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Australian school apologises to Sikh boy

By Neena Bhandari, IANS,

Sydney : A private school in Brisbane has apologised to a 12-year-old Sikh boy it had refused to admit earlier this year because his turban breached the uniform code.

The boy’s family, who can’t be named for legal reasons, had in February complained to the Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland (ADCQ). They alleged that Ormiston College discriminated against their son and his religion in imposing a requirement that he cut his hair and not wear a ‘patka’ (turban) for enrolment.

“The complaint is the college discriminated against the child by placing conditions on his enrolment that he was unable to comply with because of his religion. This case has the capacity to set a precedent that will have far-reaching consequences,” the family’s solicitor Scott McDougall of Caxton Legal Centre had told IANS.

Wednesday, McDougall said his clients were happy with the out-of-court confidential settlement, which included a public apology.

“The main thing they wanted was broader understanding within the community to the importance of being able to choose an education whilst maintaining your religious beliefs and identity. We’re hopeful that other schools will take note and it won’t be repeated,” McDougall told AAP Wednesday.

The school headmaster Brett Webster was also quoted as saying: “What we have done is we’ve agreed to look at our policies and that’s a commitment we will take seriously. And if there’s a need to modify our enrolment or uniform policies to remain aligned with the Anti-Discrimination Act then we will do so.”

The boy is currently attending another private school where he has been allowed to wear the turban.

Most public and government institutions have their own policies on uniform. For example, Queensland Police Service allows officers to wear turbans.

The case had led to a wide-ranging debate in Australia with those arguing in favour of the school saying the parents knew the rules of the school before enrolment, so if they chose to enrol the child in a particular school they chose to obey the rules.

Those for the Sikh boy’s right to wear a turban had said rules should be reasonable and perhaps schools need a rethink on why some of the rules are in place and if they really are appropriate for the global village we live in today.

Harleen Kaur, who migrated to Australia 21 years ago from Chandigarh and has always lived in New South Wales, told IANS: “My husband and son have not kept the tradition of wearing a turban, but I feel people’s rights and beliefs should be respected.”

Earlier, the Sikh Interfaith Council of Victoria in its submission to the Education and Training Parliamentary Committee’s ‘Inquiry into Dress Codes and School Uniforms in Victorian Schools’ had stated: “We believe having a common school uniform is important in promoting school identity and integration. However it is also important to recognise that there is no hindrance to the practice of various cultures and faiths. Students should be able to wear their significant religious symbols and articles of faith.”

According to the 2006 census conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there were 26,429 Sikhs in Australia with the largest number of 11,637 residing in New South Wales, followed by 9,071 in Victoria, 2,636 in Queensland, 1,393 in Western Australia and 1,226 in South Australia.