Sikh American Wins Right to Wear Beard, Turban From U.S. Army

Simratpal Singh (Photo Credit: Jovelle Tamayo / The Sikh Coalition)
Simratpal Singh (Photo Credit: Jovelle Tamayo / The Sikh Coalition)

Culminating a multi-year legal battle with the US Army, Captain Simratpal Singh has won the right to wear his beard and turban while serving in the US Army. Upon joining West Point in 2006, Singh — a lifelong Sikh — was dismayed to learn that the military was hostile to the idea of religious accommodation for his faith. NBC News reports that since 1981 when the US Army instituted stricter grooming standards, only three Sikh American officers have ever received religious accommodations for their articles of faith.

As a cadet, Singh filed repeatedly for a religious accommodation for his beard and turban, and was denied each time. Finally, Singh made the heartbreaking decision to shave his beard — an act Singh says he immediately regretted, but felt was necessary in order to continue his military service. Singh went on to become a highly decorated Army Ranger who distinguished himself on harrowing missions in Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province helping to disarm IEDs, and in training exercises with the South Korean Army.

In 2015, Singh began work with The Sikh Coalition to once again file for his own religious accommodation from the Army to permit his articles of faith.

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Community Offers Rewards for Information in Fresno Attacks on Sikh American Men | #WhyWeAreHere

Amrik Singh Bal recovers at his home after being assaulted on December 26, 2015. (Photo Credit: Sacramento Bee)
Amrik Singh Bal recovers at his home after being assaulted on December 26, 2015. (Photo Credit: Sacramento Bee)

By now, readers of this blog are familiar with America’s rising epidemic of Islamophobic hate crimes, which target both Muslim Americans and those whom racists suspect of being Muslim. Because Sikh American men — typically of Indian descent — often wear visible articles of their faith including a turban and beard, they are part of this latter group vulnerable to Islamophobic violence.

Sadly, such attacks have only become more frequent in number. In September, Inderjit Singh Mukker was brutalized by a Chicago-area teenager who called him slurs during the assault; that attacker later plead guilty to hate crime charges. Several Sikh-owned properties have been vandalized in the last year, including an Orange County gurdwara which was spray-painted with the words “Fuck ISIS”. And, in Fresno, California, the first homicide victim of 2016 was Gurcharan Singh Gill, a 68-year-old Sikh American man found stabbed to death in an auto repair shop in a suspected hate crime.

Gill was the second Sikh American to be the victim of violence in Fresno, California in the last month.

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2015 Asian America in Review: Top 10 AANHPI Stories You Might Have Missed

Sherry Chen and Xiaoxing Xi, two Chinese American researchers who faced espionage investigations this year before all charges were dropped. Many within the AANHPI community believe they are one of several victims of a policy of anti-Asian racial profiling currently being pursued by the State Department. (Photo credit: Saul Loeb, AFP, Getty)
Sherry Chen and Xiaoxing Xi, two Chinese American researchers who faced espionage investigations this year before all charges were dropped. Many within the AANHPI community believe they are one of several victims of a policy of anti-Asian racial profiling currently being pursued by the State Department. (Photo credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)

As the year winds down to a close, these are the top ten political stories that had a major impact on the AANHPI community highlighting the many political issues that have defined the AANHPI community this year. Sadly, many didn’t receive much mainstream media coverage.

How many of these stories were you following this year?

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No Hate Crime Charges After Sikh American Man Beaten Days Before Anniversary of 9/11

Inderjit Sing Mukker from his hospital bed, displaying his injuries from the alleged hate crime. (Photo credit: Sikh Coalition)
Inderjit Singh Mukker from his hospital bed, displaying his injuries from the alleged hate crime. (Photo credit: Sikh Coalition)

A mere three days before the 14th anniversary of September 11th, 2001, the Sikh Coalition reports that 53-year-old Inderjit Singh Mukker —  a Sikh American taxi driver and father of twowas brutally beaten while called “terrorist”, “bin Laden“, and told to “go back to your country”. Mukker is a US citizen who lives in Darien, a predominantly White suburb of Chicago.

Mukker was driving to the grocery store in the evening of September 8th when the driver of another vehicle allegedly began shouting the slurs to Mukker. When Mukker pulled over to allow the other car to pass him, the other motorist then allegedly stopped his vehicle in front of Mukker, got out and approached Mukker’s car window. He then allegedly reached into the car and repeatedly punched Mukker in the face until the elderly man lost consciousness.

After his attacker fled the scene, Mukker was rushed to the hospital where he was treated for a cheekbone fracture, multiple lacerations and contusions. He ultimately received six stitches. He has now been released from the hospital and is recuperating at home.

Police are investigating the attack as a possible hate crime and have reportedly identified a 17-year-old suspect based on Mukker’s description of his assailant and his recollection of the attacker’s license plate. Police have questioned that suspect — who was hospitalized shortly after the crime for an undisclosed reason — and police intend to file charges when he is discharged.

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