18 Jun 2015

Sikh leaders to meet after turban ban

6:46 pm on 18 June 2015

Sikh leaders will meet in Auckland this weekend to discuss how to prevent religious discrimination against their community.

Gurpreet Singh

Gurpreet Singh Photo: Facebook

Gurpreet Singh was denied entry to the Manurewa Cosmopolitan Club when he went there with colleagues on Tuesday, because he was wearing a turban.

The club is defending its actions, saying the rule is not racist.

In Sikhism, men who have been baptised must wear the five articles of faith - including uncut hair worn beneath a turban.

But Mr Singh said the Manurewa Cosmopolitan Club took exception to that.

"When we just went and tried to go inside, they just told me, 'Sorry sir, you need to remove your turban'. I said, 'No, this is my religious belief,' but they said, 'This is our headgear policy'."

Mr Singh said he tried to reason with the staff in front of his colleagues, they had taken him to the club for lunch as their guest.

"It was embarrassing at the time. But we tried to explain that this is not a kind of headgear, this is not just a hat - this is my culture and this is my religious beliefs."

Mr Singh has now laid a complaint of discrimination with the Human Rights Commission.

It was not the first time the Manurewa Cosmopolitan Club had refused entry to someone wearing a turban.

In 2009, the Human Rights Commission arranged mediation after Karnail Singh was not allowed into the club - but the club's members ultimately voted to keep the rule.

Responding to the latest incident, the club's president John Steven said that rule still stood.

"It was a rule that we've had for 50 years," Mr Steven said.

"I feel sorry for him that he felt disaffected but it's nothing personal, it's nothing racist."

Mr Steven said he was willing to raise the issue with members again, but the Sikh community should not hope for a swift change.

"I would definitely take it to our board of management at our next board meeting and then suggest that we perhaps take it to the next AGM."

However, the club had just held its AGM for 2015 so that would not happen for some time, Mr Steven said.

New Zealand Sikhs have doubled in number since 2006 to nearly 20,000.

With that increase has come a rise in the number of instances where Sikhs have said they were being discriminated against.

Earlier this year, seven Sikh men were barred from a Cricket World Cup match at Eden Park because they were wearing kirpans - a short, normally blunt, ceremonial dagger that was another of the five signs of Sikh faith.

Prime Minister John Key said New Zealand was a culturally tolerant society and the club's actions were disappointing.

The National Party's list MP in Manukau East, Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi, said the Sikh community wanted to address the lack of understanding and awareness of its culture.

"[This] coming weekend we are going to organise a meeting in Auckland where I'm going to invite all the community leaders from the Sikh community to discuss this further and make sure we avoid such incidents in future."

Auckland Sikhs have found understanding in some places though.

The RSA in Papatoetoe, one suburb over, said it recognised turbans were a part of Sikhism and did not require people to remove them.