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US allows Sikh security officers to wear turban and beard

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : In what is seen as a landmark civil rights victory for the Sikh community, the US government has allowed Sikhs to serve as federal security officers while keeping their turbans and beards.

The reversal of a ban comes after a discrimination case filed by a Sikh security officer who was told that he could not keep his turban and beard on the job, Sikh Coalition, a community advocacy group said Tuesday.

The lawsuit settlement and change in policy are a major civil rights victory for the Sikh community. It marks the first time that a federal law enforcement agency has changed policy to accommodate the Sikh articles of faith, it said.

The lawsuit that led to the settlement was brought jointly by the Sikh Coalition, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area on a complaint from Raghbir Singh, who goes by the name of “Major Gill”.

Major Gill, who served in the Indian Army for almost 34 years, immigrated with his family to the US in 2004 and obtained a position with a company called NCLN20 in 2005 and began serving on its government contract with the Federal Protective Service (FPS)for guarding a federal building in Fresno.

However, FPS’s uniform and grooming policies prohibited Major Gill from wearing a turban or keeping a beard on the job. Under these policies, contract security officers had to wear a uniform hat and be clean-shaven.

Major Gill requested that the government accommodate his Sikh articles of faith. However, FPS refused and forced him off the contract. Because NCLN20 had no other security officer positions, the company fired him.

Major Gill reached out to the Sikh Coalition for help in Nov 2005. Through his case, the Coalition said it was able to push FPS to change its uniform and grooming policies to accommodate Sikh articles of faith.

As a result, Sikhs can now serve as contract security guards with the federal government with unshorn hair, beards, turbans, and kirpans intact.

“Holding the federal government accountable for discriminating against Sikhs sends a strong message to private employers. If the government includes Sikh Americans in its workforce, then other employers are encouraged to do the same,” said Harsimran Kaur, Legal Director at the Sikh Coalition.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])