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Friday, October 15, 2021

Explained: Why a Sikh officer may sue US Marine Corps

Lt Sukhbir Singh Toor is the first Sikh Marine to be allowed to wear turban in peacetime duties but with certain limitations imposed on him.

Written by Man Aman Singh Chhina , Edited by Explained Desk | Chandigarh |
September 28, 2021 1:20:25 pm
By one estimate there are nearly 100 Sikhs serving in the US Army and Air Force who wear beards and turbans. (Source: Pixabay/Representational)

A Sikh officer may sue the US Marine Corps over restrictions on wearing a turban in uniform. Lt Sukhbir Singh Toor is the first Sikh Marine to be allowed to wear turban in peacetime duties but with certain limitations imposed on him.

What is the case of Lt Sukhbir Singh Toor?

Son of Indian immigrants, Lt Toor has grown up in Ohio and Washington. He has been a member of the Marine Corps for five years and it was after several representations and petitions that he was finally given permission by the Corps last week to wear a turban with his daily uniform. This is the first time in the history of the 246-year old US Marine Corps that such a concession has been made to an individual. However, the decision to allow him to wear a turban has come with certain restrictions which have not gone down well with Toor.

Lt Sukhbir Singh Toor, Sikh Marine, Sikh Marine turban, Sikh Marine turban case, US Marines, Indian Express First Lt. Sukhbir Toor at a Marine Corps training facility in Twentynine Palms, Calif., Sept. 24, 2021. (Mark Abramson/The New York Times)

What are the restrictions on turban placed by the US Marine Corps?

The Marine Corps has directed that while Lt Toor can wear the turban with his daily uniform and on ceremonial occasions, he will not be able to wear it in battle conditions or during training exercises which simulate battle conditions. According to a spokesperson for the US Marine Corps quoted in The New York Times, this has been done to maintain uniformity in the fighting force which was very essential. The spokesperson argued that a strong bond needs to be formed among members of squads when there are people dying in battle.

How has Lt Toor reacted to the decision?

Lt Toor is considering suing the US Marine Corps over the restrictions on wearing turbans placed upon him. As per news reports, he has said the decision puts him in conflict with his religion and his desire to serve his country. The decision to allow him to wear the turban too came after lengthy representations to the Marine Corps authorities over a period of time. By one estimate there are nearly 100 Sikhs serving in the US Army and Air Force who wear beards and turbans.

Lt Sukhbir Singh Toor, Sikh Marine, Sikh Marine turban, Sikh Marine turban case, US Marines, Indian Express The Marine Corps has allowed Lieutenant Toor to wear a turban in daily dress at normal duty stations, but not while deployed to a conflict zone, or when in dress uniform in a ceremonial unit. (Helen Orr/The New York Times)

What is the history of Sikhs in the US military and wearing of religious items?

One of the first Sikhs to serve in the US Army was Bhagat Singh Thind, who served in the First World War. However, he was an Indian citizen at the time and was granted permission to wear a turban. He was granted US citizenship in 1936. A restriction on sporting bears and wearing of turbans, both essential for practicing Sikhs, was placed in the 1980s following which Sikh advocacy groups took up the cudgels on behalf of Sikhs serving in the US military and wanting to wear articles of faith. An exception was finally made in 2009 in the case of Capt Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, a US Army doctor who was allowed to sport a beard and wear a turban, but again with restrictions.

Regulations in the US Army were changed in 2017 and Second Lt Kanwar Singh became the first Sikh officer to keep a beard and wear a turban under new regulations. In February 2020, the US Force also relented and changed its regulations allowing A Sikh airman to wear a turban and beard. However, the US Navy, Coast Guard and the newly raised Space Force are yet to make similar concessions.

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