New Army regulations will allow men who practice the Indian religion of Sikhism to keep their beards and turbans while serving. The Indiana-based Sikhs Political Action Committee says the decision is a milestone for the 10,000 practitioners living in Indiana.
The army’s decision comes after several Sikh soldiers filed an official complaint in February, asking for religious accommodations.
This week, the Army released new guidelines that say Sikh soldiers no longer have to cut their hair or shave their beards, and can wear religious turbans with their uniforms.
SikhsPAC founder and Chairman Gurinder Singh Khalsa says these are among the most important aspects of the Sikh religion.
“We are struggling, even facing persecution, facing hate crimes and still we are keeping it because that is so close to our heart,” he says.
Singh Khalsa says Sikhism has a long history of fighting on behalf of the oppressed, and this decision will make it easier for Sikhs to do that as part of the United States Army.
“Sikhs are soldiers, Sikh means solider,” he says “[The Army] will never regret this decision, because now they will see more soldiers.”
Several police departments have made similar exceptions in recent months, including the New York Police Department, but not in Indiana. Singh Khalsa says that’s because no Sikh has asked for one.
“We never had that situation because nobody came forward to work with them in a beard and turban, so we don’t know,” he says. “We never tested the water.”
He says SikhsPAC would advocate for the change if it ever came up in the Hoosier state.