Sikh turban lands Indian Catholic school in controversy

School officials say they were wrongly accused of banning the turban after following a practice of having simple head covers
Sikh turban lands Indian Catholic school in controversy

Two Sikh men in their colorful turban pray standing in water. (Photo: Jeevan Singla/Pixabay) 

Police have questioned managers of a Catholic school in northern India after a complaint that it had banned Sikhs' turbans, but the school dismissed the charge as baseless.

A team of 20 police officers in Uttar Pradesh state accompanied by local Sikh leaders visited St. Mary's Higher Secondary School on Nov. 28 to probe the complaint.

"It was a groundless complaint," said Sister Geni Francis, principal of the school in Bijnor district.

She told ucanews that they have replied to queries from district officials and police. "We believe the matter is closed."

The controversy began after a local Sikh leader on Nov. 27 complained to a district magistrate that the school had banned 10th-grader Navjot Singh from wearing a turban, the Sikh religious head cover, in class.

The school has not banned the Sikh headgear, said Sister Francis. Since the school started 46 years ago, it has been the practice that Sikh students wear a small turban (patka) instead of a big turban, the nun said.

The teacher in charge of school discipline asked Singh if he could wear a white patka instead of a big turban. It was misreported, resulting in the complaint, Sister Francis said.

The Sikh religion requires all male members to cover their heads in public. While adults wear turbans based on colorful cloth winding, boys traditionally use the patka, a smaller one that ties up hair at the top of the head with the same cloth that covers the head.

Singh had worn a patka in smaller classes but switched to a turban recently in the 10th grade.

Sister Francis said the school had not banned the Sikh headgear. "Any talk of a ban is just rumor," she said, adding that the school management had informed local Sikh leaders and Singh's parents of "the truth of the matter."

Singh is "attending classes as usual, and we are trying to clear the doubts in the minds of people created by wrong reporting in the media," the nun said.

The school, owned by Bijnor Diocese, has operated for almost five decades. "In all these years, we have never discriminated against a student based on religion," Sister Francis said.

Following complaints, Sikh leaders wanted the school to permit older Sikh students to wear a turban. The school has  allowed it on condition that the turban's color suits the school uniform, she said.

The school has some 2,500 students, mostly Hindus, but also has some 25 Sikh students.

Sikhs are a religious minority forming about 20 million of India's population of 1.2 billion. However, they are a majority in Punjab state in northwest India, where the religion started in 1469.

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