By Manpreet Kaur, the Sikh Coalition’s Advocacy Intern for Summer 2009.
Men wearing bearskin hats and red coats are a common tourist attraction in London. Apart from their rock-still presence, these men also protect Queen Elizabeth and the Crown Jewels. However, earlier this month, this classic tourist attraction turned into a historic privilege for the Sikh community. As bearskin hats were swapped for Sikh turbans and the red coats for navy blue, Signaler Simranjit Singh and Lance Corporal Sarvjit Singh became the first Sikhs to guard the queen and her prized jewels.
As Sikh Americans continue to fight for religious accommodation in the US Armed forces, it is astonishing to see how advance our allies are in regards to accepting the religious diversity of its citizens. England, a country that has a history of Sikhs serving in their Army, clearly has no issue accommodating Sikh religious mandates in its armed forces. Yet, while the United States was founded on the basis of religious freedom, religion stills seems to be a preventive factor in the lives of religious minority groups.
Several mainstream media outlets covered the journey of these two British Sikh soldiers, and we have since made sure to highlight their story in our Sikh Right to Serve campaign. We have brought it to the attention of American reporters as well as Congressional representatives.
After all, if a turban and beard can protect the monarchy of one nation, why can they not protect the democracy of another?