Bangles and fighting battles you can win

A South Welsh Sikh girl: Sarika Singh, was forbidden to wear a bangle called a “Kara” which is important to their religious faith. This episode ended up in the 14 year old girl being excluded from Aberdare Girl’s School for breaching the uniform code which the head teacher said “…states the only two forms of jewellery that girls are allowed to wear in school is a wrist watch and one pair of plain metal stud earrings.”

The chair of the board of governors supported the head teacher saying: “The fact remains the code has to be upheld and we made our decision only after a significant period of research into previous cases across the UK, interrogation of the law, including human rights and race relations legislation and seeking legal guidance from the Local Education Authority”The row then went to the High Court in London and the judge: Mr Justice Stephen Silber has now found in favour of Ms. Singh. He rejected the school’s claim (rather weak this one) that the steel bangle could be seen as a “symbol of affluence” pointing out that many watches were more expensive. He went on to say: “In this case there is very clear evidence it was not a piece of jewellery but to Sarika was, and remains, one of the defining focal symbols of being a Sikh.” He also denied the school leave to appeal.

Although I am in favour of discipline in schools (which is a bit like being in favour of being nice or other pointless platitudes): I find the school’s decision a little odd. Presumably they were afraid of dozens of different items of jewellery being worn. Also in these cases there is sometimes a history of dispute between the children or parents and the school. However, to go this far and then lose is a bit humiliating for the school.

I remember that my school had a reputation for relaxed discipline (all things being relative in a country Proddy grammar in the 1980s) but having no major discipline problems. A new head arrived when I was either 5th or lower 6th form and tightened up the rules markedly. This had the result of making overall discipline much worse. Sometimes maybe it is better to only fight those battles important and worth the fighting. Was it worth fighting over a metal bangle worn by a Sikh 14 year old and how much did this episode cost?

  • Traditional_Unionist

    good decision by the judge

    the girl was doing no harm whatsoever

    common sense prevails (something that is rare these days it seems)

  • dosser

    Is it so simple? Aren’t public schools supposed to be a sphere of intrinsic neutrality? By making a specific exemption for group – in this case Sikhs – doesn’t this run the risk of making religious expression a universal right in the public domain?
    This is problematic – other religious and faith groups will demand the same right. Should Burqas, the promiment display of crucifixions, Satanic emblems also be allowed pride of place in school life. What happens when a particular symbol is offensive to another individual or group? Where there are incompatible demands and group rights clash, who is the ultimate arbiter?

    Lots of questions, I know.

  • TAFKABO

    I’d like to have seen the ban upheld. Too long have people claimed special privelages in the name of religion.

  • Bigger Picture

    “Although I am in favour of discipline in schools (which is a bit like being in favour of being nice or other pointless platitudes): I find the school’s decision a little odd. Presumably they were afraid of dozens of different items of jewellery being worn”

    It is an interesting debate. There were many issues regarding ethnic dress down through the years. In many instances schools were able to ban religious dress on the grounds of uniformity and the non-establishment of cliques in a school. However many legal decisions were only laid down as finding in favour of the school were it was clear that the school had liased with the local ethnic communities to ensure that this was acceptable. However it doesn’t seemed to have been the case here.

    By the way Turgon how are you?

  • dosser

    Taf

    Sikhs were able to fight for the British two world wars with the special privilege of the turban in favour of the standard helmet.

    I presume you have little problem with that?

  • billie-Joe Remarkable

    TU: Cheers for that, your post certainly conveyed the full complexity of an issue which goes to the heart of many of the challenges facing modern western societies.

    Salman Rushdie complained of appeasement yesterday. I guess rulings like this may be some of what he had in mind. The French and indeed Turkish zero tolerance attitudes are an alternative point of view and present their own problems as the demand for an end to secularism in Turkey demonstrate. The girl may well be doing “no harm whatsoever” but strident assertions of ethnic identity will, when it suits conservatives like yourself (I’m guessing) and Call Me Dave, express their ‘concerns’ about British culture being ‘swamped’. In Dave’s case this ‘concern’ may well rise incrementally as the election approaches.

    Are you thinking what he’s thinking?

  • joeCanuck

    But at the end of the day, it wasn’t about the bangle. It was a power struggle. Someone with a bit of authority didn’t like being challenged so took it to court. Serves him or her right.

  • TAFKABO

    Sikhs were able to fight for the British two world wars with the special privilege of the turban in favour of the standard helmet.

