Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Garda Sikh banned from wearing turban

In a welcome departure from things Islamic, Cranmer’s loyal communicant Mr Bob has brought his attention to this religio-political nugget from the Republic of Ireland. It appears that a young Sikh Irishman wanted to serve his country in law enforcement, but has been told by the Garda that ‘immigrants to this country must accept our culture…people who come here must understand our way of doing things’.


The thing is, this young man is not an immigrant; he is Irish born and bred. It was in response to the very specific calls on minority races and communities in Ireland to volunteer for garda service that he decided to apply, and this condition was not disclosed prior to his application. And now he simply wishes to wear a turban to cover his long uncut hair (kesh) which is a sign of his commitment to his religion. Of course the origins were more to do with the practicalities of keeping all that hair neat and tidy, but the 5Ks developed into a Sikh orthodoxy, and (much to the chagrin of Guru Nanak) another ‘-ism’ was born. They are not supposed to shave either, but most young Sikhs conveniently ignore this.

Cranmer has some sympathy for this young man. Turbans are worn by Sikh police officers elsewhere, most notably in Britain and in the United States, and Sikhs are also exempt from wearing crash helmets on motorbikes. Compromise on such matters has historically been a part of the British approach – epitomised by pragmatism – and the Sikhs have, almost without exception, been loyal, faithful, and law-abiding members of their communities and wholly respectful of tradition and culture.

But this young man has been told he must remove his turban and wear a garda cap.

Amidst the predictable accusations of ‘racism’, Minister of State Mr Conor Lenihan believes it is the exact opposite. He says: “If we're to take integration seriously, people who come here must understand our way of doing things. When the President and Ministers travel to the Middle East, they accept cultural requirements of the country and the culture they are operating in. It is a vice versa situation with regard to Ireland."

It is true the Her Majesty the Queen wears a veil in Muslim countries, she removes her shoes when entering gurdwaras and mosques (in her own country), and even wears black when meeting the Pope. And yet she is Supreme Governor of the Church of England. It is one thing to bow to the religious and cultural mores of other traditions when one is in their jurisdiction, but quite another when they are in hers.

So Cranmer is pondering today, before we have Muslim doctors and teachers and police wearing burkhas (-for the day is surely not far off-), that maybe the Garda is right not to compromise on this. A uniform is supposed to be, err… uniform. As BA discovered, when one allows one exemption, one is obliged to permit a myriad of others. And in today’s postmodern mish-mash of relativist spirituality, with Jedi Knights on the ascendancy, Cranmer is a little worried at the thought of members of the Metropolitian Police being permitted to carry lightsabres.

Yet at least in the Garda this Sikh young man is permitted be Sikh: in the Police Service of Northern Ireland, he would, like all non-Roman Catholics, be classified as Protestant.


Anonymous View from the Solent said...

Good Morning Your Grace.
I would not like to have been in Mr Lenihan's position, a difficult decision. However, is there not a way out of this dilemma? The accomplished English spin bowler Monty Panesar is a Sikh. However, when he is on the cricket field he does not wear the turban. Instead he uses a tightly-fitting cap similar to a baseball cap. He is proud of his Sikh beliefs, and finds this apparel perfectly acceptable. Does this not suggest that some form of skull cap beneath the regulation police helmet would be a solution?

22 August 2007 at 11:40  
Anonymous Moonintroll said...

Your Grace, I feel that I must disagree with you here. I have no problems with Sikhs being allowed to wear their turbans, provided they otherwise conform with their uniform requirements, including having a turban of the correct colour. After all, from what I know of Sikhs they are well integrated members of society with know desire to take us over or live under self-imposed apartheid (unlike a certain other religion I could mention).
Oh, and perhaps it might be a good idea if Jeddi Knight police officers were allowed to carry lightsabres. The possibility of being chopped clean in two would certainly give the yob community something to think about.

22 August 2007 at 11:46  
Blogger Cranmer said...

Mr View from the Solent,

It is, as ever, a fusion between cultural practice and religious identity. As all French Sikhs have discovered, there is a compromise to be found. Hair 'nets' are quite permissible for Sikhs beneath uniform caps. The problem is that a few Sikhs are taking strategy lessons from some Muslims...

22 August 2007 at 11:48  
Anonymous bob said...

According to The Sikh Association of London's Metropolitan Police the Gardaí are 40 years behind the Metropolitan Police and all other civilized countries.

