Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Sikh barred from Cossie Club over turban

Gurpreet Singh says he tried to explain the turban was part of his faith. Photo / Dean Purcell
Gurpreet Singh says he tried to explain the turban was part of his faith. Photo / Dean Purcell

A Sikh real estate agent says he is "shocked" and "insulted" after being barred from entering a Cosmopolitan Club for lunch this week with colleagues because he was wearing a turban.

Gurpreet Singh, 30, who works at Ray White Papatoetoe, is taking his complaint against the Manurewa Cosmopolitan Club for religious discrimination to the Human Rights Commission.

"I tried to explain that the turban is part of my faith and it is not a headgear that I can take off, but the reception just refused to accept that," Mr Singh said.

"I don't know whether it's being racist or ignorance, but what they did left me shocked and insulted."

This is not the first time the club has been embroiled in controversy. The Herald reported another turban-wearing Sikh being denied entry in 2010 when the club said his turban breached its no-headwear policy.

A year before that incident, another complaint was lodged against the club after it refused to allow a Muslim international student to dine there because she was wearing a hijab, or religious headscarf.

Mr Singh said he was not aware of the earlier complaints, but had lodged complaints with the commission and the police because he wanted the club to change its "discriminatory" policy.

A commission spokeswoman said it had received Mr Singh's complaint and was now in " confidential mediation".

Club manager Patricia Rangi would not comment yesterday except to say the matter was going through the processes before the commission.

The club's policy banned entry to all people with headgear, including those wearing them for religious reasons.

Veer Khar, president of the Manukau Indian Association, said the club's rules were archaic and had no place in modern New Zealand.

"The rules can also be seen as very discriminatory when it is used to keep some people out of the club," he said.

"On the club's part, it's a bit of ignorance, and I'd say they need to get more educated."

Mr Khar said about a third of the association's membership were Sikh. They were prepared to meet club officials to explain the turban's religious significance.

Sikh Centre chairman Verpal Singh said his group had asked members of the local Sikh community to stay away from the club since the 2010 case to avoid a repetition of the incident.

"Our purpose was to defuse the situation and not let those who shout 'go back to where you came from' or 'our country our rules' [have] any platform to spew their venom."

Professor Andrew Geddis of Otago University law school said in his opinion, the club appeared to be acting unlawfully.

Under the Human Rights Act one of the grounds under which you could not discriminate was religious belief, he said.

"Because wearing the turban is a non-negotiable part of the religion, if you have a rule that you're not allowed in here with head coverings, you're discriminating against people of that particular religious belief."

But to find out for certain a ruling would need to be made by the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

- NZ Herald

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