    I presume you have little problem with that?

    Actually I do have a few problems with that, but I’d accept the Turban as an integral part of their belief which could be accepted without interfering with their duties.

    What I have a problem with is when someone decides arbitrarily that something is “important” to them because of religion ,without being able demonstrate that it is a fundamental part of their faith they must wear it.

    Having taught in French primary schools I saw some young lads wearing turbans, but I still supported the ban on the Burkah.

  • dosser

    This is the point where you profoundly confuse me.

    You claim that the turban is an essential part of Khalsa Sikhism but the bangle isn’t. Yet few female Sikhs wear turbans, while most wear the bangle; so, in this case, how do we judge what is a fundamental part of the religion while other forms are arbitary?

    How do you place religion under the form of rational scrutiny?

    It seems as if you are the one seeking to impose arbitrary rules.

  • David

    It seems a symptom of a certain societal madness that the general public (presumably) has to foot the bill for two sets of lawyers and a judge to decide a question that many might think could have been solved with a little application of common sense.

  • Dewi

    A slightly over the top take on it From veteran Welsh journo Clive Betts.

  • Occassional Commentor

    IMO the sensible approach is to allow anyone the right. E.g., if Sikhs can wear a turban to class, then anyone should be allowed; and if no one else can wear a turban, then no religious exemption should permit it.

    The only exception that should be granted is for medical necessity.

  • TAFKABO

    Dosser.
    How do you place religion under the form of rational scrutiny?

    You can’t, it’s irrational. What you can do is insit that rules are rules, for everyone regardless of religion. For me symbols should be discouraged, though tolerated as log ast hey din’t interfer with the general running of an organisation or entity.
    Thereport above the said girl felt the bangle was “important” to her, that is not the same as saying it is an fundamental part of the faith, the turban is different.
    However, were it to interfere with the good running of the school it ought to be banned as well, there is a good case for this with the burkah in France.

    It seems as if you are the one seeking to impose arbitrary rules.

    No, I hope the above explanation illustrates that far from being arbitrary, I think the rules should be applied according to the same criteria for everyone.

  • dosser

    Yet the bangle is important to Sikhs, especially women, and as such discounts your argument. I think your statement regarding ‘rules are rules’ runs the risk of a platitude. Rules are there to be challenged and broken when they are seen to be patently false or discriminatory.

    That brings me to another philosophical point relevant to the debate. Can it be said that treating everybody with an equal set of rules be seen to be paradoxically discriminatory? This is certainly the case in the example of the Sikh schoolgirl. By refusing her the right to publicly express here religious identity, could it be said that we are discriminating against her?

  • wild turkey

    Dosser & Taf

    In 2003 Rabinder Singh QC became the first judge to sit in the high court wearing a turban instead of a wig. It is unknown whether he also wears the Kara.

    ‘It seems a symptom of a certain societal madness that the general public (presumably) has to foot the bill for two sets of lawyers and a judge to decide a question that many might think could have been solved with a little application of common sense. ‘

    Agree with the above, the application of common sense should have been initiated by the school but ….

    The application of common sense doesn’t generate much fee income for the learned friends. In the last 10 or so years as the scope, if not the clarity, of rights legislation has greatly extended, how many ZaNU labour ministers have come from a legal background,ie solicitors, barristers, etc. etc.?

  • TAFKABO

    For the record, I generally support Sikh’s rights to wear the turban, even though I am against all religion, I recognise it is fundamental to them and to ban it would be discriminatory.

    However the line must be drawn, we can’t just accept that all someone needs to say is that it is “important” to them and it will be allowed.
    I think recently in Northern Ireland a schoolgirl was banned from wearing a religious badge, even though her mother isnisted it was fundamental to her daughter’s belief.
    Religion oughtn’t to grant one some kind of diplomatic immunity, in all cases, that is fundamentally discriminatory to those of us who are secular in outlook.

  • kensei

    Religion oughtn’t to grant one some kind of diplomatic immunity, in all cases, that is fundamentally discriminatory to those of us who are secular in outlook.

    Is it really? You have an equal right to wear no badge or an anti-religion badge.

    There is clearly a happy medium here. Faced with the choice of tweaking the rules a bit to accommodate a not terribly unreasonable request or particular garish garment, the school chose to apply the letter, suspend a student and go to fucking court over it. There is a element of absolute madness there.

  • notaracist

    God how much more demanding can they get. If Sikh’s want to send there kids to school wearing turbans and bangles then they should have there own schools. Its not fare to make normal kids that have to go to school on them.