22 August 2007 at 12:51  
Blogger Thersites said...

Life is a matter of concessions on all sides, at least in the West. Since Sikhs have for the most part 'done their bit' in regards to integration, shouldn't they get something in return? It's a world away from the moral blackmail peddled by some Muslims.

And besides, isn't Conor Lenihan missing the point? The countries he mentions demand obedience to their standards because they are, by their nature, dictatorial, monolithic and oppressive. Isn't Ireland meant to be a pluralist democracy?

The only cultural requirements of a free country are to stand up for freedom and to respect others, not get so damn chauvinistic just because the Saudis do.

22 August 2007 at 12:54  
Blogger Guido Fawkes Esq. said...

Couldn't Sikhs wear uniform coloured turbans and stick a badge on the front?

22 August 2007 at 13:01  
Blogger Cranmer said...

Mr Fawkes,

Welcome to His Grace's revered and august (or was it 'boring and bigoted'?) blog of intelligent and erudite comment upon matters religio-political.

In answer to your question, they most certainly could, and that has been the British approach. But it is not the approach of the Republic of Ireland (and, increasingly, neither is it that of many other EU countries), for fear of the demands that would eventually follow from other faith communities.

Jedi Knights outnumber both Sikhs and Jews in the UK...

22 August 2007 at 13:08  
Blogger ENGLISHMAN said...

The sikh who made such a fuss over the crash helmet issue, after thirty-odd years in this country,still does not speak English,if that is integration and support for our culture and values, then i must have forgotten what these words mean, and please do not forget that there are three PROSCRIBED sikh terrorist organisations that are probably still operative in this country,not trying to change our culture do not be absurd , this is another test case to see how far we can be pushed, and as far as being "loyal"they certainly were not loyal to india, which is how they came to be here in the first place, as all the other millions of foreigners who celebrate thier own "wonderful" cultures but refuse to live in them.

22 August 2007 at 16:52  
Blogger Ttony said...

Let us remember that it is the Sikhs of the UK who offered to raise an infantry regiment for the Army, and who were turned down, because the Army (or more probably the Minister of Defence) was worried that it might be racist to so so.

22 August 2007 at 20:41  
Blogger Jomo said...

I think we should all look forward to the day when the PSNI is integrated into the Garda Síochána

22 August 2007 at 21:23  
Blogger Snuffleupagus said...

I must say it is pleasing to read a series of comments Your Grace, which shows people wanting to try to work with a particular ethnic minority. Mr Englishman, you would do well to learn something from your fellow commentators.

Though Your Grace, I am not sure allowing one exemption forces one to 'permit a myriad of others'. You refer to the helmet law, and as far as I know, that has not unleashed a massive problem for the future of motorbiking...

22 August 2007 at 22:58  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you want to wear your national dress as a police officer, maybe you should go home and join the police,


22 August 2007 at 23:11  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't impose your fundementalism on us!!!

22 August 2007 at 23:13  
Blogger shergar said...

I find your lack of faith disturbing. We jedi suffer enough prejudice as it is.

23 August 2007 at 00:02  
Anonymous Dr C Riyal Killah said...

"So Cranmer is pondering today, before we have Muslim doctors and teachers and police wearing burkhas (-for the day is surely not far off-) "

Allah Akhbar! The day that Muslim doctors wear burkhas has long since dawned.

I have discovered that I can get anywhere in the NHS by wearing one of these garments, even though I am six feet six tall, have a beard like a gorse bush and the sexual lusts of a demon-possessed pedophile on viagra.

If anyone challenges me or even looks at me the wrong way when I am on the prowl, I simply raise my normal tone of voice by a couple of octaves and scream "racist".

That's how I borrowed the radiation sources out of oncology department for my colleague Dr Homi Saeed's latest project, and had good fun doing Mufa Khathat (what you kuffar call "babysitting") in the children's ward.

- Dr C Riyal Killah
Muslim Medical Malpractitioners' Association

23 August 2007 at 00:35  
Blogger John Trenchard said...

"bob said...

According to The Sikh Association of London's Metropolitan Police the Gardaí are 40 years behind the Metropolitan Police and all other civilized countries.
12:51 PM"

considering that most people in the UK want the cops to go back to the effective no-nonsense policing methods of 40 years ago, i would take that as a compliment to the Irish police.

gotta love that "minister of integration" response. a pity none of our politicians have the balls to say such things.

you do see what the irish are doing here - they are 100 per cent going for the american "melting pot" approach. they've merely looked across the irish sea to our situation and said "no thanks".

