Sikh organisations in America are launching protests and a signature campaign in favour of 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.
Captain Kamaljit Singh Kalsi, a doctor, and Second-Lieutenant Tejdeep Singh Rattan, a dentist, have just completed an army programme that pays for medical education in return for military service. The two turbaned Sikhs, who were set to join active duty in July, have been asked by the US Army to remove their turbans and hair to become eligible for active duty.
But at the time of their enrolment, the army had assured them that their turbans and unshorn hair "would not be a problem", according to Sikh Coalition which plans a signature campaign to get 15,000 people to write to the US Army to stop discrimination against the two Sikhs.
In a statement in New York on Thursday the coalition said that Kalsi and Rattan maintained their Sikh identity throughout their medical graduate school, during army training, at army ceremonies and in army medical facilities. But four years later when the two Sikhs are about to join active duty, the army has gone back on its assurance and pressuring them to remove their turbans and hair, the coalition added.
The Sikh organisation said that on Baisakhi day on Tuesday it will launch a 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.
Next day, it said, it will file a formal complaint with the Department of Defense against victimization of Captain Kalsi and Second-Lieutenant Rattan.
"After four years of training in army facilities, I was shocked to learn that the army would go back on its promise, and expect me to choose between my faith or my service to my country,'' the coalition statement quotes Captain Kalsi as saying.
"There is nothing about my religion that stops me from doing my job. I know I can serve well without compromising my faith.''' 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.