In the Army Now

These two guys are officers in the U.S. Army:

kamaldeep kalsi tejdeep rattan.jpg

In USA Today: Dentist Tejdeep Singh Rattan (right) is the first turbaned Sikh to graduate from U.S. officer basic training since 1984. (He is pictured with Kamaldeep Kalsi, who is doing basic training this summer.)

We heard about them last year, when they were first granted the exemption. (The Langar Hall had a post on the subject here.)

As I understand it, this is not a permanent policy change — in the future, observant Sikhs joining the U.S. military will again need to apply for a special exemption to uniform requirements to be allowed to serve while wearing a turban and unshorn beard. The fact that both Kalsi and Rattan have medical training makes me think that things might be different for someone applying for the same waiver at the ground level. That said, this still seems like a significant shift on a symbolic level, and I would fully expect there to be at least some controversy about it.

Predictably, some of the reactions I’m seeing online to this change are not exactly positive. The following comment on the story at USA Today is pretty typical:

This is an utter disgrace to the United States and the United States Army. How on God’s green earth did they allow this? It never ceases to amaze me the stupidity in our governments leadership. A civilian made this call on allowing this “individual” (that’s what he is not a trooper), to graduate.

But another commenter responded to that statement much more supportively:

He’s a Captain in the US Army. I find your disrespect for our military disgusting, ignorant and anti-American.

What kinds of reactions have people been hearing to this news?

(Incidentally, the Amardeep Singh quoted in the USA Today article is not me.)

69 thoughts on “In the Army Now

  1. @Kojak: Well, the practical aspects of Sikh participation in combat has already been tested, hasn’t it? As I said, it’s time for someone to study the actual data. As I am not in the army and have no access to professional literature, it would have to be someone else. There are ways of standardizing non-standard things like tattoos, etc, as you have pointed out(not sexist, unobtrusive, etc.). I’m sure someone will find a way of standardizing the manner in which turbansn are tied, colors, etc. Everything is grist to the Army’s mill. I do not see Sikh turbans and long hair as obstructing the military in any way (because if it had done, the Indian Army would not be recruiting them, nor would have their British predecessors). As different religions make an appearance in American military society, the Army will adjust its regulations, identifying features that can be standardized and made to look military. Remember, that in the 1940s, it would have spoilt the army’s then-standard “military appearance” of having only white faces in the same unit. But when integration happened, not only did the world not end, not only did it not wreck the Army’s discipline, it actually made it a better organization. These cycles will continue. Anyway, this discussion has run its course. We’ll just have to agree to disagree.

  2. Someone above me wrote that:

    during Partition, the Sufis headed west, and the Sikhs headed east to be with the Hindus. Why is that?

    Sikhs headed east because numbnuts from all communities couldn’t learn to get along and because Sikhs were given assurances of autonomy by Gandhi and Nehru, all of which turned out to be false.

    Here are some quotes:

    “…the brave Sikhs of Punjab are entitled to special considerations. I see nothing wrong in an area set up in the North of India wherein, the Sikhs can also experience the glow of freedom.” (Jawahar Lal Nehru, Lahore Bulletin, January 9, 1930)

    “I ask you to accept my word and the Resolution of the Congress that it will not betray a single individual much less a community. Let God be the witness of the bond that binds me and the Congress with you (the Sikhs). When pressed further Gandhi said that Sikhs would be justified in drawing their swords out of the scabbards as Guru Gobind Singh had asked them to, if Congress would renege on its commitment.” (Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Young India, March 19, 1931)

    The Sikhs agitated for autonomy and ‘the glow of freedom’ (peacefully until the 1980s) and were given nothing. And so they drew their swords … and ended up losing.

    Never trust Brahmins! They worship cows and cannibalize humans. Just ask Buddhists and the so-called “untouchables.” If I were a Sikh back in 1947, I would’ve asked for a united India. Absent that, I’d have asked for my own country.

  3. I see nothing wrong in an area set up in the North of India wherein, the Sikhs can also experience the glow of freedom

    Yes, that’s Punjab state, which got Haryana broken off of it out of consideration for the Sikhs. If I can experience “the glow of freedom” in the USA, why can’t the Sikhs experience it in modern India? They can and do!

  4. Shilpa, if you study the history, you will realize that it took almost 20 years after partition (1966) for a Sikh majority state of Punjab to be created after two decades of Sikh protest, and even then the capital Chandigarh was split and the river waters of Punjab diverted to other states on unfair terms. Sikhs announced the Anandpur Sahib Resolution in 1972 and were denounced as separatists, even though the Resolution called for more states’ rights (given that India at the time was basically a centrally-planned, socialist state). If India had listened to Sikhs in the 1970s, it would have ushered in economic health for India three decades ahead of schedule. Sikhs opposed Indira Gandhi’s Emergency when she and her son went wild and started sterilizing Indians in the name of population control. Even back then Sikhs were being branded as separatists. That is pretty telling.

    I still don’t understand why 3000+ Sikhs can be massacred in Delhi alone in 3 days and a quarter-century goes by and there is no serious effort to find and prosecute the people who were responsible? Have you done anything about this? Have you written any letters of concern? Sikhs who try to raise their voices for justice are threatened with dire consequences. Were any Tamils massacred when Rajiv Gandhi was killed? Were any Marathis massacred when Mohandas Gandhi was killed? Even the media calls what happened to Sikh in Nov. 84 “riots” even though the proper word is “massacre,” and they do this to deliberately give people the impression that the violence was random and spontaneous. It was not.

    India has mistreated Sikhs and it is a shame that Sikhs are too defeated to do anything about it.

    South Africa had a truth and reconciliation process! Indian society is cruel to minorities, and that is just a fact.

