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Sarika Singh

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File:Sarika Singh 01.jpg

Sarika Singh, whose full name is Sarika Watkins-Singh was pupil at the Aberdare Girls’ School in the Welsh town of Aberdare. On November 2007, she was excluded from her normal classes and was forced to attend lessons in isolation for two months after the staff at the school first noticed her wearing the kara or bangle, which is one of the five articles of faith worn by all practising Sikhs.

Sarika, who was born in 1994 is 14 years old and was the only Sikh in her school. She refused to remove the kara, saying it should not be treated as jewellery. The school’s uniform policy prohibits any jewellery other than a wristwatch and plain ear studs. Sarika, who is of Welsh-Indian origin said: “I am very disappointed that my school does not recognise my right to wear the kara. I did not like being put into isolation, which to me was like a prison. I feel my education was suffering.”

What began as a relatively small matter of school discipline is now escalating into a major international affair as Sikhs everywhere — plus human rights activists — fight to overturn the ban. Liberty, the human rights group which has filed the challenge, is expected to argue the school has breached race relations and human rights laws, as well as a 25-year-old Law Lords’ decision which allows Sikh children to wear items representing their faith — including turbans — to school. The group is asking for the school to amend its uniform policy to comply with Britain’s Race Relations Act.

Details

Anna Fairclough, Liberty’s legal officer who is representing Sarika, said: “Sarika Singh has suffered humiliating isolation and is being denied a proper education simply because she wears the kara, a small bangle worn by virtually all Sikhs both in and out of school and work. It is astonishing that the school continues to exclude her despite almost universal condemnation and 25-year-old House of Lords precedent.”

Her mother, Sanita, disclosed she and her daughter had a meeting with the school’s board of governors, who ruled in favour of the ban. She said of the kara: “It’s not jewellery, it’s part of our faith and symbol of our belief. We feel very strongly that Sarika has a right to manifest her religion — she’s not asking for anything big and flashy, she’s not making a big fuss, she just wants a reminder of her religion. Sarika made her first visit to India in 2005, looking at her cultural background and her roots. I don’t believe in putting pressure on children to follow a certain religion, but Sarika decided for herself that she wanted to be a practising Sikh.”

Some Christians have written to Welsh newspapers defending the ban. They say that when Christian girls are forbidden from wearing the crucifix, there is no reason why Sikh girls should be allowed to wear a bangle.

Meanwhile, United Sikhs, an international advocacy charity, will also apply to file a third party intervention. The Support Sarika group on social networking site Facebook has 2,366 members, from countries as far afield as Canada, Australia, India and the U.S. “It really aggravates me that people aren’t even aware of the religions out there. I can’t even believe that they’re doing that to the girl,” wrote Gagan from Canada.

In January 2008, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council, the local council told the school's governors it would no longer give them any more support or financial assistance and confirmed this was continuing for the court case. Also in the same month, the Welsh Assembly Government published new guidelines for school governors, saying they should take account of religious views and consider whether uniform policy interfered with the right to manifest a religion or belief.

Hundreds of Canadian Sikhs are among nearly 4,000 people who have joined online petitions in support of a 14-year-old Sikh girl who has filed a legal challenge after being excluded by her school for wearing a kara.

Chronology

Date Event
November 2007 Sarika is excluded from Aberdare Girls' Comprehensive School.
January 4, 2008 A support group set up on social networking site Facebook gains 2,367 members.
February 6, 2008 Mr Justice Harrison at the High Court in London rules Sarika’s school can continue to enforce its “no jewellery” policy. He says: “While I accept there will be detriment to the claimant if she is not able to wear the kara in the interim, it does not seem to me that is anything like as significant as the detriment to the school if she were allowed to wear it.”
February 27, 2008 Sarika enrolls at Mountain Ash Comprehensive School. She is not allowed to attend her old school while she awaits a High Court ruling on her case. Her new comprehensive is happy for Sarika to wear the controversial bangle inside its classrooms.
June 19, 2008 High Court reserves judgement.
July 29, 2008 High Court gives judgement - Sarika wins case.
September 1, 2008 Sarika announces that she will not return to Aberdare Girls' Comprehensive School. She said, ""I don't want to go back to Aberdare Girls' School because after everything that has happened it won't be the same as it was before everything kicked off."

Article by the Lawyer

File:Sarika Singh bangle.jpg

Anna Fairclough: The lessons all schools need to learn from this judgment The Independent Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Sarika Watkins-Singh, a 14- year-old Welsh-Punjabi Sikh, was forbidden from wearing her kara, a 5mm-wide plain steel bangle, to her state school. Because of her decision to continue wearing it, she was taught in complete segregation from other pupils for almost two months, banned from speaking to friends at school and even escorted to the toilet by a teacher, who waited outside.

