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HindustanTimes Thu,21 Aug 2014

World

Hagel to consider requests of allowing Sikhs in army: Pentagon
PTI
Washington, April 30, 2014
First Published: 06:54 IST(30/4/2014)
Last Updated: 06:56 IST(30/4/2014)

US defence secretary Chuck Hagel will consider requests being made by over 120 lawmakers, both from the House of Representatives and the Senate, on allowing Sikhs to serve in the armed forces without any compromise of their religious identity and symbols, the Pentagon has said.

"We understand the concerns, and the secretary (of defence) will consider those and respond in kind," Pentagon press secretary, Rear Admiral, John Kirby, told reporters, adding , that Hagel did not give a time frame to it.

In March as many as 105 Congressmen from the US House of Representatives, led by Congressman Joe Crowley, who is co-chair of the Congressional India Caucus, wrote a letter to Hagel urging him to make the necessary changes in the recruitment policy of the department of defence so that Sikhs, which are known globally for their valor and bravery, can serve in the US armed forces with their religious faith intact.

On April 24, 15 influential Senators including Robert Menendez, chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote to Hagel and similar lines.

The next day Hagel was sent another identical letter by top Indian-American fund-raisers urging him to allow Sikhs to serve in the US military.

"The secretary is aware of the concerns expressed, and he'll respond appropriately in kind to members of Congress," Kirby told Pentagon reporters at the news conference.

Referring to the changes made by the Pentagon this January to accommodate religious sentiments of various religious minorities, Kirby said the department of defence is trying to be as broad-based and as fair and as equitable as possible.

"And it's a balance we have to strike between operational readiness of units and being able to accommodate one's religious beliefs," he said.

"We think we did that pretty well with that policy. And it doesn't preclude Sikhs from serving in the military at all, but it does, under the current policy, just like any other religious accommodation request, has to be presented up to one's commanding officer.

"And to the degree possible, we'd like those decisions made at the unit level, by the CO, who is responsible for the unit readiness of his or her unit. And I think we tried to strike a fair balance there," Kirby said.

However, the Sikh-American community, lawmakers and Indian-Americans do not consider this as enough.

"To be clear, Sikh-Americans must still go through a lengthy and uncertain administrative process before being approved or denied the opportunity to serve their country with their religiously-mandated turbans and beards," Rajdeep Singh of the Sikh Coalition, an advocacy group, said.


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