Turbans, Beards In office, Sikhs Tell NYPD
From Indian Express
22 March 2002
By Sujeet Rajan
He insisted on retaining his turban and beard for religious reasons.
And for that, 25-year-old Amric Singh Rathour, a rookie Sikh cop
had to pay with his job last year. Now, the Sikh Coalition, a group
of about 50 national Sikh organizations, has collected over 5,100
signatures in a petition, to be delivered to New York Mayor Michael
Bloomberg and to the New York Police Department (NYPD), for Rathour's
The Sikh community has been trying to overcome the trauma of an
"identity crisis" ever since the September 11th attacks.
Mistaken for Muslims and followers of Osama bin Laden, Sikhs were
the victims of numerous attacks in the immediate aftermath.
Perhaps bound together by such racial violence, community members
have now rallied behind Rathour, who was fired last July. Born in
New York, Rathour was selected as a probationary traffic enforcement
agent early last year. He cleared all the formalities and attended
the swearing-in ceremony on June 18. In the two months of training
that followed, Rathour maintained a patka, a short turban, to which
NYPD officers did not raise any objections.
However, Rathour's request to the department to be allowed to wear
a turban and keep a beard was denied. He was told that he would
have to wear the official police cap over his turban and could not
grow a beard which exceeded one millimeter. When he refused to comply
with these stipulations, Rathour was fired.
In its petition (www.petitiononline.com/SikhNYPD/petition.html),
the Sikh coalition has criticized the "no turban" policy
adopted by the NYPD, in contrast to police forces in other major
cities of the world. The petition says that Sikh officers have been
allowed to wear the turban and keep a beard in places like Canada,
England and Hong Kong. Sikh members have also expressed their "distress"
at the fact that Rathour was mistaken for a member of the Muslim
"His (Amric's) letter of termination cited a provision of
the NYPD dress code, requiring all police officers to wear police
caps on their heads, as the reason for his termination. To add insult
to injury, the NYPD not only terminated Amric for refusing to take
off his religiously mandated turban, but out of ignorance offered
him an opportunity to comply with the mandates of Islam rather than
Sikhism. This lack of knowledge is very disturbing," says the
Last July, during a hearing with the Police Department's Office
of Equal Employment Opportunity, Rathour was told by an official
that his beard would have to be "trimmed to one millimeter
in length" and his turban "would have to be small"
and "fit underneath the uniform hat," according to a transcript
of the meeting obtained by the Times Ledger, which reported the
The one millimeter rule was advocated in the force after a recommendation
by a Muslim religious leader, Imam Pasha. "Needless to say,
the same rules should not apply to Sikhs," said a spokesperson
of the coalition. "It is not only a case of misunderstanding
the Sikh faith, but also a violation of civil rights to practice
The Sikh coalition has decided to file a lawsuit against the NYPD
if Rathour is not reinstated. They have hired a New Jersey lawyer,
Ravinder Bhalla, for the case.
However, the spokesperson said the priority was to get the job back
and put the Sikh faith and its tenets in proper light. "We
want America to know who Sikhs are," he said. "This is
part of a much bigger fight."
The fight by minority communities here to practice the regulations
and requirements of their religion is not a new one. In 1990, Baltej
Singh Dhillon, a Sikh officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,
successfully challenged in court his department's refusal to allow
him to wear his turban as part of his uniform.
More recently, in 1999, two Muslim police officers who wanted to
keep their beards forced the issue in Newark, New Jersey. The case
was decided in the Supreme Court, which upheld a lower court's ruling
that a ban on beards would violate the officers' freedom of religion.
In its ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit said
that if medical exceptions allowed beards, then it was not proper
to deny a request based on religious grounds. Medical exemptions
are the only exceptions granted by the NYPD for facial hair beyond
Rathour's case could also revive the case of Jasjit Singh Jaggi,
whose request to wear his turban on duty was denied. Jaggi complied
with the rules of the force and wears a New York Police Department
cap over his turban.
This latest case occurs at a time when President George W. Bush
has made several highly publicized appearances with Sikh and Muslim
leaders at the White House. He has condemned the atrocities against
Sikhs and has denounced discrimination against them for keeping
their long beards and turbans. The Sikh community has hired a publicity
firm in New Jersey to make mainstream America more aware of the
However, not all police departments in the country have similar
rules. According to news reports, Sheriff Leroy Baca, head of the
Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department, encouraged Sikhs to join
his department in a recent public meeting, saying there would not
be a problem with turbans.
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