Washington: A top American lawmaker on Thursday asked the Pentagon to end a ban on Sikh articles of faith including turban and beard in the US military -- a long-standing demand of the Sikh-American community.
In the wake of new Pentagon rules permitting limited religious accommodations, Congressman Joe Crowley requested the US Armed Forces to update their appearance regulations to allow Sikh-Americans to serve while abiding by their articles of faith.
Led by Crowley, a top Democratic leader who has spearheaded the campaign on behalf of the Sikh community, as many as 20 lawmakers signed a letter in this regard addressed to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
The letter is still being circulated in the Congress for other lawmakers to sign.
"Depending on how they are implemented, some aspects of the new Department of Defense rules may be a step in the right direction," said Crowley, referring to the new rules which relax norms for religious accommodations requested by service members on a case by case basis.
"But more needs to be done to end the underlying presumptive ban on service by patriotic Sikh-Americans. Sikh- Americans love this country and want a fair chance to serve in our nation`s military," Crowley said.
Sikhs, he said, have served in the US Army since World War I, and they are permitted to serve in the armed forces of Canada, India, and the UK among others.
Notably, the current Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army is a turbaned and bearded Sikh, even though Sikhs constitute less than two per cent of India`s population.
Currently, three Sikh-Americans have been granted individualised accommodations to serve in the US Army.
"These patriotic soldiers wear turbans and maintain beards in a neat and conservative manner, both in accordance with operational requirements and their Sikh religious beliefs. They are also able to wear protective equipment, including helmets and gas masks, in conformity with safety requirements," Crowley said.
In the letter circulated by Crowley, the lawmakers called on Hagel to consider the achievements of these soldiers and their demonstrated ability to comply with military requirements while practicing their faith.
"As you know, three devout Sikh-Americans have been granted individualised accommodations to serve in the US Army. These patriotic soldiers wear turbans and maintain beards in a neat and conservative manner, both in accordance with operational requirements and their Sikh religious beliefs," the letter says.
"They are also able to wear protective equipment, including helmets and gas masks, in conformity with safety requirements," it says.
"These Sikh soldiers have given their all in service of their country. Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi earned a Bronze Star Medal for his service in Afghanistan, which included treating multiple combat injuries and reviving two clinically dead patients back to life."
"Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan earned a NATO Medal for his service in Afghanistan; and Corporal Simran Preet Singh Lamba successfully graduated from the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI) programme for his proficiency in Punjabi and Hindi," the letter says.
"Given the achievements of these soldiers and their demonstrated ability to comply with operational requirements while practicing their faith, we believe it is time for our military to make inclusion of practicing Sikh-Americans the rule, not the exception," Congressmen say in the letter.