Sarika won her case convincingly and hopefully schools will take note of the core messages in the judgment. The first of these is about individual freedom and the rights of minorities. You need a very good reason to interfere with the rights of individuals to express their identity and none was forthcoming in this case. Second, one size does not fit all. To achieve true equality, people in different situations sometimes have to be treated differently. Third, schools should seek to prevent racism by teaching students to value and respect difference, not by requiring minority groups to conform to the mainstream model.

This judgment does not mean all groups everywhere are always permitted to wear items representing their faith. But, hopefully, this will bring to a halt the perception that all religious items can lawfully be banned. Nor does this judgment only apply to Sikhs, who are recognised in law as a racial, as well as a religious group. Since the advent of the Equality Act 2006, all religions are protected in exactly the same way.

by Anna Fairclough, Liberty's legal officer, represented the Singhs

Court Case

Sarika Singh - Court Case starts today (17 June 2008) in London
at Royal Court of Justice, Strand, LONDON WC2A 2LL COURT 27, FOR HEARING - CO/11435/2007

  • Before MR JUSTICE SILBER, Tuesday 17 June, 2008, At half past 10. The case is expected to last for 3 days

The Queen on the application of S v Governing Body Of Aberdare Girls School

A simple steel wrist bangle called a Kara by Sikhs meant as much to schoolgirl Sarika Watkins-Singh as it did to England spin bowler Monty Panesar, a High Court judge heard today.

"It was one of the symbols of their Sikh faith and not a piece of jewellery", said lawyers for 14-year-old Sarika at the start of a hearing to decide whether a school was justified in banning her from attending classes while she insisted on wearing the bracelet.

Lawyers for the girl told the High Court that she was a victim of unlawful discrimination when she was excluded from Aberdare Girls' School in south Wales last November after refusing to remove the simple steel bracelet.

Mr Justice Silber said he would like to see one of the bangles - known as the Kara - at some point during the hearing, which is set for three days.

In the meantime, Sarika's counsel, Helen Mountfield, referred the judge to a photograph of Panesar wearing the Kara as one of the symbols of the Sikh faith. Read more....

Media coverage of this case

File:32Sarika001.jpg

The issue was thoroughly covered in the news in the UK just prior to the trial at the High Court in London during the period Tuesday 17 June, 2008 to Thursday 19 June 2008. Many authorities including the Labour MP Ann Clywd had warned the school that they were likely to lose the case but their voices were unheard by the school and also by large the local and national media. The voice of the Sikhs and their media were ignored in most newspaper articles and national media reports.

There appears to be little understanding of the issues regarding articles of faith and the implication of these on Sikhs. The media wrongly continues to link Sikh symbols with the Christian cross or the Muslim hijab, etc. The media is completely unaware that the Sikh symbols form a compulsory part of their faith system. The Sikh turban and long hair are a mandatory requirement of a practising Sikh. On the other hand the Christian cross, for example does not form a compulsory part of Christianity. This point was not picked up by any national media in the UK.

Anna Fairclough: The lessons all schools need to learn from this judgment The Independent Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Sarika Watkins-Singh, a 14- year-old Welsh-Punjabi Sikh, was forbidden from wearing her kara, a 5mm-wide plain steel bangle, to her state school. Because of her decision to continue wearing it, she was taught in complete segregation from other pupils for almost two months, banned from speaking to friends at school and even escorted to the toilet by a teacher, who waited outside.

Sarika won her case convincingly and hopefully schools will take note of the core messages in the judgment. The first of these is about individual freedom and the rights of minorities. You need a very good reason to interfere with the rights of individuals to express their identity and none was forthcoming in this case. Second, one size does not fit all. To achieve true equality, people in different situations sometimes have to be treated differently. Third, schools should seek to prevent racism by teaching students to value and respect difference, not by requiring minority groups to conform to the mainstream model.

This judgment does not mean all groups everywhere are always permitted to wear items representing their faith. But, hopefully, this will bring to a halt the perception that all religious items can lawfully be banned. Nor does this judgment only apply to Sikhs, who are recognised in law as a racial, as well as a religious group. Since the advent of the Equality Act 2006, all religions are protected in exactly the same way.

by Anna Fairclough, Liberty's legal officer, represented the Singhs

Guidance provided by the Welsh Assembly

File:Assembly wales.jpg

On 18 January 2008, the Welsh Assembly Government published a guidance document for governing bodies and headteachers on issues relating to implementing or changing a school uniform and appearance policy. (Download here)

Among other things, it provides the following:

  • ensuring that due regard is given to securing equality of treatment between boys and girls and for pupils from different ethnic and religious backgrounds and disabled pupils in relation to school uniform and appearance policies;
  • cost;
  • practical considerations involved in introducing or changing school uniform and appearance policies;
  • consultation with parents and pupils.

