of New York in the house of representatives
Thursday, March 8, 2001
Mr. TOWNS. Mr. Speaker, Dr. Trilok Singh Puniani is a member of the Army Reserve who is being denied the right to wear the symbol of his religion. Dr. Puniani is a Sikh and is required by his religion to wear his turban. It is one of the five symbols of Sikhism. Dr. Gurmit Singh Aulakh, President of the Council of Khalistan, has written to the President on Dr. Puniani's behalf.
Dr. Puniani joined the Army reserve in 1999. There had been a exemption granted that permitted the wearing of a turban while in uniform and there are three Sikhs who have achieved the rank of Colonel who wear their turbans. However, new regulations adopted in July 1999, just a month before Dr. Puniani joined the Army Reserve, denied this exemption for those who joined the service after 1984.
Mr. Speaker, the turban is not a hat. It is a religious symbol like the cross or the star of David. It should be afforded the same treatment.
One concern about this regulation is that it might discourage Sikhs and other minorities from joining the military services of the United States. Our armed services need manpower. We should not be discouraging anyone from joining. These minority Americans are important to our country and to the Army.
Canada and Britain have significant numbers of Sikhs in their military. They both allow these Sikhs to wear their turbans. Why can't we?
Whatever your religious beliefs, the military should treat you equally. This is about civil rights and equal treatment. We cannot give a preference to any religion, but we also cannot discriminate against any religion. I strongly urge the Secretary of Defense to restore the exemption so that the religious expression of Dr. Puniani and others will be respected.
I insert Dr. Puniani's complaint and Dr. Aulakh's letter to the President into the Record.
Enclosure: Email from Dr. Puniani.