Sikh allowed to keep hair in US jail

Florida Governor Jeb Bush gave this order following protests from Sikh and non-Sikh groups worldwide.

india Updated: Apr 19, 2006 18:41 IST

A row over the cropping of a Sikh prisoner's hair in the US came to an end after Florida Governor Jeb Bush permitted him to keep his hair in jail.

Satnam Singh, 45, was sentenced in 2003 at Fort Pierce, Florida, to three years of federal imprisonment on charges of forgery and criminal use of personal identification information.

His federal imprisonment ended Sunday and he will be shifted to a minimum-security prison this week.

The controversy broke out after the Florida correctional facility where he is to be shifted insisted on cutting his long hair according to Florida prison rules.

Singh's faith did not allow the hair to be cut. He had kept it intact while serving the three-year jail term.

The controversy reached such a head that media reports quoted his father as saying, "Please cut off my son's head instead of cutting his hair!"

Around 200 Sikh and non-Sikh groups worldwide carried out a sustained campaign to safeguard Singh's religious rights.

Muslims, Jews, native Americans and Rastafarians, all of whose faiths do not allow cutting of hair, came out in support of Singh.

The US-based Sikh Coalition initiated the campaign.

It took out a 35-page petition with over 6,800 signatures and submitted it to Governor Bush, James McDonough, Secretary of the state's Department of Corrections, and Laura Bedard, Deputy Secretary of corrections, urging them to stop federal authorities from forcibly cutting Satnam Singh's hair and removing his turban.

An illegal immigrant in the US, Singh's origin remains a mystery. According to media reports, his 84-year-old father lives in Singapore.

Singh entered the US on a student visa in 1982 but never pursued an education here. He was convicted in 1988 of passport fraud and deported to Canada.

But, he returned to the US three days later using a different identity. In 2003, he was accused of using another man's house to buy a house worth $80,000 at Port St Lucie, Florida, in 2000 and was sentenced to three years in prison.

After Bush allowed him to keep his hair, Singh was much relieved.

"I am humbled and touched beyond words by the actions of everyone... Let everyone know you shouldn't be afraid to be a Sikh. There is help out there. The action of the whole community saved my hair from being cut," Singh said.

First Published: Apr 11, 2006 11:37 IST