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Sukhmandir Khalsa

Sikh Warriors Denied Entry Into US Army

By April 9, 2009

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The recruiters come knocking at the door with promises of signing bonuses and advocating, "Join the Army see the World," and receive a GI loan for college and buying a home. Hopes on both sides turn to disappointment for all US armed forces reject the Sikh identity of uncut hair and beard.

Sikhs have a long military history. Many Sikhs from the Punjab have blood lines tracing back to the warriors who resisted Alexander the Great ultimately putting an end to his conquest. Guru Hargobind, the 6th spiritual master of Sikhism mustered the first Sikh army after his father Guru Arjan Dev became the first Sikh martyr. In April of 1699 (Nankshahi Calendar), known in present times as Vaisakhi Day, Guru Gobind Singh formalized the Sikh religion and established the order of Khalsa, creating the concept of the Sant- Sipahi, meaning saint- soldier, putting into action a spiritual warrior who physically defends the oppressed while practicing self mastery. Sikhs have maintained their spiritual identity of uncut hair through the centuries, fearlessly serving in the military units of many armed forces around the world.

In 1948, on July 26th, Harry Truman, the US President, promised equality of opportunity for everyone serving in the US armed forces when he signed Executive Order 9981, stating,

"It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin."

The promise has not been kept in the past several decades. The Sikh Coalition is taking up the cause and launching a campaign on Vaisakhi Day, April 14th, 2009, to end the ban on Sikhs joining the US military.

Please show your support for equal opportunity in US Armed Forces and sign a petition on behalf of two US Army recruits, Captain Kamaljit Singh Kalsi and Second Lieutenant Tejdeep Singh Rattan, who are being forced to choose between their religious identity and service to their country. Both have maintained their Sikh identity while enrolled in an Army program which exchanges medical scholarships for military service and are discovering, only after four years, that they have been given unreliable information. Assurances made by recruiters that keeping their hair intact would be no problem are turning out to be false.

Update : US Army Responds to Sikh Coalition Regarding Military Grooming

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April 9, 2009 at 10:45 pm
(1) Debbie says:

Well, here’s an issue I had never thought about before. Personally, I think anyone willing to join the military voluntarily should be allowed to serve, short of a serious medical or mental deficiency. I don’t know how hair could keep someone from being a good soldier. This policy should be re-examined, for sure.

April 9, 2009 at 11:16 pm
(2) Barb Rolek says:

Where is it written that your intelligence is in the length of your hair. If that’s the case, short-haired military cuts would denote stupidity, then, wouldn’t they?

April 10, 2009 at 12:01 am
(3) I agree says:

It irks me when Sikhs come to usa or canada and then go about changing our laws and customs to accomodate theirs. it pisses me off in fact! when a Sikh takes on american or canadian immigrant status – then BE american, and adjust to OUR ways.. stop changing our countries to make it more yours.. go home if you still want YOURS!!

September 18, 2011 at 10:11 am
(4) Dharmpreet Singh Brar says:
April 10, 2009 at 12:25 am
(5) Sukhmandir Kaur says:

Hi Barbara, I don’t believe length of hair has anything to do with intelligence or capability. It is more about conditioning and what society is accustomed to.

Poster ďI agreeĒ I understand how you feel, however if you think about it you will realize that no one is trying to change laws, only uphold them. This country is founded on civil liberties, equality opportunities, and religious freedoms, take those away and we cease to be America. There is a gender discrimination factor going on too. Women in the service are allowed to keep their hair. Sikhs have served in the military in other nations around the world. America is supposed to be leading in civil liberties but has fallen behind. Being of Native American ancestry, I can truthfully say, unfortunately itís a little late to begin sending people home. The best we can do is go about breaking down lingering discriminatory practices and continue pursuing civil liberties and freedom. Four generations of my family including women have served and continue to serve in the United States Armed forces. My sons who are blood descendants of people who occupied this land for eons before white democracy arrived, were denied entry into the service due to their religious belief. They didnít come from anywhere but here.

April 10, 2009 at 7:29 am
(6) Kallie says:

I can understand how long hair or a beard might be a disadvantage in hand-to-hand combat, giving your opponent something to grip. However, our soldiers don’t fight that way anymore.

Historically, many US soldiers and officers had a lot of hair. Look at George Armstrong Custer! OK, maybe he’s a bad example… but General Ulysses S. Grant had a full beard.

April 10, 2009 at 11:07 am
(7) Kerry says:

It’s so interesting as a pacifist to sign a petition like this. But I have no question that it is the right thing to do.

