Hindu Council takes up issue of nose piercing restriction; but school shops for a more favourable opinion to support its decision

Melbourne, February 15: Hindu Council of Australia has taken up the issue after a Hindu female student was barred from attending a Catholic school for donning a nose piercing.

Hindu girl, Sanya Singhal, 15, a resident of Perth, was barred from her school, Aranmore Catholic College in Leederville, after she had her nose pierced for “cultural and religious reasons”.

Sanya’s mother, Kalyani, said it was a spiritually significant custom in some parts of northern India for young girls to have a nose pin inserted to mark their transition to womanhood.

However, Sanya, who has been attending the school since Year 3, was ordered to remove the tiny new stud in her left nostril or go home.

Sanya, who is a year 10 student showed her teacher a note from her mother and tried to explain the stud could not be removed for 12 months for religious reasons, but was told she could not attend class until she took it out.

According to Hindu Council’s multi-faith director, Surinder Jain, the recent misunderstanding in Catholic schools about Hindu culture and traditions has the potential of affecting the harmony between our communities in Australia and the reputation of Catholic schools among Indians.

It is understood that all Catholic schools permit Sikh students to wear turbans and similar exemptions exist for some other religions also.

The same school, Aranmore also permits Muslim girls to wear hijab.

Mr Jain said that it could be simply a case of Catholics being unaware of Hindu traditions and that it could be easily resolved by making Catholic schools aware of Hindu sensitivities.

Hindu Council of Australia took up the general issue of Catholic schools permitting religious symbols of Hindu students in their schools. The Council explained that “nose piercing is not a fashion or rebellion statement of a teenager but is a deep rooted cultural and religious ritual for girls going through puberty”.

According to a statement released by Hindu Council, some sects of Hinduism require a girl who reached menarche or her first period, is feted and pampered at a ceremony where family and close friends gather and lavish gifts on her.

The girl is bathed in fragrant water after applying oil, turmeric etc. and bedecked in fine clothes, flowers and ornaments.

“This is because Hinduism celebrates and does not abhor menstruation. The Shakti philosophy upholds it as a gift which is responsible for creation of life.

“Nose piercing of the girl and placing a metal stud is a ritual that is invariably accompanied.

“As is true of any cultural or religious tradition, most Hindu parents want to and do observe these rituals very sincerely”.

Meanwhile, upset Hindus in Australia are seeking suspension of principal Declan Tanham of Aranmore after it was revealed that Sanya’s mother had offered to the principal that her daughter would cover the pin with a bandaid, but was told Sanya would have to change schools if she refused to remove it.

“They have exceptions for the Islamic girls by allowing them to wear their headscarf, but we were told our cultural needs are not relevant,” Ms Singhal said.

Aranmore rules stipulate no face piercings, but have discretionary allowance.

Sanya Singhal with her nose piercing, supported by her mother Kalyani – image courtesy: The West Australian; credit @ Michael Wilson

Mr Tanham pointed out that Aranmore was the most multi-cultural school in Perth and had many Hindu students, but none with a nose piercing.

Indian Society of WA assistant secretary Papori Barua said that wearing a nose pin was a religious custom for women in some parts of India.

Hindu statesman Rajan Zed said that “noses of girls in India were usually pierced around puberty and it found mention in ancient Ayurvedic texts”.

In a statement from Nevada, USA, he urged Western Australia Minister for Education and Training Suzanne (Sue) Mary Ellery and Roman Catholic Archbishop of Perth Timothy Costelloe to launch a thorough investigation of the school policies and procedures; which “seemed discriminatory”.

According to Mr Zed, Aranmore “denied the right to teenager Sanya Singhal to express her religious and cultural identity freely”.

Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, said that Hindus worldwide were shocked at this heart-breaking unilateral action of a college against a “good student”, simply for following her religious beliefs and sincerely believing that wearing a nose stud was part of her religion and culture.

He called for suspending principal Tanham and immediately reinstate Sanya, apologize to Sanya’s parents and “amend the uniform and grooming guidelines for future”.

The Universal Society of Hinduism has also urged Western Australia (WA) Equal Opportunity Commissioner Dr John Byrne to take up the case of Sanya having been expelled from Aranmore and provide her legal assistance.

He urged the Commission to undertake “investigation into the uncalled-for intimidation and trauma of this 15-year old defenseless student Sanya and denying her the right of education”.

However, Aranmore is shopping around for its own Hindu priestly advice to justify nose piercing fiasco, according to the Hindu Council of Australia.

Despite being advised by the Council the school has rather chosen a “strange” path to find a more “favourable” stance to support the school’s decision.

“For a Christian school to ignore the advice of a Hindu parent and then the advice of peak Hindu body like Hindu Council of Australia and to embark on its own journey to find a priest to interpret Hinduism for the school, when the school stand is well known, is like shopping around for a favorable opinion.

“It is not appropriate for a religion to start interpreting the doctrine, ritual or practices of another religion.

“It will not help religious harmony and certainly does not make multicultural Australia very proud,” according to a Hindu Council statement.

Mr Jain questioned the efficacy of such a step and said: “How would Christians feel if a Hindu school in order to justify its interpretation of Christianity, which is at odds with the Christian Churches, shops around for a Christian priest or a scholar to justify what it wants Christianity to be”.

“…We cannot accept Aranmore school to determine what is and what is not essential to Hinduism… Hindus will never try to tell Christians as to what is or is not a Christian practice”.

Hindu Council of Australia has called upon Catholic Archbishops and Catholic education organizations to

  • not to interpret what is essential to other faiths; and
  • have school policies that pass the test of encouraging a mix of faiths in their schools rather than uniformity.

The Hindu Council simultaneously, reiterated that it believes that all faith based schools, including Christian schools should be free to teach their own interpretation of their faith.

Hindu Australians have experienced the highest rates of discrimination; according to an online survey conducted by SBS documentary in 2017, which was largely representative of the Australian population – with a 52:48 female to male ratio and 72 per cent respondents having been born in Australia.

Aranmore is a Catholic school for years 7–12 founded by Sisters of Mercy in 1903. It has about 700 students and boasts over 60 nationalities amongst its students.

Vir Rajendra

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