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A group of Sikh families affiliated with Good News Lutheran College in Melbourne's western suburb of Tarneit initiated the campaign to include patka as a part of the school uniform in early 2020. The Christian denominational school accepted and implemented the request from Sikh families to allow their children to wear a patka (often worn by young Sikh males) or a turban to school. 

Sikhs in Tarneit 

Tarneit city of Australia is home to a sizeable population of people of Indian descent who adhere to a variety of faiths, including Sikhism. In Sikhism, keeping one's hair uncut is considered to be one of the five articles of faith. The hair is gathered into a bun on top of the head and covered with a piece of fabric that is either a patka or a turban, depending on the dimensions of the piece of fabric. A significant number of the region's schools now require students to wear patkas as part of their required uniforms.

However, the family of Harsanjog Singh, a Year 5 student at Good News Lutheran College, faced a difficult situation since the school didn't have a clear policy on headwear. His mother Sharanjeet Kaur explains: “Our son had to go to school with a ponytail and got teased by other children as being a girl. This is where my husband Jasleen Singh and I decided to start a campaign to attract like-minded Sikh families associated with the school.”

According to Harsanjog's parents, the fact that the school did not have a regulation or guideline in place that forbade students from wearing religious headwear was the obstacle. The lack of a proper rulebook in place made everyone feel that religious headgear was not permitted. A lot of people even said that since the school runs according to the Christian faith so they will not allow for any Sikh religious headgear. 

Taking the first step toward diversity 

Harsanjog’s parents said that the principal, Fiona McAulliffe was very attentive to their needs and took fast action on having the uniform guidelines amended to accommodate this all-important Sikh value. Commenting on the same, the school principal said this was an important step to bring change. She also told SBS Punjabi that, 

“Through diversity, we can express the totality of God’s human creation and be blessed with an assortment of perspectives and gifts.”

Ms. McAullife also said that she was surprised by the understanding that Sikhs felt that their children weren’t permitted to wear their religious headwear to school. She said that it was not in line with their Lutheran beliefs around inclusivity. 

Freedom to wear patka

Every school in Victoria is free to establish its own uniform code because the state government does not enforce a standardized regulation on school attire. After some discussion, the senior administration of the school came to a conclusion to let students wear hair accessories or religious/cultural headwear, which would include turbans and patkas. According to Ms. McAuliffe, all 44 of the Sikh boys who attend her school were given the option to wear either a patka or a turban in the school's colours.

Ten-year-old Harsanjog Singh says, “I’m feeling very proud now that I can wear my patka. I’ll tell my friends from other cultures that this is the Sikh culture, that all religions are one.”

His mother stated that she was hopeful for a favorable conclusion since she has watched Australia transform over the course of the past ten years. It took them around four months to achieve their goal. In addition, Harsanjog's parents mention that they asked the local Labor politician, Jasvinder Sidhu to petition the school to implement this adjustment on their behalf, and he was successful in getting their opinion taken into consideration.

In 2017, a similar case in neighbouring Melton came to light Sidhak Singh Arora, a Sikh student who was allowed to wear the patka to school by a Melbourne court. His school, Melton Christian College, was found to have violated Victoria's Equal Opportunity Act when it denied him entry while wearing a patka.


*Based on an article by Ruchika Talwar, published in SBS Punjabi on 13th July 2020 

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