April 10, 2009 at 12:02 pm
(8) Beth says:

The USA was built on the right to observe one’s religion. I agree with Kerry. Although I abhor war, there is a time to fight. And, the choice to serve must be just that.

These are citizens of a country based on personal freedom and responsibility. It is inexcusable to deny the choice to take the responsibility of military service while still observing one’s faith.

April 10, 2009 at 2:31 pm
(9) Connie G. says:

I signed the petition. Sikhs should be allowed to keep their hair and to serve. Some rules are outdated and no longer reflect the circumstances that exist in our world today.

April 14, 2009 at 3:34 pm
(10) Lucky says:

Why is America biased ?

Do they recruit only Christians ?

If so then the world needs to find new world leaders for universal peace and harmony….

(Sikhs follow the 10 Commandments and more)
Sikh’s are known as “The God’s Army”

April 14, 2009 at 10:45 pm
(11) Mai Harinder Kaur says:

If all else fails, appeal to their self-interest… Anyone who knows ANYTHING about the Sikhs know that we make extraordinary soldiers. Why should the US military weaken itself by denying us admission?

Also check out my latest blogpost – really Fateh Singh wrote most of it! – and take a look at the pictures. http://roadtokhalistan.blogspot.com/2009/04/celebrate-vaisakhi-by-supporting-sikh.html Traditionally, the US military cared less about hairstyle and facial hair and more about courage and loyalty.

April 20, 2009 at 1:11 pm
(12) Kanwar Nijjer says:

Sikh is a culture and religion. They have contributed very highly to World War 1 and II. Dureing WWII over 1 million Sikhs fought in British Army and allies. At that time Sikh population was only 10%. This community contributed highest per capita. At that time their hair never interfeared in combat. Curretnly in Afghanistan US Army special forces grow long beard. It not issue of hair, it is issue of intollerance. Sikh has great history of being great warriors.

May 20, 2009 at 12:25 am
(13) JOHN says:

“US armed forces reject the Sikh identity of uncut hair and beard.”

conformity is what bonds soldiers together. there is no room for individuals in the US military.

you will never be able to end the ban of sikhs in the US military because they are viewed that they believe they serve a cause greater than the US military.

Sikhs in the US military are a liability to this countries security.

there should be no room for foreigners in America’s military. foreigners do not have America’s best interests at heart and shouldn’t be allowed access to sensitive materials or jobs vital to our national security.

May 20, 2009 at 2:03 am
(14) Sukhmandir Kaur says:

Hi John,
It is interesting to read your perspective as it gives insight into what sort of problems and predjudice Sikhs face in this country. Iím curious about citizenship requirements of entering the US military. I would think but donít know for certain that one would have to be a citizen to serve. Do you suggest that the US military is for Christian soldiers only? Faith based discrimination is un-American and goes against our constitution. I canít see how anyones belief system is pertinent at all. Though it’s true that some Sikhs are immigrants, many are American citizens and some like my family are of Native American descent, therefore cannot be considered to be foreigners by any stretch of the imagination. My family, both men and women, has a history of serving in the US military as far back as I am able to trace my lineage. Sikhism is a faith, just as is Christianity or Buddhism. We happen to believe in keeping our hair as it is a natural part of our body.

Historically Sikhs have served in the military of countries around the world to the advantage of those countries military might. I can’t see how it would be a disadvantage for the US military with Sikh’s proven record. The higher cause which you speak of requires a Sikh to fulfill their altruistic duty to their country of residence and its people. National security and protecting the freedom of the America people is important to Sikh Americans as it is to all citizens.

June 15, 2009 at 1:55 am
(15) Scott says:

I have no problem with Sikh’s(I hope that is the right term?) wanting to observe there religious tents, but the US Military is not the melting pot of america its job is to defend and kill the enemies of america. The military works by makeing everyone part of the team not individuals. Anything that goes against that hurts the team(thus the ban on females in combat units). As for what I have read so far at least one of the young men in question is going to be a doctor and thus not as far as I am concerned this should not be a issue, but if the military decides to draw the line then I am fine with it and wish them the best of luck in life. I will make respond to some of the posts on here though. One our military does in fact get into hand to hand situations to think otherwise shows that your do not understand the nature of our current war. Having said that the Israel army has relaxed grooming standers when in the field (i.e beards and longer hair) also delta force and seal team six also have relaxed grooming standers so that they may easly stay undercover( but the regular army does have trouble with these special soldiers and the grooming). The army does in fact have people that are not american citizens in it(although I know that a sikh can be of alot of natinalites). Finally the last post if you can show me where a hesidic jew has been allowed to join the military with modified grooming standerds, or a “normal jew” has been allowed to wear there religious head gear while in uniform then I would be more on your side. I do have one question for you I read somewhere that none babtised sikh’s are not required to wear a turbin if this information is true is the tenent on hair also a flexable one or not? Thank you for your time

