An Australian school discriminated against a five-year-old Sikh boy when it prevented his enrolment because he wore a turban, a tribunal has found.
The uniform policy of Melton Christian School in Melbourne prohibits non-Christian head coverings for boys.
But the boy’s father, Sagardeep Singh Arora, argued that not letting him wear the patka, a child’s turban, was indirect discrimination.
The tribunal ruled in Mr Arora’s favour on Tuesday.
Having uncut hair, or kesh, is a Sikh belief and wearing a patka is an essential practice of the religion.
But the Christian school chose not to make an exception for the boy, Sidhak, after an enrolment meeting with the family last year.
Mr Arora told the BBC that he had been stunned by the rejection.
“In such an advanced country like Australia, it was just shocking,” he said.
“You have Sikh people wearing turbans in the police force and army in Australia, but my son can’t go to school.”
Unreasonable uniform policy
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal said Sidhak had been disadvantaged because he wasn’t able to attend the school which was close to home and where his cousins were also students.
In its defence, the school had relied on an exemption in the state’s discrimination laws that allows schools to enforce reasonable dress codes for students following consultation with the community.
But the tribunal said the uniform policy was not reasonable because when they were updated in 2014, they did not reflect the school community’s views.
Furthermore, the disadvantage Sidhak faced was much greater than any advantage the school gained from maintaining its uniform policy, it ruled.
The tribunal added that while Melton was a Christian school, it had an open enrolment policy. More than 50% of the school community does not explicitly identify as Christian.
“It is not reasonable to accept enrolment applications from students from non-Christian faiths only on the condition that they do not look like they practice a non-Christian religion,” VCAT member Julie Grainger found.
She also said the school could have allowed Sidhak to wear a patka in the uniform colours.
Mr Arora said he and his family were very happy with the findings.
“We believe this is very good decision on behalf of the Sikh community in Australia,” he said.
He and his wife will have a formal meeting with the school soon. They hope Sidhak will be able to start attending the school next year.