As the niqab (veil) issue refuses to die, another Sikh activist, Avtar Singh Dhillon, has come out in support of Muslim women who are being forced to unveil their faces during citizenship oath ceremonies in Canada.
Dhillon had fought for the right to wear a turban while riding a motorbike in British Columbia. He had won the battle in 1999 and now drives a motorcycle with his turban without any fear. As per rules, Sikhs were forced to wear helmets back then.
Talking to Hindustan Times, Dhillon said that he was opposed to the ban on the niqab. He is the second prominent turbaned Sikh activist who has come out to condemn the ban brought by the Conservative government. Earlier, Lt Col Pritam Singh Jauhal (retd), a World War 2 veteran, had expressed his solidarity with Muslim women. He was denied entry to the Surrey Legion in 1993 for wearing a turban. Like Dhillon, he too won the fight after a sustained campaign.
Harper wants niqab ban for public servants
While the Federal Court of Appeal has rejected the ban on the niqab at citizenship oath ceremonies, the ruling Conservatives are thinking of approaching the Supreme Court of Canada. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has gone to the extent of saying that he will consider banning the niqab for public servants.
Interestingly, the first turbaned Sikh federal minister in the Conservative government Tim Uppal finds nothing wrong in the ban. According to him, taking citizenship oath with faces covered goes against Canadian values. He insists that the turban cannot be equated with the niqab which, according to him, becomes a barrier during the process of identification.
‘Question of religious freedom’
However, Dhillon strongly disagrees. “Uppal and other Sikh Conservative supporters like him are making wrong statements. They are after all speaking the language of their political masters. Muslim women must also be given the right to wear niqab, much as Sikhs. It is the question of religious freedom.”
The editor of Punjabi weekly Chardikala, Gurpreet Singh Sahota, pointed out that Sikh philosophy teaches its followers to stand up for the rights of everyone. “In fact, Sikh temples should also come out in support of another minority group,” Sahota said.
Meanwhile, Baltej Singh Dhillon, a staff sergeant with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) who had faced hostility at the time of his recruitment for sporting the turban, refused to speak on this issue. It is learnt that the RCMP media section has stopped him from discussing the issue. Dhillon had to fight for his right to wear the turban while serving in the RCMP as his appointment was challenged in 1990 by people owing allegiance to the Conservatives.