1.2 The Welsh Assembly Government strongly encourages governing bodies to have a school uniform (or dress) and appearance code as it:

  • provides a sense of identity and can instil pride;
  • can support positive behaviour and school discipline;
  • can ensure pupils dress appropriately for learning activity;
  • can remove peer pressure to dress in ‘designer’ fashions;
  • can encourage cohesion between different groups of pupils;
  • can ensure pupils of all races and backgrounds feel included;
  • can help reduce inequalities between pupils and some triggers for bullying;
  • can help identify truants;
  • can assist identification of strangers on school premises; and
  • it can support and promote the ethos of the school.

2.1 In formulating school uniform and appearance policies, a school governing body needs to consider its obligations not to discriminate unlawfully on the grounds of sex, race, religion or belief and disability.

Discrimination on the Grounds of Race/Religious Belief

2.6 School governing bodies should consider their uniform and appearance policies in the context of their race equality policy; their obligation to promote equality of opportunity between pupils of different racial groups; and the requirement to assess the impact of school policies on pupils drawn from different racial groups. A governing body could be regarded as discriminating if it did not accommodate religious needs concerning dress. This could either amount to unlawful race discrimination (for example, because a high proportion of the followers of a particular faith come from one or more minority racial groups and could not comply with a particular uniform requirement), or it could amount to a breach of the governing body’s duties under the Human Rights Act 1998 or the Equality Act 2006.

2.7 The Human Rights Act 1998 protects the right to “manifest one’s religion or beliefs”. Various religions require conformity to a particular dress code, or to outwardly manifest their belief. Some religions require that specific religious artefacts are worn or their followers dress in a particular way.

2.8 It may be possible for many religious requirements to be met within school uniform and appearance policies and school governing bodies should act reasonably in accommodating religious requirements. Once the uniform and appearance policy has been agreed, governing bodies should consider carefully, any request that is made to vary the policy to meet the needs of any individual pupil to accommodate their religion or belief.


2.9 However, governing bodies should consider the concerns of any groups about the proposed policy, and whether the proposed policy amounts to an interference with the right to manifest a religion or belief, and whether it is discriminatory. The school will need to weigh up the concerns of different groups and it might not be practical to accommodate fully the concerns of all groups. For example, groups of children drawn from different parts of the same religious community may each have differing requirements, requiring several variations of school uniform if each were accommodated in full, which would not be practical. 2.10 In fulfilling their obligations, governing bodies may have to balance the rights of individual pupils against the best interests of the school community as a whole. Where schools have good reasons for restricting an individual’s freedom, then the restriction of an individual’s rights to manifest their religion may be justified. For example:

  • to ensure the effective delivery of teaching and learning;
  • the promotion of cohesion and good order in a school;
  • the prevention of bullying; or
  • genuine health and safety or security reasons;

Jewellery

3.11 Governing bodies may wish to consider the wearing of jewellery as part of school uniform and appearance policies and specify items of jewellery that pupils may wear. There are also health and safety issues to consider. It may be reasonable for a governing body to ban pupils from wearing jewellery where it considers that this poses a risk of injury (e.g. in PE lessons, where pupils should be asked to remove earrings or tape them), or where it considers that wearing jewellery to school might place a pupil at increased risk of bullying or harassment.

Race Relations Act 1976 Polish:  File:Aberdare-girls-school-upper-5.jpg

Section 71(1) of the Race Relations Act 1976 as amended by the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 places a general duty on schools to promote race equality. This means schools must aim, in the exercise of their functions, to:

  • eliminate unlawful racial discrimination;
  • promote equality of opportunity; and
  • promote good relations between people of different racial groups.

Governing bodies must have a race equality policy; and governing bodies must address annually the impact of their policies on race relations.

The Act makes it unlawful to discriminate directly or indirectly against someone on racial grounds. Racial discrimination is described in the Act as where a person treats one person less favourably than another on racial grounds or where a requirement or condition – such as a school rule – which is applied or would apply to persons of a different racial group:

  • is such that the proportion of persons who can comply with it is considerably smaller than the proportion of persons not of that racial group who can comply with it; and
  • which cannot be shown to be justifiable irrespective of the colour, race, nationality or ethnic or national origins of the person to whom it is applied; and
  • which is to the detriment of the person because he/she cannot comply with it.

A school in its rules for uniform and appearance must not treat one racial group more favourably than another.

Human Rights Act 1998

Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) states that the enjoyment of the other rights and freedoms set out must be secured without discrimination on any grounds. These grounds include sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status. Relevant rights and freedoms include:

  • Article 8 (Right to Respect for Private and Family Life) which covers the ability of the individual to develop his or her personality in society;
  • Article 9 (Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion) which covers the right to demonstrate one’s religion, including by complying with the dress requirements of one’s religion; and
  • Article 10 (Freedom of Expression), which covers self-expression through dress.