  • TAFKABO

    Is it really? You have an equal right to wear no badge or an anti-religion badge.

    Oh really?

    Where is this right enshrined exactly?
    the last time I looked there was a Blasphemy law on the statute books, but no right to speak out against religion.
    The point being, kids going to school ought to be subject to the rules of the school, and if the rules say no jewelry, there should be no jewellry, the religious exemption should only apply in rare cases (such as the turban).
    Once again, I see nothing which suggests his bangle is fundamental to anyone’s religion, only that the girl claimed it was “important” to her, just as a girl in another school claimed a religious badge was also “important” to her.

  • BfB

    I’d like to have seen the ban upheld. Too long have people claimed special privelages in the name of religion.
    Posted by TAFKABO on Jul 29, 2008 @ 02:47 PM

    Crikey!! I agree with taffie!!
    I’m buying a lotto ticket.

  • TAFKABO
  • billie-Joe Remarkable

    “Having taught in French primary schools I saw some young lads wearing turbans, but I still supported the ban on the Burkah.”

    And your point, caller?

  • TAFKABO

    The point was that it is not a simple all or nothing approach. The turban was allowed because it was not interfering with the good running of the school, the Burkah was not allowed because it not only made it difficult for teachers to identify pupils, the non wearing of the Burkah by some young Muslim girls led to them being stigmatised as cheap and easy by young Muslim males, girls were subjected to harrasment, and in some cases, gang raped.
    The religious symbol was being used as a tool of oppression and as such had to go.

  • Big Maggie

    “the non wearing of the Burkah by some young Muslim girls led to them being stigmatised as cheap and easy by young Muslim males, girls were subjected to harrasment, and in some cases, gang raped. ”

    Got to love those nice, tolerant Muslims 🙁

  • Greagoir O Frainclin

    So folk who thought it was ok for the girl to wear the bangle, presumably then they would feel it would be ok then if someone wore, let’s say, rosary beads then?

    Over to you, Traditional_Unionist & Co…..

  • GurnyGub

    Well, I was amused to see she was wearing a Claddagh ring outside court today. I can’t remember which way it was pointing, though it’s a pity nobody picked up she was wearing a ‘faith’ ring.

  • Tom

    Tafkabo:

    Actually I do have a few problems with that, but I’d accept the Turban as an integral part of their belief which could be accepted without interfering with their duties.

    What I have a problem with is when someone decides arbitrarily that something is “important” to them because of religion ,without being able demonstrate that it is a fundamental part of their faith they must wear it.

    […]


    Thereport above the said girl felt the bangle was “important” to her, that is not the same as saying it is an fundamental part of the faith, the turban is different.

    You know, Tafkabo, if you’d done even a cursory bit of research instead of just jumping to conclusions about what you’d “accept” as “real” Sikhism, you’d realize that doctrinal rationale behind wearing the turban and the bangle stem from the same place, which is the pronouncement on the Five Ks by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699.

    This is pretty straightforward stuff: we’re dealing with something pretty unambiguously established as standard practice within the more orthodox portions of the world’s fifth-largest religion. This isn’t some sort of incantation believed to come from a lost cache of Gnostic scrolls or something.

  • Rory

    What about uniformity in the boys’ shower rooms where bodily symbols of religious affiliation may suddenly become apparent? Must we then insist that all be circumcised – or none?

  • Turgon

    Greagoir O Frainclin
    “So folk who thought it was ok for the girl to wear the bangle, presumably then they would feel it would be ok then if someone wore, let’s say, rosary beads then?”

    Yes, next question

  • TAFKABO

    Tom.

    Your point is irrelevant, bangles interfere with school policy, turbans don’t.
    I think school policy should take precendence in this case.

  • billie-Joe Remarkable

    Big Maggie: “Got to love those nice, tolerant Muslims :(”

    Yeah, because Christians don’t rape, do they? You seem to be implying that they rape because they are Muslims. Is that what you mean? Are all muslims defaulted to rape, moreso than people of other faiths or those with no professed faith?

    What do you mean by tolerance in this context? Do you think tolerance is a good and admirable quality that we should all display? Have you any idea what the word actually means?

    Just wondering, like.

  • TAFKABO

    Having lived in Belfast and now an immigrant heavy suburb of Paris, I have to say that my experience is that my Mulsim neighbours are much more tolerant and peaceful than the Christian neighbours I had in Belfast.