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Pentagon may allow Sikhs to join US army

June 06, 2009 11:52 IST

Following an outcry from the Sikh community, the United States Defence Department has decided to review its policy, which prevents Sikhs from joining the country's armed forces. On behalf of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the Pentagon has informed advocacy group Sikh Coalition that it was reviewing current regulations, which prevent a US Sikh national from serving the army, on the ground that they wear turban.

"Although our current regulation establishes the standards of wear and appearance of the uniform, we understand the importance of reviewing the rationale behind our current policies when circumstances warrant," wrote Major General John R Hawkins, Director, Human Resources, Policy Directorate, Pentagon.

The senior leadership is aware of the concerns of the Sikh community, said the letter dated April 29, which was released to the media on Friday. The Coalition, which had taken up the issue after two Sikh Americans challenged the regulation, has welcomed the army's step.

"We believe that once the army fully reviews the policy, it will agree that Sikh practices have in no way acted as an impediment to successful service in any military in the world," Amardeep Singh, executive director of Sikh Coalition, said in a statement.

On January 26 this year, the Coalition wrote to Gates, regarding two Sikhs who were told to give up their religious practices in order to continue their services in the army. Captain Kamaljit Singh Kalsi and Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan were recruited as part of an army programme that pays for medical education in return for military service.

At the time of their enrollment, military recruiters assured both of them that their turbans and unshorn hair 'would not be a problem'.

Four years later, the army is now telling the two Sikhs that the recruiters' assurances were false and that they will have to forsake their religious practices.

Lalit K Jha in Washington