Sikh men have been known for their gallant and bravery since ages. They have been a part of the United States Army as far back as World War-1. However the observant Sikhs were unable to serve due to discontinuation of exemptions to uniform standards since 1980’s, which did not allow them to wear turban or keep beard.
In an unprecedented move, an active-duty Sikh combat soldier in the United States army has been granted a temporary religious accommodation that allows him to grow his beard and wear a turban. However, the accommodation remains temporary, lasting only for a month, as the US army mulls whether to give permanent status to Captain Singh’s exception.
“It is wonderful. I had been living a double life, wearing a turban only at home. My two worlds have finally come back together”, said the Bronze Star awardee, Captain Simratpal Singh, 27, who led a platoon of combat engineers who cleared roadside bombs in Afghanistan. Captain Simratpal Singh had to cut his hair on his first day at the United States Military Academy at West Point nearly 10 years ago since the army would not allow a soldier with long hair or a beard.
This move came amidst the hate attacks on the Sikh community across nation as they are often confused with radical Islamic, due to their traditional getup. "Everybody is kind of confusing us with the Islam due to the turbans, because what you see on TV is mostly the terrorists, they wear turbans," says Verinder Malhi, one of the men who have recently faced harassment in San Diego. Such profiling has been common since 9/11, when Sikhs, often mistaken for Muslims, would be targeted as the ‘bin Laden's followers’, even getting harmed physically.
It is for the first time that military has granted a religious accommodation for a beard to an active-duty combat soldier who could even lead to Muslim men and other troops also seeking similar facilities to display their faith. The US military has recently tried to become increasingly inclusive, allowing even the gay men and lesbians to serve openly, and women to serve in combat roles. But it has held a stiff line on uniforms and the grooming standards.