.S. Army doctors are fighting to start active duty without having to shed the turbans and beards of their Sikh faith. Jaskirat Singh ran into the same roadblock when he tried to join the Milpitas Police Department's Explorer program.

Singh, 17, grew up watching "Cops" on TV and hearing stories from his neighbor, a retired California Highway Patrol officer. The Explorer program, which gives young people hands-on experience in law enforcement, appealed to him.

"I cannot imagine myself doing anything else than helping others and keeping my community safe," he said.

Giving up the turban and beard may seem like a small matter to many — not necessarily tantamount to giving up one's religion. But for Sikhs, keeping hair in its natural state is regarded as living in harmony with the will of God.

"Turbans and uncut hair are part of our religious identity," said Jaswinder Singh Jandhi, supreme council member at the Fremont Sikh Temple.

Fortunately for Singh, the Explorer program's ban was quickly lifted once program sponsors understood the religious implications. Singh hopes to one day join the department's ranks after completing the Explorer program.