Washington: In a major step to end the exclusion of Sikhs, the US Army has accepted a Sikh recruit who had declined to either remove his 'dastaar' (turban) or cut his hair as a condition for joining the military.
The Sikh Coalition, a community advocacy, group applauded the Army's action in accepting Captain Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi Friday, but expressed concern that the decision was an exemption from Army policy only for a single individual Sikh.
There has been no change in the overall policy excluding Sikhs from service, the group regretted. "The Coalition is encouraged, however, that the Army has expressed its willingness to review its general policy of excluding Sikhs from service in the coming months."
Two Sikh men, Captain Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, a doctor, and Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan, a dentist, were recruited to join the Army's Health Professions Scholarship Programme several years ago.
Both maintained their turbans throughout the four year programme, and appeared in uniform during specialised Army training, at Army ceremonies, and while working in military medical facilities.
However, after completing the programme, they were told that they must remove their turbans and cut their unshorn hair and beards for active duty. Rather than abandon their religious identity, they chose to appeal to Army leadership to end its policy of Sikh exclusion from service.
On Friday, the US Army accommodated Captain Kalsi and deferred a decision on Captain Rattan's appeal until he completes his dental certification.
"I am overjoyed by the Army's decision to allow me to serve my country," said Captain Kalsi. "Like the many Sikhs who fought before me, I know I will serve America with honor and excellence. It is my hope that the Army will soon allow all Sikhs to serve along with me."
A number of prominent members of Congress have called on the Army to welcome all Sikhs, and not just Captain Kalsi, into the military.
In August, 43 members of the House of Representatives and 6 US senators called on Defence Secretary Robert Gates to allow all Sikhs to serve in the US Army.
First Published: Saturday, October 24, 2009, 11:05