  5. Well, Kodak moment, I agree about the injustic of the 1984 massacre. That was unjustified political killing–I’ve always blamed the Gandhi family and their lackeys for that. But your unkind words towards Brahmins make me think you’re not a real Sikh.

  6. Never trust Brahmins! They worship cows and cannibalize humans. Just ask Buddhists and the so-called “untouchables.”

    Well said Kodak Moment. Don’t forget the baniyas though. They are just as guilty for the corruption of sanatana dharma and the debasement of India.

  7. Jyotsana, the patka helmet used by the Indian army is not made out of Kevlar.

    Both manufactures clearly list the protection as coming from steel plates.

    The reason the patka helmet was adopted by the Indian army is not because it provides superior protection (it covers much less of the head than a traditional helmet) but because it will fit over Sikh turbans and by using steel, is much cheaper than an aramid of uhmwpe fiber helmet.

  8. Kodak Moment wrote:

    Never trust Brahmins! They worship cows and cannibalize humans. Just ask Buddhists and the so-called “untouchables.”

    Of course! Everyone knows that Buddhists are such sweet, loving, caring people. Just ask the civilians of Northern Sri Lanka!

  9. Oops… I didn’t see SM Intern’s warning at #57. Please feel free to delete my comment at #59.

  10. Were any Marathis massacred when Mohandas Gandhi was killed?

    @kodak moment:Sorry to butt in… I occasionally read this blog and seldom comment. But yeah it is a well known fact that Congress workers did murder and drive out Marathis esp. Brahmins from large swathes of Central India (esp around Nagpur). The incident however i suspect got lost, given that the magnitude of partition killings which were going on, ecllipsed this event.

  11. I think having more Sikhs in the US military will go a long way towards clearing up misconceptions people often have. Good job Dr Rattan!

    After all, sikhism rejects the casteism, idol worship and polytheism of brahminism.

    Really? There are different gurdwaras for Jatts, Chamars, Valmiki Chuhras, and Tharkhans. Why is that?

    It seems to me that, despite what the Gurus preached, casteism has managed to persist even among the Sikhs. Khalistan, to some extent, was a caste conflict. As was the flare up over the assassination of the Ravidass Guru in Vienna.

  12. “That’s why I rarely read the comment sections of online newspaper articles, whether regional or national–too many trolls of all kinds and especially right-wing trolls.”

    What is the difference between a troll and a comment with which you disagree? Maybe you’re just out-voted. The 80%/20% (former supportive of the Sikhs, latter not so much) dichotomy sounds about right for the opinions that I detect and other studies and polls I’ve encountered in reviewing military news, personnel, and records. Sikhs and Hindus had a long history of serving in the British army, with relatively little angst about it, so I’m not too surprised that Sikhs should find a career with the military of their current country. Most of the problems come with [many] Americans’ ignorance of why turbans are worn. They confuse them with head coverings worn bfory Muslims. Because of the situation in the middle east, Islam, does raise problems of loyalty with some Muslims. I’m not saying it has to, but for now, it does. Sikhs, however, are a different story, and emphasis is being put on making people in the military aware that different religious and ethnic customs don’t necessarily conflict with the doing the job they willingly sign up to do.

  13. @JT – It’d be more accurate if there were separate gurudwaras for jatts, papey, etc. Chamars and others you listed have varying beliefs. And the original comment was sikhism rejects casteism. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist in our culture. My mom will have a heart attack when i marry a non jatti. Sikhism also rejects drinking alcohol. I think punjabi sikhs could give the irish a run for their money when it comes to drinking. So yes, while there is a very real presence of casteism, it does not mean sikhism is not against it. There are many aspects where punjabi culture overtakes religion. Its a fact that sikhism is fundamentally against casteism. There is no denying that.

  14. The Chamars and Chuhras have historically encountered plenty of religious discrimination at the hands of Jatts. It’s a common occurence for Jatts to refuse Chamar/Chuhra langaar because it’s “unclean” and to maintain other caste practices in the gurudwaras. This has made the latter two groups eager to establish their own places of worship.

    You can argue that Sikhism is against these practices in theory, but in practice the Sikhs haven’t behaved any better than the Brahmins that they are so critical of. With the recent incidents between the Jatts and Ravidass community, one might argue that Sikhs have gotten even worse than Hindus.

    Tell me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Guru Nanak marry his children off to other Khatris?

  15. This is wonderful news! It’s been such a long fight and it’s gratifying to see their success. The arguments against their inclusion about compromising unit cohesion and a uniform appearance are the same arguments that were used to keep the armed forces segregated, to exclude women from the military and is still present in the rhetoric in support of DADT. Before regulations were enacted and rigidly enforced, at least a dozen turbaned Sikh men served in the US military during war and peace time without incident. There are also documented incidents where turbaned Sikh men were able to successfully act as liasons in Afghanistan between soldiers and local communities. I’m not sure why but this isn’t the first time I’ve heard of Sikh men holding a position of respect in Middle-Eastern countries. This is a small but promising step :)

  16. @jt

    Its pointless discussing it if you’re going to talk about “some people” who do this or that. In any religion you can find enough examples to justify anything you want to say. There are too many people who bastardize any religion.

  17. In the case of Sikhs, I know that there are many Ravidass gurudwaras throughout the UK and now some are emerging in other communities with substanial Sikh populations. There have also been large scale protests by Ravidassis against casteism in the Sikh religion, following the assassination of Sant Ramanand. I don’t know what proportion of Jatts engage in casteist practices, but it’s substanial enough to provoke a lot of anger and isolation. For all their faults, Hindus don’t appear to have been riven to the same extent by caste divisions. I agree that all Sikhs can’t be tarred by the actions of some, but the same is true of Brahmins and Hindus.

  18. Late to the party as usual. I just wanted to say how proud I am when I see this photo and article. Thank you Amardeep.