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Home > India > News > Report

Sikh girl battles UK school over Kara

June 18, 2008 17:35 IST

A Sikh schoolgirl who was forbidden from attending classes after she refused to remove her Kara told a British court that she should not have been asked to take it off because it was a symbol of faith and not a piece of jewellery.

Lawyers acting for 14-year old Sarika [Images] Watkins-Singh, referred the judge to a photograph of Monty Panesar [Images], the first Sikh cricketer to play for England [Images], wearing the religious bracelet.

Sarika claimed she was was the victim of unlawful discrimination.

Helen Mountfield, counsel for Sarika, told the court on Tuesday, ''There is no string of authority to say that school uniform rules may trump religious dress codes.'' The Punjabi-Welsh girl, from Cwmbach, South Wales, was excluded from the Aberdare Girls' School last November after refusing to remove the Kara.

The school, at which Sarika was the only Sikh among 600 girls, has a strict limited jewellery policy that allows only wristwatches and plain ear studs.

High court judge Justice Silber has been asked to rule on whether the uniform policy is lawful, and whether it has complied with its race relations obligations.

Mountfield said, ''This policy, and the steps taken to enforce it, amount in the claimant's submission, to unlawful because it is insufficiently justified indirect discrimination on grounds of race, contrary to the 1976 Race Relations Act, and religion, contrary to the 2006 Equality Act." Sarika has attended the school since September 2005, and in April 2007 a teacher noticed her bangle, and asked her to remove it.

Sarika refused and asked for an exemption from the policy, claiming that wearing the Kara on her right wrist was central to her ethnic identity and religious observance.

While the school considered her application, she was allowed to attend the school wearing the Kara, but was taught in isolation and kept socially segregated from her friends, the Daily Telegraph reported. But the school appeal panel refused the exemption in October, saying they were ''not convinced that, as part of her religion, it is a requirement that Sarika wear the Kara on her wrist.'' They also said the bangle would mark her out as different from her peers, putting her at risk of being bullied, and it was suggested that she should carry it in her bag as a compromise.

Sarika did not accept the ruling and has changed to a different school where she is allowed to wear the Kara pending the outcome of the ongoing high court hearing.

Her mother Sinita Singh 38, has said that her daughter's education suffered as a result of the move and the stress involved in the run-up to her General Certificate of Secondary Education exams.

Last Friday, the family travelled to 10 Downing Street to hand in a petition calling on Prime Minister Gordon Brown to intervene in the matter ''to show discrimination is totally unacceptable''.