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This Press Release may be read online at: http://www.unitedsikhs.org/PressReleases/PRSRLS-04-01-2008-00.html

Press Release: 4th Jan 2008, Monday, 4th Poh (Samvat 539 Nanakshahi)

High Court to determine if Sikh schoolgirl’s exclusion is illegal

UNITED SIKHS and the Sikh Federation (UK) support court challenge by Sarika Singh

(London – 4 January 2008) – With the backing of UNITED SIKHS and Sikh Federation (UK), the human rights group Liberty has filed a legal challenge in the High Court on behalf of 14-year-old Sarika Singh, excluded from her school for wearing a Sikh religious bangle. The High Court will consider the case during the week of 14 January. UNITED SIKHS, an international advocacy charity, will also apply to file a third party intervention.

Sarika Singh was forced to have isolated school lessons for two months and has been excluded from the school in South Wales since 5 November 2007. Liberty will argue that the Aberdare Girl’s School has breached race relations and human rights laws, as well as a 25-year-old Law Lords’ decision which allows Sikh children to wear items representing their faith, including turbans, to school.

Anna Fairclough, Liberty’s Legal Officer representing the Singhs, said: “Sarika Singh has suffered humiliating isolation and is being denied a proper education simply because she wears the Kara, a small bangle worn by virtually all Sikhs both in and out of school and work. It is astonishing that the school continues to exclude her despite almost universal condemnation and 25-year-old House of Lords precedent.”

Singh, of mixed Welsh/Punjabi origin, has been brought up in the Sikh faith and is the only Sikh at the Aberdare Girl’s School. The school’s uniform policy prohibits the wearing of any jewelry other than a wrist watch and plain ear studs. When the school noticed that Singh was wearing the religious bangle, she was subsequently isolated throughout the day, including meals, for approximately two months.

“The Kara is an article of faith which reminds a Sikh of his/her duty to lead a righteous life. In our experience, a Sikh child has always been allowed to wear a Kara to school,” said Mejindarpal Kaur, UNITED SIKHS director of International Civil Rights and Human Rights Advocacy.

“We have spoken to Sarika and find her to be a balanced and confident young girl who feels let down by her school. We are very concerned that the very institution that has a duty to provide education to Sarika is undermining her", she added.

“UNITED SIKHS has instructed Human Rights lawyer, Stephen Grosz of Bindman and Partners, to file a third party intervention on our behalf as proponents of religious freedom,” added Mejindarpal Kaur.

Liberty and UNITED SIKHS will argue that the Aberdare Girls School is violating the Race Relations Act 1976, the Equality Act 2006 and the Human Rights Act 1998. Liberty has requested that Singh be allowed to attend normal lessons at the school while wearing the Kara and that the school amends its uniform policy to comply with the Race Relations Act.

“The Sikh Federation (UK) co-ordinated the campaign to help Sarika by helping the family in dealing with the media, liaising with politicians in Westminster e.g. Rt. Hon. Ann Clywd MP, advising on dealings with the Welsh Assembly and the local council,“said Jagtar Singh of the Sikh Federation.

Notes to Editors

  1. Liberty filed the legal challenge in the High Court on 18 December 2007 which argues that the Governing Body of the Aberdare Girls School has indirectly discriminated on the grounds of race contrary to the Race Relations Act 1976; breached the duty to promote equality under s71 Race Relations Act 1976; indirectly discriminated on the ground of religion or belief contrary to the Equality Act 2006; and breached the Human Rights Act 1998 Article 8 (the right to a private life), Article 9 (freedom of religion), Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) and Article 2 of the First Protocol which protects the right not to be denied an education.
  2. The Governing Body of the Aberdare School must lodge its defence in the High Court by 11 January 2008.
  3. The Kara (a small plain single bangle) is widely accepted as a central element or requirement of the Sikh religion and is specifically intended to be worn on the wrist as a reminder of the tenets of the faith.
  4. Valleys Race Equality Council are supporting the Singh family.
  5. In October 2006, Liberty supported the religious freedom cases of Aisah Azmi, who was suspended by the Headfield Church of England Junior School in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire for wearing the full Muslim veil, or niqab, while working as a teaching assistant and Nadia Eweida, a Christian British Airways check-in worker, who claimed she was forced to take unpaid leave after refusing to remove a small cross from her necklace.

You may read a previous press release on UNITED SIKHS advocacy for religious rights at http://www.unitedsikhs.org/PressReleases/PRSRLS-13-12-2007-01.htm

To support Sarika’s battle for religious freedom please visit www.supportsarika.co.uk

Issued by

Mejindarpal Kaur
Ph: 07709830 442
Email: contact@unitedsikhs.org

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