By Prasun Sonwalkar, IANS
London : Sarika Watkins-Singh, the Sikh teenager who has been excluded from her school in south Wales for refusing to remove the ‘kada’, a symbol of Sikhism, has been backed by the local race equality council.
Sarika, who decided to become a practising Sikh after a visit to Amritsar in 2005, has decided to mount a legal challenge against the school’s decision that, she believes, amounted to infringing her human rights.
Sarika was sent home Monday by the Aberdare Girls School, south Wales. According to the school, wearing the kada is against regulations because it is a piece of jewellery. The school is known for strictly enforcing rules.
After the case hit the headlines, Sarika has found support from the Valleys Race Equality Council. Its director, Ron Davies, told the media: “We are supporting Sarika, and believe the school is acting unlawfully by refusing to let her wear the bangle.
“We have arranged for her to be represented by a solicitor and an application will be made to the High Court for a judicial review of the school’s decision. We believe the school is acting in contravention both of the 1976 Race Relations Act and of human rights legislation.
“We also believe there is a need for the guidance on these issues to schools from the Welsh Assembly Government to be more explicit.”
According to advice given to the council by the the Equality and Human Rights Commission, “Legal precedence has previously been set which clearly recognises Sikhs as a racial group for the purpose of the Race Relations Act. Therefore, the school should consider carefully their actions in relation to this case.
“The wearing of a kada bangle is a significant expression of faith. Although some issues can be taken into consideration such as health and safety, the school would be expected to be proportionate in its response to the requirement to wear a kada bangle.
“For example, the school could require the bangle to be covered or removed during PE. However, it would find it more difficult to justify this requirement where the student is sitting at her desk in the classroom.”
In a legal precedent dating to 1983, the House of Lords had decided that a school had acted unlawfully by refusing to accept as a pupil a Sikh boy who wore a turban. The judgment held that Sikhs were a racial group within the terms of the Race Relations Act, and were capable of being discriminated against.
Sarika’s mother, Sanita Watkins-Singh, told the Western Mail: “Sarika made her first visit to India in 2005, looking at her cultural background and her roots. I don’t believe in putting pressure on children to follow a certain religion, but Sarika decided for herself that she wanted to be a practising Sikh.
“Her views have crystallised over the last six months, and she started wearing the kada. At first it didn’t seem to be a problem, but then a PE teacher asked her to remove it. Later, after she refused to remove it in class, she was isolated from the rest of the girls. Then this week she was sent home.”
Sarika said, “We went to quite a lot of places during my visit to India, including the Golden Temple in Amritsar, which was just amazing. I became very interested in Sikh history and was inspired to follow the religion.
“The kada is a very important Sikh symbol and a constant reminder to me to do good, and that God is One. I am very disappointed that my school does not recognise my right to wear the kada. I did not like being put into isolation, which to me was like a prison. I feel my education was suffering.
“On Monday I was sent home for the day, and now I have been told I will be excluded for a fixed period. We are waiting for a letter saying how long that will be. It is very unfair that I am not being allowed to follow my religion, and I want to challenge the decision.”
Jane Rosser, head teacher of Aberdare Girls’ School, said, “We have a strict and clear code of conduct that has been in place for many years. A copy is given to all girls before they are even a pupil at the school and is also issued at the start of every new term in September.
“We use this established code of conduct to ensure equality between all pupils. The code clearly states the only two forms of jewellery that girls are allowed to wear in school is a wrist watch and one pair of plain metal stud earrings.”