The deepening row over a Sikh’s right to wear his turban inside the Cosmopolitan Club should not have been allowed to turn this ugly, says a Manukau businessman who has “been through it all”.

Kharag Singh, an avid golfer on the local club circuit, was earlier this year turned away from the Aviation Country Golf Club in Auckland; he was turned away from the Manurewa Cosmopolitan Club last year and in 1987 was told to leave the Papatoetoe Cosmopolitan Club – all because of his headwear.

The Sikh Council of New Zealand is seeking Human Rights Commission action against the Manurewa Cosmopolitan Club after volunteer worker Karnail Singh was last year barred entry to a function in his honour because his turban breached its no-headwear policy.

The matter was taken to the Human Rights Commission in January and the parties had agreed at mediation to work things out. Members at a recent annual meeting voted unanimously to maintain its ban on headgear inside the club.

“Some of it is a little bit silly, really,” Kharag Singh told the Indian Weekender. “It actually is a private club.

“Maybe there was a reason this particular rule was put in place a long time ago. We need to know why it was introduced in the first place.

“What was its purpose?”

Kharag Singh, a long time member of Manukau Golf Club, said in an airline club situation, members were not allowed headgear; probably because junior staff felt intimidated by the decorative caps worn by the senior officers.

“Having said that, this issue could have been resolved with dialogue and negotiation rather than confrontation,” he said.

Kharag Singh was asked to leave the Aviation Country Golf Club in Auckland in February after playing a round of golf and later going to the bar for a few drinks, as is the tradition.

He was refused service by the bar manager because of his headgear, following which all his fellow team-mates left the club.

The matter was relayed to the Aviation Club executives the next day; they immediately apologized in a letter to Singh.

Kharag Singh said after the Cossie club row broke out, “a few” members of his club questioned the board about him being allowed into the club with his turban.

“The board wouldn’t hear a bar of it. Time has moved on.”

“We will not let the matter rest because the original understanding was that if the AGM couldn't resolve it, then we will go back to Human Rights [Commission] and also consider all the options that are open to us,” Sikh Council chairman Verpal Singh told the New Zealand Herald.

Late last year, National MP Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi, said it was "so ridiculous that this is happening in this day and age in New Zealand, when the Sikhs have been part of our society for 120 years and even the police recognise the turban as part of their official uniform".

"The turban is no ordinary headwear, it is one of the very foundations and principal articles of our Sikh religion.

"I am allowed to wear the turban in Parliament. Why should a Cossie club ban it from its premises?"
Mr Bakshi said he had written to the club, asking it to change its headwear policy.

Race Relations Conciliator Joris de Bres has called the club’s stance “a blast from the past” and “deeply disappointing”.

“It is a sad day for New Zealand and a diverse place like Manurewa when we can’t all mix down at the Cosmopolitan Club”, Labour Member of Parliament, Ashraf Choudhary said in response to the ruling upheld by the Manurewa Cosmopolitan Club at it’s recent annual meeting.

Headwear policy in NZ institutions

• RSA clubs have the same headwear rule (as the Cosmopolitan Club, Manurewa), which they formulated to honour the servicemen who made the supreme sacrifice while defending our freedom. RSA does not bring the turban of a practicing Sikh under the purview of this rule for two reasons – one, turban cannot be taken off and put back on like a hat or a cap and is classed as part of attire of a practicing Sikh; and two, turbaned Sikh soldiers fought alongside the ANZACs in both the great wars and gave their lives in their thousands for the allies.
• All New Zealand courts of law have a strict "no headwear" policy. However, that policy excludes the Sikh turban from its purview because the courts accept that asking a Sikh to remove their turban is akin to asking someone to strip down. Courts also accept that turban is an extension of unshorn hair, which is an article of faith for the Sikhs. Hence a Sikh can enter a court of law without being asked to remove their turban.
• Aviation Security has strict guidelines around search of a turban – if they need to search a Sikh's turban they must follow the same protocol as in case of a strip search. In addition, after the search of a turban, the person must be given a mirror, a well-lit room and allowed 10 to 15 minutes to re-tie the turban.
Source: Sikh Council of India media release