By Arun Kumar
Washington: Indian ambassador S. Jaishankar has welcomed US lawmakers plea to end US defence department’s presumptive ban on Sikh Americans serving in the US military with their beards and turbans.
Over 100 members of Congress from both Democratic and Republican parties made the plea in a March 10 letter to the US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel to promote inclusion of Sikhs in the US Armed Forces by updating their appearance regulations.
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.
In a statement on the letter’s release, Jaishankar said: “The Congressional initiative is an important step towards upholding the cultural rights of the Sikh community in the United States.
“The large number of signatories to this letter testifies to the important role played by the Sikh community in the United States and its various walks of life.”
“The Sikh community’s success in the United States is a source of pride for India and a pillar of the India-US partnership,” he said.
Speaking of the contributions of the Sikh community in India, Jaishankar noted, “India takes pride in being the cradle of Sikhism. The Sikh community is an intrinsic part of India’s multi-religious and pluralistic fabric.”
“Sikhs have made India proud with their sacrifices, achievements and leadership,” he said.
“India’s Sikh sons and daughters have held the highest offices in the land and have served at the highest ranks including at Four Star ranks in the Indian military.”
“The tremendous progress and prosperity they have achieved, and their enormous contribution to their motherland, speak volumes about their indefatigable spirit of enterprise and diligence,” Jaishankar said.
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
In their letter to Hagel, the lawmakers wrote: “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.”
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 lawmaker noted.