23 August 2007 at 01:33  
Blogger Harry Hook said...

I've had this very discussion with Sikh colleagues and they admit that it is just posturing. Also, I believe the intake of alcohol is frowned upon if not forbidden in their religion, but I can assure you that there is no happier group of gamblers and piss-heads frequenting clubs throughout the breadth of Britain. Indeed, I have personally witnessed a Sikh male hockey team drink the Irish visitors to a standstill - and under the table.

His Grace is correct in praising the Sikh community and it has to be said that Sikh police officer are usually the smartest cops on the beat. As for the posturing ...when was the last time you saw a motorcyclist with a turban?

23 August 2007 at 01:36  
Blogger Snuffleupagus said...

Harry Hook
While what you say is true of Sikhs and indeed members of any religion, one must judge this particular young man alone. Does he drink alcohol? If so, then you have a point. If not, then be wary in the future of judging an entire people by the actions of only some.

As for Dr C Riyal Killah, I must say, you are almost as funny and entertaining as His Grace!

23 August 2007 at 19:57  
Blogger Harry Hook said...

Dear Snafflebagpus,

If you want a best mate who will give you the shirt off his back and join you to get pissed on a bad day ...then I heartily recommend befriending a Sikh chappie. My point was that their beliefs are not as sacrosanct, as pompous posters like yourself try to infer. I pointed out that turban wearing Sikh police officers, in my opinion, are the smartest by far - are you saying that my observations are invalid by my judging an 'entire people' in this way and therefore they are as scruffy as the rest?

If the wearing of turbans is so important as to merit getting a legal exemption for riding a motorcycle - then again I ask, when was the last time you saw a rider (and pillion for that matter) wearing one?

23 August 2007 at 23:26  
Blogger Harry Hook said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

23 August 2007 at 23:42  
Blogger Harry Hook said...

A further point, why must I "judge this particular young man alone"? The stumbling block with the Garda is not specific to that individual, it's one of religion which reflects the attitudes of the Sikh community as a whole. As I also commented, these beliefs can be fluid, literally. Therefore, the Garda is quite right in expressing what it sees as correct. While I did indeed praise Sikh police officers for their splendid turnout, I would certainly not condone Sikhs wearing turbans in the Paras or Coldstream Guards.

Before someone tells me that a sergeant in the Scots Guards wears a Rasta hat, let me just say that the final solution lies in the definition of the word - 'uniform'.


24 August 2007 at 00:28  
Blogger Snuffleupagus said...

Harry Hook
You speak as if you know every Sikh in the world or that they are all the same. True, I too have known Sikhs who drink. I have also known Sikhs who take their beliefs very seriously.

How can one possibly make laws on the: 'How many Sikhs has Harry Hook seen wearing a turban' criterion? One must discuss the philosophical value of the issue for the society concerned. In fact I think you say this in your second comment.

But you go on in your second comment to make a different point: and that is of the importance of uniform. This is another point entirely, and one that does carry some weight, which His Grace acknowledges in his post.

