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Sikh boy's school admission denial raises a stink PDF Print E-mail
© Neena Bhandari, Indo Asian News Service 

Sydney, Feb 26 (IANS) In a landmark case that may have far-reaching consequences for Sikhs in Australia, a family has challenged the decision of a private school in Brisbane not to enrol their son because his turban would breach the school's uniform code.

The 12-year-old boy's family has complained to the Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland (ADCQ) alleging the Ormiston College discriminated against their son and his religion in imposing a requirement for enrolment that the boy should cut his hair and not wear a 'patka' (turban).

"The complaint is the college discriminated against the child by placing conditions on his enrolment that he was unable to comply with because of his religion. This case has the capacity to set a precedent that will have far-reaching consequences," the family's solicitor Scott McDougall of Caxton Legal Centre told IANS.

The family cannot be named for legal reasons and has been restrained under suppression orders to talk to the media while the case is pending with the ADCQ.

"This is the first case of its kind in Queensland and perhaps Australia. It is before the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal and will be heard later this year, but no date has been fixed yet," ADCQ Commissioner Susan Booth told IANS.

Ormiston College headmaster Brett Webster is standing by his decision on enforcing a strict uniform policy in his school.

He told Australian Broadcasting Corporation Brisbane Tuesday: "We're certainly not asking the family or the boy to turn their back on their religion. I mean it's a given that people have different beliefs and it's a given we should respect those beliefs."

"But the question is should the school, should every organisation, change its standard policies every time somebody comes along with a different set of beliefs?"

Most public and government institutions have their own policies on attire. For example, Queensland Police Service allows officers to wear turbans.

Taran Preet Singh, a surgeon based in Newcastle, who migrated to Australia in 2002 from Patiala, said: "The principal's decision is totally wrong and shows his ignorance of people's rights and religions in this multicultural society."

The case has led to a wide-ranging debate, with those arguing in favour of the school saying the parents knew the rules of the school before enrolment, so if they chose to enrol the child in a particular school they chose to obey the rules.

Those for the Sikh boy's right to wear a turban say rules should be reasonable and perhaps schools need a re-think on why some of the rules are in place and if they really are appropriate for the global village we live in today.

In a letter to the editor, an alumnus of Ormiston College who graduated in 2000 writes: "This is absolutely ridiculous. A student who I went to school with (class of 1999) wore a turban and this was widely accepted by the school community. Apparently in eight years, with a change of headmaster, the school has taken a major step backwards in its policy. Let the kid wear his turban!"

The boy is currently attending another private school where he has been allowed to wear the turban.

Harleen Kaur, who migrated to Australia 21 years ago from Chandigarh and has always lived in New South Wales, said: "My husband and son have not kept the tradition of wearing a turban, but I feel people's rights and beliefs should be respected."

According to the 2006 census conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there were 26,429 Sikhs in Australia with the largest number of 11,637 residing in New South Wales followed by 9,071 in Victoria, 2,636 in Queensland, 1,393 in Western Australia and 1,226 in South Australia.

Meanwhile, a local anti-discrimination lawyer has told the media that Ormiston College could be breaking Queensland's anti-discrimination laws.

John Sneddon of Shand Taylor Lawyers said: "If a school introduces a uniform policy which cannot be adhered to by students of a particular religion, it is arguable that the school is discriminating against those students and is in breach of Queensland's Anti-Discrimination Act."

Recently, Sikh Interfaith Council of Victoria in its submission to the Education and Training Parliamentary Committee's 'Inquiry into Dress Codes and School Uniforms in Victorian Schools' had stated: "We believe having a common school uniform is important in promoting school identity and integration. However it is also important to recognise that there is no hindrance to the practice of various cultures and faiths. Students should be able to wear their significant religious symbols and articles of faith."

Over the weekend, meanwhile, a dozen Sikhs wearing turbans were told by security staff at Brisbane Airport to remove their headgear.

Bawa Singh Jagdev, secretary of the Sikh Council of Australia, the apex representative body of the Sikhs in the country, has written to the federal minister expressing the community's concern over the incident.

He said: "The Sikh Council views this incident with great concern as Sikhs are not asked to remove their turbans for security check at any airport in the world unless the metal detector triggers an alarm."

© Copyright Neena Bhandari. All rights reserved. Republication, copying or using information from any content is expressly prohibited without  the permission of the writer and the news agency through which the article is syndicated.

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