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Oregon federal defender raises turban issue for Sikh detainees

As many as 121 asylum seekers, including 52 Indians and mostly Sikhs, have been detained at the Sheridan federal detention centre for crossing over to the US from Mexico.

world Updated: Jul 23, 2018 23:11 IST
Hitender Rao
Hitender Rao
Hindustan Times, San Francisco
Oregon,Sikh detainees,Sikhs
(HT File)

A petition filed by the federal public defender of Oregon district before a United States district court in Oregon has raised concerns of Sikh asylum seekers, detained at the Sheridan federal detention centre in the US, not being allowed to wear the turban.

As many as 121 asylum seekers, including 52 Indians and mostly Sikhs, have been detained at the Sheridan federal detention centre for crossing over to the US from Mexico.

Federal public defender (FPD), Oregon district, Lisa Hay, in the habeas petition before the US district court said Sikh detainees were prohibited from wearing religious headwear and denied access to religious advisers. A federal public defender provides legal defence to those who have been charged with a federal offence and cannot afford a lawyer.

“The national detention standards call for custodians to contract with volunteers and community groups to provide religious services to faith groups that the facility itself cannot personally deliver. We are aware that Christian and Sikh communities have made efforts to provide support to the detainees, but have not been able to gain access,” Hay said in her petition.

“We understand that turbans, considered mandatory part of religious practice of Sikhs, have not been made available to detainees. Section 5.5 of the performance-based national detention standards outlines examples of acceptable religious headwear, which includes turbans worn by Sikhs,” the petition said.

This issue should be addressed as soon as practicable either by returning religious headwear seized at the time custody commenced, or by providing express and understandable instructions regarding an alternative headwear, Hay said in the petition.

A Sikh detainee quoted in the petition said: “Criminals live along with us .We were very afraid of them. I had wrapped towel on my head but it was taken off. It is violation against our religion.”

Head priest of a Portland gurdwara Talwinder Singh said they were yet to be granted access to the detainees despite repeated requests.

Not getting vegetarian food

The petition said that many detainees reported that they were not getting adequate vegetarian food in accordance with their religious dietary restrictions. Some explained that the lack of vegetarian options meant that they ate one slice of bread and three pieces of cucumber for one meal. Sometimes, detainees received meals in their cells and were forced to eat in the small open space next to the toilet. At other times, detainees were allowed to eat in the mess area, but were only given 10 minutes to eat and were unable to finish their meals.

An Indian detainee was quoted as saying in the petition: “I had great difficulty with food and almost died due to starvation. I was given just what was bare enough to keep me alive. One roti (tortilla) and vegetable with no salt and no spice for each meal. For the first 31 days, we were not given even one roti but we used to get beef.”

Disturbing signs from detainees

Hay, in a July 18 habeas petition, said during meeting with the detainees, the FPD staff observed signs of depression, anxiety, terror, stress and despair among the detainees. “We found that the detainees were triple-bunked and confined in the cells for 22 hours per day, they were shackled when transported to the prison; were strip searched in front of other detainees; were housed in cells that contained an open toilet,” the petition reads

First Published: Jul 23, 2018 23:10 IST