Sikh organisations in America have launched a campaign to end a ban on Sikhs joining the US Army without removing their turbans and cutting off their hair.
Two Sikh military trainees who have been asked to remove their turbans and cut their hair to become eligible for active duty in the US Army launched the campaign with a protest in front of the historic Marine Corps War Memorial near Pentagon in Washington on Tuesday.
Captain Kamaljit Singh Kalsi, a doctor, and Second-Lieutenant Tejdeep Singh Rattan, a dentist, who have just completed an army programme that pays for medical education in return for military service, were joined by a dozen Sikh leaders at the protest organised by the Sikh Coalition, a community organisation working for Sikh rights in the US.
Kalsi and Rattan, vowed that they would fight against the discriminatory regulation of the US Army, which is preventing them from serving their country of birth through the military.
In a petition submitted to the US Army on Tuesday, the two said they were assured by military recruiters that their turbans and unshorn hair "would not be a problem" when they were recruited to join the Army's Health Professions Scholarship Programme. "Now both of them, medical professionals in the Army, are being told that they must remove their turbans and cut their unshorn hair and beards , all mandatory articles of the Sikh faith, when they report for active duty in July," said Amardeep Singh, executive director of the Sikh Coalition.
The Sikh Coalition has also launched a signature campaign to "protect Sikhs' right to serve in the US Army with their Sikh identity intact." Under it, 15,000 people will be asked to write to the US Army to end discrimination against the two men.
The US Army banned "conspicuous" religious articles of faith for its members in 1981. But some Sikhs who had joined before that date were allowed to practice their religious identity.