24 August 2007 at 21:23  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As the turbaned Sikh ex-West Midlands police officer on the left in the picture on your site, I was intrigued to come across your views on having (or maybe not) turbaned Sikh police officers in Ireland. Some of the comments provide me with a sense of irony as I used to worked with a certain officer (PC 2034 Mooney) of Irish descent who used to appear extremely proud to work with turbaned Sikh officers (myself and someone else when he was in the Met).My sense of irony is also linked to the fact that certainly in England, many Irish and Sikhs perceive themselves to have a lot in common namely generous hearts and open-minds, albeit this has not been so apparent reading some of the comments on other Irish websites. First some points of correction - Monty Panesar does NOT wear a cap - it is called a patka - you could loosely describe it as a sports turban as it is still tied. You put a cap on your head, turbans are tied - semantics for non-Sikhs, important for Sikhs. Secondly whilst I accept that it is an imperfect world, wearing a hairnet under a hat, in the main, is not acceptable. The turban is a very significant and critical although not total, part of what defines a Sikh(women have the right to wear turbans, as they are seen as crowns - see It is important that people can clearly see you are a Sikh, not because you want to shove your belief in other people's faces (Sikhs should not fear anyone but neither should cause others fear) but it forces one to stand up and be counted where there is evil and wrong. The Gurus wanted Sikhs to develop courage (which wearing a turban helps to do as you stick out a mile) to make a positive difference. In theory, you should be able to go up to a Sikh (who is easily identifiable from their turban) to ask for his or her protection or help. The turban is an important part of creating those values of courage and steadfastness - you cannot shy away from wearing a turban or helping the defenceless. A number of the Sikh Gurus (of which there were 10), died sticking up for the rights of other religions. Many of the problems of today's society (I know some of you may also blame religion) are caused by a lack of moral and physical courage to act against wrong. The values of my religion instil in me the need to stand up for my beliefs and the rights of others against bullies and to act where there is wrong. Because I am so visible due to my wearing a turban it also instils a responsibility to act in a manner which increases others respect for Sikhism and not in a way which stains Sikhism. The turban and what it represents provides Sikhs with the energy and courage to do special things. The British recognised this power during the Empire - one of the most serious disciplinary offences in the Sikh Regiments was for a Sikh soldier to disrespect their religion because the British recognised that one who has no allegiance to Sikhism and the values that it brings cannot be trusted. (Would you trust your life to a friend who disrespected or back-stabbed their own parents?). Tens of thousands of Sikhs died fighting wearing turbans in the British Army which probably explains why in Britain it is not such a problem. The thought of a turban (or a piece of cloth) being so important may be alien to many of you but thousands of Sikhs (and I hope I would too) have died for this right - not because they were fundamentalist nutters but because they realised that you have to stand up for your rights and those of others. Suggest you read about the Battle of Saragarhi (google or wikipedia). Sikhs represent less than 2% of India's population yet the Prime Minister of India (as was a former President)is a Sikh. Likewise the Sikh regiments hold the highest number of Victoria Crosses or equivalent in the Indian army yet are only 2% of the population. Point being - the turban and the values it creates defines me and encourages me to do good. Finally it is not a cultural thing - Sikhs, myself included in the case of males for example, wear shirts, ties and trousers (and not kurta pyjamas) because that is the cultural clothing of the country where I was born and live (England). My turban is my religion - God does not need a visa to travel across countries and as you can see from my picture, my allegiance to the Police and country is evident by the fact that I (intentionally) wore a black turban with a chequered band and badge on the front and had just sworn allegiance to the Queen. The uniform of the police is one but is slightly adjusted (even the Garda compromises by having different caps for men and women). I understand about your fears about this being the thin end of the wedge but please try to learn and understand about others ways of thinking - whilst many of your contributors have tried, they have still taken an ethno-centric view and failed to understand HOW important the turban is to Sikhs - think of what is the most important thing to you as an Irish person which you feel is worth dying for? Well the same for a Sikh; it may only be a turban to you but to me as a Sikh it is worth my life and secondly the turban and the values it brings in the main is and has been force for good. The Sikhs are not posturing ( a Sikh who wears a hairnet and thinks that all this is posturing I would suggest does not really know that much - ask them to explain to you why Banda Bahadur's infant son was killed and his heart stuffed into his fathers' mouth by the Moghuls - posturing?) and it reduces the humanity of the Irish (who have travelled the world, also taken locals jobs in other countries and are proud of their heritage - witness the St.Patricks Day parades in New York and Birmingham) by taking a broad brush approach. All these brown faced, bearded turban people may look all the same to you, but no doubt you would be just as offended if I said that you must all be German Nazis because all white people look the same to asian people -As Sikhs we will keep our turbans but in the main we also want to integrate and contribute positively…and if you want to see Sikh riding motorbikes whilst wearing turbans, suggest you visit Punjab or even Birmingham. Best

27 August 2007 at 13:56  
Anonymous Turloc said...

Here is an e-mail from an on going debate.
You raised a question. Let me answer that. There are turbaned air force men in India and Singapore. But do they fly the combat planes with turbans on. The answer is no. They wear small cloth head cover like patka (the way Monty Panesar wears it while playing cricket for England). But did the air force authoroties in these two countries ever stop the individuals from joining air force for wearing a turban? No. The decision was left on the individual to decide for themselves. Likewise, many Sikhs who wear turban are also sports persons. Do they wear turban while playing? No. They wear a patka.
This can be read at:

So every one is bent out of shape for nothing. It's all bullshit.

1 September 2007 at 00:28  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the Irish minister for Justice on this point. A uniform is a uniform, everyone looks the same. So when a member of An Garda Siochana is called to an incident the caller will see a Garda, not an Catholic, Muslim, Sikh, or Jedi Garda, just a Garda so any prejudice the caller has hopefully will not show.

3 May 2010 at 10:02  

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