By Arun Kumar
Washington: Over 100 members of Congress from both Democratic and Republican parties have urged the US defence department to end the presumptive ban on Sikh Americans serving in the US military with their beards and turbans.
In a letter to Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, the lawmakers specifically requested that the US Armed Forces update their appearance regulations to allow Sikh Americans to serve while abiding by their articles of faith, such as wearing a turban or beard.
The major bipartisan push for change was led by Joe Crowley, Democratic Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus in the House, and Rodney Frelinghuysen Republican Chairman of the House Defence Appropriations Subcommittee.
“Given the achievements of these soldiers and their demonstrated ability to comply with operational requirements while practicing their faith, we believe it is time for our military to make inclusion of practicing Sikh Americans the rule, not the exception,” wrote the lawmakers in the letter.
In the last 30 years, only three Sikh Americans- Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan and Corporal Simran Preet Singh Lamba — have been granted an accommodation, or permission, to serve in the US Army while maintaining their articles of faith.
Such accommodations are neither permanent nor guaranteed, and must be renewed after virtually every assignment, the lawmakers noted.
Sikh Americans may even be required to remove their articles of faith while their accommodation request is pending, once again subjecting these service members to the difficult position of choosing between their faith and their job.
Sikhs have served in the US Army since World War I, and they are presumptively permitted to serve in the armed forces of America’s NATO allies Canada and the United Kingdom, as well as key partner India.
Notably, the current Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army is a turbaned and bearded Sikh, the lawmakers noted.
The three Sikh Americans who have been granted individualized accommodations to serve in the US Army wear turbans and maintain beards in a neat and conservative manner, both in accordance with operational requirements and their Sikh religious beliefs, they said.
They are also able to wear protective equipment, including helmets and gas masks, in conformity with safety requirements, they said.
These three soldiers have been widely praised by fellow soldiers for their service, the lawmakers noted.