Club in fresh storm over turban ban

By Lincoln Tan

Karnail Singh outside the Manurewa Cosmopolitan Club yesterday. Photo / Greg Bowker
Karnail Singh outside the Manurewa Cosmopolitan Club yesterday. Photo / Greg Bowker

National MP Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi, a Sikh, says he will take the Manurewa Cosmopolitan Club to the Human Rights Commission if it does not change its entry rules with regards to headwear.

His comment follows the refusal of the South Auckland club to allow local community leader Karnail Singh to attend a function held to recognise his service to the community because he was wearing a turban.

Club staff told him the turban was considered headwear, and wearing headwear in the bar was against club rules.

The commission says it isn't the first time it has received a complaint against the club for banning guests because of their religious headwear.

It was involved in mediation with the club this year when it refused to let a Muslim international student enter its dining area because she was wearing a hijab, or religious headscarf.

"An outcome from that mediation was the club's agreement to review its rule on headwear and dress code," a commission spokesman said.

Club manager Patricia Rangi wouldn't comment yesterday, saying the matter was before the commission.

But she said no changes were made to the headwear policy after the first mediation, although the club had apologised to Karnail Singh for any embarrassment it might have caused.

In an email to Age Concern, Ms Rangi wrote: "He could not wear his turban as it contravened our club dress rules. We have previously contacted the Human Rights [Commission], the Ethnic Society and all have advised that as a private club, we may enforce our rules. The Ethnic Society also confirmed that turbans are not compulsory within the Sikh community ... If you wish to visit our club, you need to abide by our rules."

The commission said it would welcome Mr Bakshi lodging a further complaint against the club over the latest incident, although it had already set a mediation date next month between the parties involved.

Karnail Singh is a volunteer with Age Concern, and is a town ambassador, community gardener and a member of the group's visiting service for the elderly.

Mr Bakshi, who stood unsuccessfully for the Manukau East seat in the last election and entered Parliament as a list MP, 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.

The secretary of the Sikh Council of New Zealand, Verpal Singh, said the incident was unfortunate and he was "greatly disappointed" with the club's headwear policy.

"The club has made its unfortunate decision on the basis of wrong information."

He said his council was seeking a meeting with the club to discuss the matter but had not yet had a response.

- NZ Herald

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