July 4, 2009 at 7:51 pm
(16) Harman says:

i personally don’t see why u have to cut hair when joining the army…a sikh can shoot a gun punch and do anything else a soldier does…does it seriously matter if a man has an unshourned beard and hair? it is a complete lie that there is equality in this situation….im 12 years old and i dont see any problems with keeping my hair..in school everyone seems to respect me soo i dont get it why u cant keep ur hair while defending the country you belong to.

August 18, 2009 at 7:20 am
(17) gurjit says:

this is the land of the free

October 27, 2009 at 9:19 am
(18) Mark says:

RE: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/us/US-army-accepts-first-Sikh-recruit

Congrats! It’s not fixed yet, but progress has been made. Keep pushing, my friend, and good luck with your quest.

From a retired warrior.

November 19, 2009 at 9:49 pm
(19) Steve says:

Just wanted to leave my two cents. I am a Non-Commisioned Officer who has been serving the Army for over 15 years, and just wanted to leave reasons for why we have the rules of today. The short hair originated from WWI when lice was a big problem with the Soldiers fighting in the trenches. Ever since we have kept short hair for tradition even though personal hygeine has improved for Soldiers. The face has to be shaved to ensure that our gas mask has a proper seal. I personally have worn a gas mask with not have shaved for just a couple of days and have found that this is true.

While doing my research I was amazed at the history of Sikhs and their contribution to our country, and have no problem proudly serving with them. The only issue I have is the safety of Sikhs if they were attacked by a chemical agent and their gas masks were to be ineffective because of the beard.

I fully agree with everyone’s opinion on the hair as time has changed, but I am only a Junior NCO and have leaders who make us wear beret’s and uniforms that make us stand out instead of blending in to our environment. I wish to say thanks to the Sikhs who have served the US in the past and present, and again say I would be proud to serve with you again now as our brethren have before.

January 7, 2010 at 1:15 am
(20) Inderjit singh says:

Steve, we know, we fought in both world wars’, if you take some time and read more about sikhs in the world wars you will notice that we were documented takeing bullets out of our turbans, now think about it, if our turbans can stop bullets then what are lice, i know lice would eat through the turbans but we have a speacial cloth that can stop lice from eating through. another thing in ww2 a british officer came to a sikh regiment and asked them to replace their turbans and put on a helmet, in turn he would provice 100rps and land for whoever agreed, the sikh regiment denied, he then made another offer, he said he would offer both if a sikh soldier would go out on the field with his turban on, they all stood up. sikhs are warriors, we don’t want to change anyones laws or ways, we just want to fight for a cause, it keeps us feeling alive, we love fighting for justice and freedom, but america won’t let us. many generals from britain, india, and europe have said they can take over anything with a sikh army, and if you look even harder you will find a document in which hitler was recorded saying he can take over the world with an army of sikhs, but it would backfire because we don’t do that. :D

January 7, 2010 at 1:19 am
(21) Inderjit Singh says:

sorry steve didn’t read your comment all the way. sorry again.

January 7, 2010 at 3:33 am
(22) Sukhmandir Kaur says:

Thanks Inderjit Singh for your comments.
Sikhs have been keeping their hair for centuries since the era when people commonly had both lice and fleas as European races generally did not bathe at all in their entire lifetime. Even up to the last century until bathrooms became common place in homes people seldom bathed more than once a week. However The Sikh mandate has always been to bathe at least once daily including washing hair and to comb it twice daily morning and evening with a Kanga which is kept for “cleaning” the kesh (hair). I wondered for many years why the common kanga is only two inches wide with fine one inch long teeth. One day it occurred to me the similarity of a nit comb or flea comb for cats to the fine tooth kanga. I figure that the purpose of a kanga might well have originally been to clean the hair and keep it free of pests. Oiling beside keeping hair tangle free also smothers pests. Sikhs have always been bathing, cleaning and oiling kesh keeping them neatly bound in a turban. Sikhs wash their hands before preparing, eating, or touching any food after taking even a single bite and are very cautious about cleanliness since it has been their main defense against infestations pestilence and infectious diseases.

