Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

A Sikh Boy's Exclusion in Australian School: A Phenomenological Study of Parent's Response

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

A Sikh Boy's Exclusion in Australian School: A Phenomenological Study of Parent's Response

Article excerpt

The Impetus and the Incident

The impetus of this research was an Australian incident highlighting a cultural confrontation that became a matter of social contention. In 2017, a suburban Melbourne school denied admission to a Sikh child due to his wearing a Patka (boy's Turban) on his head. The school stated that it was against the stipulated uniform policy as Patka was not a part of the standard dress code. As the matter gained media attention the issue raised a sentiment of resentment within the Sikh community. The parents of the child challenged the school's decision and subsequently the matter got escalated to Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) for a hearing. Finally, VCAT overruled the school's earlier decision and the young Sikh boy was granted admission to the school by allowing him to wear Patka as part of his uniform. This incident intrigued us and drove our interest in the diasporic resettlement experiences of one Sikh family within the context of cultural and educational challenges faced by global diasporic communities, in particular, the Sikh diaspora in Australia.

Sikhs and Sikhism

To understand what follows, a brief orientation to Sikhs and Sikhism is imperative. This requires a study of its inseparably intertwined history and religion (McLeod, 2004). Sikhs are an ethnic community from the north-western state of Punjab, India. Sikhism is a 14th century religion founded by Guru Nanak Dev in India (Cohen, 2008; Grewal, 2008; Singh, 2004). Guru Nanak called for a society that aspired an equal treatment for all irrespective of caste, gender, occupation, religion and language (Singh, 2004). His disciples became known as Sikhs (Grewal, 2008) who were pacifists and believed in the principles of universal brotherhood and egalitarianism (Singh, 2004). In the 17th century the tenth guru, named Guru Gobind Singh (originally Gobind Rai) gave all Sikhs a new name of Singh meaning Lion and initiated a new discipline by proclaiming the order of the Khalsa (the pure one; Singh, 1988). A central ideal emerged, that of Saint Soldier. McLeod (1976, p. 4) explained:

The Khalsa is a society possessing a religious foundation and a 
military discipline...the sparrows transformed into hawks...a 
community dedicated to the defense of righteousness by the use of the 
sword, an invincible army of saint-soldiers destined to withstand the 
most fearsome persecutions.

The Singhs of the Khalsa now resorted to arms, ready to sacrifice their lives for the causes of social justice and protection of the meek (Singh, 2004). Guru Gobind obligated an adherence to the five new emblems that Sikhs were required to observe (Singh, 2004). The five symbols of Sikh faith (kakkars) are "kes (uncut hair); kanga (comb); kirpan (sword); kara (iron bracelet); and kachcha (undergarments)" (Klein, 2015, p. 23). Adoption of the kakkars, particularly the outwardly visible long uncut hair acted as both social marker and expressed solidarity and commitment to the Sikh faith (Cohen, 2008).

The most visible sign of Sikh identity, the turban was initially worn to cover uncut hair. Over time, Turban became a symbol, embodying commitment to Sikh moral values and faith (Cole & Sambhi, 1978; Kalra, 2005). Patka is worn by young Sikh boys to cover uncut long hair and is a repository expression of faith. The wearing of a Turban (Patka) is sometimes a matter of contention in social engagement, particularly, education. This is heightened when Sikh's live in different countries with different social contexts.

The Sikh Diaspora

Sikhs have become a diasporic people, traversing multiple types of diaspora (Brubaker, 2005; Cohen, 2008; Faist, 2010) in changing political and economic circumstances. Simplistically, diaspora refers to "that segment of a people living outside their homeland" (Connor, 1986, p. 16). Diasporic communities, propelled by choice, necessity, coercion or circumstantial duress (Schwartz, Montgomery, & Briones, 2006) relocated from their homelands to settle in foreign lands (van de Vijver & Phalet, 2004). …

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