Sikh in the Swedish Army
Stockholm , Sweden (KP) - In April 2003, Swedish born Jaspal Singh applied to join the Swedish military defence service at the age of 19 years old, after completing his education. Jaspal Singh is a proud a Sikh with a supportive Gursikh family. He applied to the join military service wearing his dastar (turban) and with his untied flowing beard. Jaspal Singh surprised the military officers when he turned up at the military defence service in Karlskrona with kesh (unshorn hair) and dastar tied on his head.
In a climate when governments and authorities are discriminating against the religious attire and symbols, and imposing restrictions, the Swedish army made a positive move by allowing and respecting the Sikh dastar and distinct appearance. This move was warmly welcomed the Sikh Community of Sweden and Stockholm Gurdwara Sahib.
Jaspal Singh completed his 17 weeks basic military service training on 8 th April 2005. Finishing the military basic training, Jaspal Singh chose to study Medicine. He is set to graduate and receive a Diploma from the Army on 13 th January 2006. Completing the full training and graduating from the Swedish Army will mean that Jaspal Singh will be on call to assist the Swedish Army during an attack or when his nation requires assistance.
During spring 2003, a young Muslim lady was rejected from enlisting in a truck brigade within the voluntary defence unit, because of her headscarf or hijab. However, when this issue of discrimination was highlighted, new guidelines were implemented. Now it is permitted for military staff to wear a dastar (turban), skull-cap, and a headscarf though the latter two need to be worn underneath the uniform hat when outdoors.
The attitude is clear from the defence's point of view, at least in theory. However, in practice the insecurity still runs high.
When Jaspal Singh appeared at the regiment, Mats Norrman got a phone call from Karlskrona. The army had knowledge of the Sikh dastar as result of a liaison between Stockholm Gurdwara and the army. Bhai Darshan Singh has been active member of the Sikh community explaining Sikhi and building understanding within the Swedish community. However, the officers in command wondered about the Kirpan, which is one of the five articles of faith that a practicing Sikh always wears.
“I told [Jaspal Singh] that the Kirpan is allowed to be worn as long as it is underneath the uniform”, Mats Norrman said. Jaspal Singh did not notice anything about the great stir. It wasn't until Jaspal Singh left that he found out about the telephone call to the headquarters.
In the workplace, several laws grant protection from discrimination. The equality law is complemented by three laws implemented in 1999, which protect from discrimination due to religion, ethnic origin, functional disability, or gender.
An employer who rejects a person for wearing any head garment like a scarf or turban must himself argue the existence of a reasonable and plausible condition. “There can be security reasons,” says, Dan Isaksson, Judge of Appeal and Secretary of the Discrimination Committee at the Justice Department.
However, Jaspal Singh got on well and enjoyed military service. In seven weeks, he learned how to handle weapons, discipline, respect, and how to adjust in an open field. “It was never a problem. When we wore ou uniform, we were supposed to wear a cap, however, I wore my dastar. After a while, I changed and wore a green dastar instead, since it fits better [with the military uniform],” he said.
Jaspal Singh has been active in the small Sikh community of Stockholm . Last July Jaspal Singh and Jasmeet Kaur with other youngsters organised a Gurmat camp for children. Also Jaspal Singh teaches children Gatka (Sikh martial art). May all be inspired and proud of Jaspal Singh's achievements and the strong faith and confidence he demonstrated in completing his basic military training while keeping the Sikh Rehat (discipline) with his head held high.
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