Sikhs be given fair chance to serve in US military: Major Kalsi

Washington, USA: One of the three Sikhs serving in the US military has appealed to authorities to amend policies so that the community members get a fair chance to serve in the armed forces without compromising their religion.

“Sikhs are not asking for a blank check, but we believe the instruction can be significantly improved in ways that respect both military necessity and religious liberty. My Sikh articles of faith did not prevent me from excelling as an American soldier,” Maj Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi said in a testimony submitted before a Congressional committee.

The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel yesterday held a hearing on ‘Religious Accommodations in the Armed Services’ in the aftermath of the recent decision of the Pentagon that allows Sikhs or other religious communities to let them serve in the US military even with keeping their religious symbols intact like beard and turban.

“I hope that the instruction is fine-tuned and implemented in ways that give Sikh Americans a fair chance to serve in the US military,” Kalsi said.

“If a Sikh American soldier can graduate from boot camp; comply with requirements relating to helmets and protective masks; and promote unit cohesion by performing military duties with excellence, we should not force that American soldier to choose between religious liberty and a military career,” he said.

On January 22, the US Department of Defence issued revisions to religious accommodations.

“Although the revisions are a step in the right direction for recognising the importance of religious liberty to our nation’s soldiers, the Instruction still retains a presumptive ban on Sikh articles of faith in the US military and may therefore have a chilling effect on religious liberty for aspiring Sikh American Soldiers,” Kalsi said.

In 2009, he said, the US Army made history by granting him an accommodation to maintain his religiously-mandated turban, unshorn hair, and beard while serving as a proud American soldier.

Later on two other Sikhs were given exemptions Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan and Corporal Simran Preet Singh Lamba.

While the amended instruction indicates a new openness to accommodating religious articles of faith, it nevertheless fails to provide adequate accommodations to Sikh Service members and will continue to deter new Sikh recruits, Sikh Coalition said in its written testimony.

Source: The Tribune