March 25, 2010 at 11:21 am
(23) angrywhiteguy says:

We don’t need no A-rabs servin’ in our Army. Send him back to eye-ran we don’t want ‘em here………..sorry just kidding….. I was trying out my impression of an American, redneck, nascar fan, republican.

March 29, 2010 at 3:32 am
(24) Juls says:

I think a lot of you are missing the point….Nobody was discriminating against sikhs. It is just a rule that everyone (and by that I mean everyone) has to shave and follow the regulations about hair and uniform.
I’m sure non sikh soldiers are not going to be allowed to grow their hair, so it is actually slightly discriminating to allow sikhs to do so, because it would create a different set of rules for one religious group.

There are actually plenty of sikhs in the army, I had one in my unit, and he had no problem with the standards, and followed them like everyone else.

btw, Sukhmandir Kaur, no, it is not only open to christian soldiers….In fact almost 25% of the army is ‘no religion’, including myself. There is nothing ‘christian’ about berets, shaving, or getting hair cuts.
It is in fact the complete opposite of religious discrimination, since all people regardless of religion are treated equal under the regulations.

I would not sign the petition, because I disagree with the principle, however, since the person in question is a dentist, and not a combat soldier or will be in an actual unit, I suppose limited exception could be made.

also, not for nothing…but kind of need to get over the ‘warrior’ stuff. I’ve done several combat tours with the infantry and dont go around calling myself a warrior.
Have some humility, Being a sikh does not automatically make you rambo.

March 29, 2010 at 3:34 am
(25) juls says:

also, I would not call it religious discrimination, any more than it is religious discrimination that airlines would not let you take a dagger on board.

March 29, 2010 at 8:23 am
(26) Bipin says:

When in doubt, click this url…


March 29, 2010 at 3:05 pm
(27) sikhism says:

Dear Juls
Rambo the corporate combatant used and discarded by his government is mythical movie character.
The Khalsa warrior is very real and based on the sant/saphai concept of saint and solider, one who first must slay the enemy of egoism and selfishness before facing a physical enemy.
You say there are plenty of Sikhs in the army but non of those you cite have chosen to embrace the tenets required of the Khalsa initiate who is baptised into the Sikh faith whic includes keeping the hair uncut
Ironically an American soldier is fighting for freedom including religious freedom and civil rights of the American people , but in order to do so must first give up his or her own Civil rights when joining the US military

March 29, 2010 at 3:20 pm
(28) sikhism says:

I have not flown since 911 because it conflicts with my religious beliefs to remove my kirpan. Box cutters and not kirpans were used in 911. Terrorist attempts since 911 involve smuggled explosives and not kirpans. Terrorists are using the American peoples fear against us. Rather than perpetuating the illusion that body scanners can protect Americans, Airlines ought to seal pilots cabins from take off to landing so that taking over a plane would be an impossibility.

August 13, 2010 at 9:01 pm
(29) George says:

Not to say they can’t practice the belief, but having short hair for men and controlled hair for women is for safety reasons as well as hygienic. For example, if you or doing your job and your gets in the way you might injure yourself or others, doesn’t look good for professional soldiers, while in the “bush” you won’t have time to clean and take care of it. You also don’t have to worry about bugs either.

August 14, 2010 at 1:49 am
(30) sikhism says:

Hi George,
Thanks for your comments and concerns. Keeping hair is a *core* belief in Sikhism. Sikhs keep hair intact from birth and by adult hood are well practiced in controlling unshorn hair. Sikhs have served in the military for centuries with hair and beards intact. Turbans suffice to control hair (beard may be tied if necessary). The Kanga, a fine tooth wooden comb, grooms and cleans the hair and keeps it clear of “bugs.”

September 1, 2010 at 8:21 am
(31) William Hanna says:

If it is a issue about long hair,then why the exemption for women in the US military,from what i have read about the issue,women are allowed to keep the hair long as long it is above the shoulder,tying it back or in a bun is acceptable,as for beard’s,well women could grow one(except the few exemption’s)there would be an allowance for that,as long it was for a women.
I support the Sikh traditions,i wish you equal justice and win your fight against this misandric and religious persecution.

September 1, 2010 at 4:31 pm
(32) Sukhmandir Kaur says:

William Hanna you make a good point, women have been adamant about having equal rights with men, rules ought not be gender based/biased… Thanks for your support and well wishes.

July 15, 2013 at 8:36 pm
(33) universityofbridgeport.net says:

I really think this amazing article , _Sikh Warriors Denied Entry Into US Army_, relatively compelling and the post was indeed a very good read.
I appreciate it,Tammi

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