A tribunal has found an Australian school discriminated against a five-year-old Sikh boy when it prevented his enrolment because he wore a turban.
Melton Christian School in Melbourne prohibits non-Christian head coverings for boys as part of its uniform policy.
The tribunal found that Sidhak Singh Arora was discriminated against when it refused to accept him as a student if he wore his traditional headwear.
Having uncut hair, known as kesh, is a Sikh belief and wearing a patka is an essential practice of the religion.
The Christian school, however, chose not to make an exception for the boy, Sidhak, after an enrolment meeting with the family last year.
Sagardeep Singh Arora, the boy’s father, said 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.”
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, Melton school had relied on the state’s discrimination laws, which has an exemption that allows schools to enforce reasonable dress codes for students following consultation with the community.
The tribunal rejected this, however, saying the uniform policy was not reasonable because when they were updated in 2014, they did not reflect the school community’s views.
It also added that while the school 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.
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.
Mr Arora and his wife have a meeting scheduled with the school, with the hope that Sidhak will be able to start attending next year.