Melbourne, Jan 17: A five-year-old Sikh boy was denied entry by a school in Melbourne’s western fringe, for wearing a turban as it said that the religious head gear was not in conformity with the school’s uniform policy.

“It is disappointing that my son has been forced to abandon his religious practices and identity for access to an education in Melbourne’s Melton Christian College,” the boy’s father Sagardeep Singh Arora was quoted as saying on SBS TV, on Tuesday.

“We lodged a claim with the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC).

“I 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,” said Arora.

He further said that students should be able to wear their significant religious symbols and articles of faith. “It’s immoral for a school to not allow students to practice their beliefs,” he argued.

Arora said he has had a dialogue with the school, Melton Christian College (MCC) in which he cited other examples of Australian institutions which have re-evaluated their policies in similar instances, said the report.

“We were in discussions regarding the importance of hair and turban in Sikhism and acceptance of turban as uniform by different organisations (like schools, Army, and police) in Australia and other countries,” said Arora.

“Yet, the college has refused to review their uniform policy.”

Given the long history of the Sikh community in Australia, it’s disappointing that they still struggle with issues such as this, Arora said.

“While practising our religious beliefs, we wish to show an expression of solidarity with the wider Australian community. And all we demand is respect for our religious beliefs,” he said.

However, the school, in a written response to VEOHRC, refused to include any additional items in the existing permitted uniform protocol.

In the statement, the school said: “We acknowledge the disappointment that Sagardeep and his family feel. We respectfully recognise his disappointment that the uniform protocol of this school mean that non-prescribed items are not permitted to be worn in addition to the school uniform.”

“We have considered the complaint and our options carefully. The result is that we have agreed that college uniform will be maintained as it is, without permitting additional items, the school said.

Section 42 of the Equal Opportunity Act does permit exception to schools to ‘set and enforce reasonable standards of dress, appearance and behaviour for students. However, Arora claims that such an exception would not apply, because the school’s uniform protocol is “not reasonable”.

“For a standard to be reasonable it should not permit unjustifiable discrimination,” Arora said.

In a landmark case in September 2008, a Brisbane private school was forced to back down on a strict uniform policy that would have forced a Sikh boy to cut his hair and remove his turban.

army reservist - Satbir Singh Kahlon is the face of diversity
army reservist – Satbir Singh Kahlon is the face of diversity in the Australian Army @SBS

Australia’s first army reservist, Officer Cadet Satbir Singh Kahlon is a turbaned Sikh and is face of diversity in Australian Army. The Australian Defence Force has a flexible policy on religious attire, provided it does not bring on any undue risk during operations.

Officer Kahlon has also been featured in the new videos showcasing diversity in the Australian Army and the AFL.

Australia is home to more than 72,000 Sikhs, according to the last census.

Shalini Singh

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