February 9, 2015 | By Sikh Siyasat Bureau
Sikh organizations of UK recently released “The Sikh Manifesto 2015-2020“. The document is released ahead of general elections for the British parliament. It is considered to be first document of it’s kind by the Sikh diaspora in England. Sikh Siyasat News has decided to serialize this document for it’s readers. Text below is verbatim reproduction of “SECTION 3” (titled: STATUTORY CODE OF PRACTICE ON THE 5ks AND SIKH TURBAN) part of the Sikh Manifesto). – Editor, Sikh Siyasat News.
SECTION 3 – STATUTORY CODE OF PRACTICE ON THE 5ks AND SIKH TURBAN
Introduction of a statutory Code of Practice on the 5K’s and Sikh turban to prevent discrimination in the workplace and public spaces
- Introduction of a statutory Code of Practice explaining the duty of employers and other bodies to avoid discrimination against Sikhs at work and public spaces because of any of the 5K’s or the Sikh turban
- Produce and issue guidelines on the protocol when visiting Gurdwaras, participating in Guru Ka Langar and understanding and respecting Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji
Sikhs are protected from racial as well as religious discrimination – Sikhs are both an ethnic and a religious group. So they are protected from racial as well as religious discrimination. This principle was decided by the House of Lords (the Mandla v Dowell-Lee case  2 AC 548).
There are a number of different pieces of legislation that protect Sikhs from discrimination, these include general equalities and anti-discrimination legislation, i.e. Equality Act 2010 and Human Rights Act 1998 and some specific legislation that provides for the wearing of the 5ks, i.e. Offensive weapons Act 1998 (provides a defence for a Sikh Kirpan), Motor-Cycles Crash Helmets (Religious Exemption) Act 1976, Section 3(2) of the Horses (Protective Headgear for Young Riders) Regulations 1992 (Both exempt a Sikh who wears a turban from having to wear a crash helmet on a motorcycle or Horse).
The lack of understanding of the above pieces of legislation and the rights of Sikhs to practice their religion has inadvertently led to tensions between the rights of individuals and the rights of organisations and institutions. A number of organisations working with the Sikh community have case studies, to demonstrate where Sikhs have been discriminated against. There have been a number of cases, such as the case of Watkins-Singh v Aberdare Girls’ High School, where the courts recognised a Sikh’s right to wear a Kara at school.
After 9/11 Sikhs in the UK had increased difficulties, especially regarding the wearing of the Kirpan with a much greater focus on security. These difficulties arose in the workplace and even public spaces, such as supermarkets and shopping centres. A number of buildings operated by government and the private sector also introduced restrictions. Sikhs also experienced discrimination as regards wearing the Kara in schools and the workplace.
Need for a Statutory Code of Practice – The need for a Statutory Code of Practice was first raised in Parliament almost a decade earlier and some five years later the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) produced non-statutory ‘Guidance on the wearing of Sikh Articles of Faith in the workplace and public spaces’. This was a helpful step forward in official recognition of the Sikh religious identity in the UK. Whilst the guidance has provided clarity and promoted greater understanding it has not prevented Sikhs from repeatedly experiencing discrimination.
What is required is comprehensive statutory guidance that covers all the existing pieces of legislation that allow Sikhs to practice their faith both in the workplace and public spaces. This can be achieved by developing a Statutory Code of Practice. This would be an authoritative, comprehensive and technical guide to the relevant law. It would be invaluable to lawyers, advocates, human resources personnel, courts and tribunals, everyone who needs to understand the law in depth, or to apply it in practice.
The Statutory Code of Practice will raise awareness of the rights of Sikhs to practise and follow their faith. It will also provide useful information for balancing the needs of individuals and service users with those of employers and public services within the UK legal framework. Although a Statutory Code of Practice would be an authoritative statement of the law, the courts would not be bound by it, but would need to take it into account.
The 5K’s and the turban – All initiated Sikhs (also referred to as Amritdhari Sikhs) are required to wear their articles of faith, the turban and the 5K’s (Panj Kakaar), at all times. These are articles of faith and Amritdhari Sikhs believe that they cannot be replaced by symbolic replicas.
The 5K’s are the:
• Kangha: a small wooden comb worn in the hair at all times, inside the turban. It represents the aspiration for spiritual discipline and purity.
• Kirpan: a curved blade worn over or underneath the individual’s clothing. Symbolically it represents the power of truth, and is a reminder of the obligation to prevent violence rather than to stand by. The Kirpan is associated with the concepts of ‘kirpa’ (blessings and benevolence) and ‘aan’ (meaning honour and dignity).
• Kara: an iron or steel bracelet, worn on the wrist. It reminds Sikhs of the all-pervading and eternal Divine Being and acts as a constant reminder to individuals to restrain themselves from immoral or unrighteous acts.
• Kachera (or kachh or kaccha): special cotton undershorts representing fidelity and morality.
• Kesh: uncut hair, which is regarded as a gift from God.
The Sikh turban (also known as a dastaar) is a long loose piece of cloth wrapped and tied around the head to cover the hair. While it is not one of the 5K’s, wearing a turban is mandatory for an Amritdhari Sikh as well as Sikhs who keep their Kesh. The turban has indeed become the hallmark of the Khalsa Sikh identity.It is more common for men to wear a turban, but it is also increasingly worn by women, although many others cover their hair with a chuni (long scarf) or wear a small scarf called a keski. Before young boys are able to tie a turban themselves, their hair is kept in a topknot and may be covered with a scarf called a patka. It is important to note that as well as having religious significance, the Kara, Kesh and Sikh turban are of exceptional importance to the cultural and ethnic identity of Sikhs, and may also be worn by non-initiated Sikhs
Guidelines on the protocol to observe when visiting Gurdwaras – Many non-Sikhs visit the Gurdwara and participate in Guru Ka Langar (free food kitchen). It is estimated around 5,000 free meals are served to non-Sikhs each week or more than a quarter of a million each year. There are also times when representatives of various public bodies may need to visit a Gurdwara and need to be aware of the various protocols that must be observed.
Official non-statutory guidelines developed between the UK Government and the Sikh community would be helpful to raise awareness and avoid any difficulties. The guidelines could cover etiquette to be observed when visiting the Gurdwara, and would include the following points:
- those unable to enter a Gurdwara as they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or are in procession of cigarettes or tobacco
- what you need to do when entering the Gurdwara
- how to respect Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji (the Sikh holy scriptures)
- participating in Guru Ka Langar
- modest dress code
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