Limitations can be placed on these rights e.g. by a school policy on uniform or appearance. However, the policy must aim to further legitimate interests such as public safety, public order, health or morals, or to protect the rights and freedoms of others. The potential benefits of having school uniform and appearance policies, as set out in paragraph 1.2 above, relate to these interests. But as school uniform or appearance policies may constitute a limitation on rights, it should be set out clearly in a document which is accessible to pupils and parents, and available in languages they understand, and should include the consequences of not complying with any policy.

Equality Act 2006 Section 49 of the Equality Act 2006 must be read in conjunction with section 44 and 45. Section 44 defines what is meant by religion or belief

44 Religion and belief

(a) “religion” means any religion,

(b) “belief” means any religious or philosophical belief,

(c) a reference to religion includes a reference to lack of religion, and

(d) a reference to belief includes a reference to lack of belief.

Section 45 defines what is meant by discrimination Discrimination is when

(1) A person (“A”) discriminates against another (“B”) for the purposes of this Part This means in the context of Education if on grounds of the religion or belief of B or of any other person except A (whether or not it is also A’s religion or belief) A treats B less favourably than he treats or would treat others (in cases where there is no material difference in the relevant circumstances).

(2) In subsection (1) a reference to a person’s religion or belief includes a reference to a religion or belief to which he is thought to belong or subscribe.

(3) A person (“A”) discriminates against another (“B”) for the purposes of this Part if A applies to B a provision, criterion or practice—

  • (a) which he applies or would apply equally to persons not of B’s religion

or belief,

  • (b) which puts persons of B’s religion or belief at a disadvantage compared

to some or all others (where there is no material difference in the relevant circumstances),

  • (c) which puts B at a disadvantage compared to some or all persons who

are not of his religion or belief (where there is no material difference in the relevant circumstances), and

  • (d) which A cannot reasonably justify by reference to matters other than

B’s religion or belief.

(4) A person (“A”) discriminates against another (“B”) if A treats B less favourably than he treats or would treat another and does so by reason of the fact that, or by reason of A’s knowledge or suspicion that, B—

  • (a) has brought or intended to bring, or intends to bring, proceedings

under this Part,

  • (b) has given or intended to give, or intends to give, evidence in

proceedings under this Part,

  • (c) has provided or intended to provide, or intends to provide, information

in connection with proceedings under this Part,

  • (d) has done or intended to do, or intends to do, any other thing under or

in connection with this Part, or

  • (e) has alleged or intended to allege, or intends to allege, that a person

contravened this Part.

(5) Subsection (4) does not apply where A’s treatment of B relates to B’s making or intending to make, not in good faith, a false allegation.

Section 49 of the Equality Act 2006 sets out provisions in relation to schools. It is unlawful in general for maintained schools to discriminate against a person on the grounds of that person’s religion or belief in the following ways:

  • the terms on which it offers to admit him/her as a pupil;
  • by refusing to accept an application to admit him/her as a pupil; or
  • where he/she is a pupil of the establishment:

> in the way in which it affords him/her access to any benefit, facility or service; > by refusing him/her access to a benefit, facility or service; > by excluding him/her from the establishment; or > by subjecting him/her to any other detriment.

The Equality Act 2006 also amended the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, creating a general gender equality duty which requires public bodies to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity between men and women and to eliminate unlawful sex discrimination and harassment. The Equality Act 2006 also outlaws discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of education and in the exercise of public functions.

  • The Religious Clothing summary highlights the following as requirements of a Sikh:

Sikhism

In general modest dress is a requirement. All initiated Sikhs wear the five ‘K’ symbols as a sign of their initiation, generally at puberty, into the Sikh community. Male Sikhs wear a turban, the removal of which is unacceptable in their religion, and grow a beard. The five ‘K’ symbols are: ‘kesh’ (long hair which is not cut); ‘kara’ (a steel bracelet); ‘kirpan’ (a small sword); ‘kangha’ (a wooden comb); and ‘kach’ (long underpants).

The document also sets out out the current position regarding financial assistance for parents towards the cost of purchasing school uniform.

It says that the Assembly Government does not consider exclusion to be "an appropriate response" to breaches of school uniform policies.


See also

External links

Videos

Other Cases

  • unitedsikhs.org Belgian Court overturns ban on Sikh head-covering in school 01 July 2008


These articles deal with Sikh's Five ks

Kesh (uncut hair) -|- Kara (bangle) -|- Kanga (small comb) -|- Kachera (under garment) -|- Kirpan (sword)

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