Soldier feels pressure after bearskin for turban swap

By Andrew Johnson

The turban is of religious importance for Sikhs as it protects their hair. Photo / Supplied
The turban is of religious importance for Sikhs as it protects their hair. Photo / Supplied

The first Sikh guardsman to be given permission to wear a turban instead of a bearskin while on duty outside Buckingham Palace is coming under pressure from colleagues not to break more than 100 years of tradition.

An army spokeswoman confirmed yesterday that Guardsman Jatinderpal Singh Bhullar, 25, has been given permission to wear his turban instead of traditional regimental headgear in line with the other 25 Sikhs in the Army.

But he had yet to decide whether he would actually do so, she said.

His Scots Guards colleagues and army traditionalists are said to be at odds over whether he should stand outside Buckingham Palace in a turban instead of the bearskin, which has been worn since 1832 and provides an iconic image of Britain for tourists.

The Mail on Sunday reported that Bhullar, who is stationed at Wellington Barracks in Birdcage Walk, had been taunted over the issue.

His chaplain, Mandeep Kaur, said: "He had problems telling his colleagues why he has to wear the turban and why it means so much to him. It was ignorance and verbals, but he did not call it bullying.

"He was determined to come through everything, to explain his religion, the significance of the turban and why it is more important to him than a bearskin."

The turban is of religious importance for Sikhs as it protects their hair, which they do not cut. Sikh soldiers have been able to wear turbans instead of other headgear in the British Army since at least World War I.

On Twitter yesterday, a flavour of the opposition Bhullar faces could be seen in posts such as "How absurd Sikh soldier will be guarding Buckingham Palace without bearskin as he'll be wearing a turban" and "The Sikh soldier if he must should wear bearskin over his turban otherwise the red & blacks on parade would look disharmonious & ridiculous".

A spokeswoman for the MoD said Bhullar had yet to decide whether he would wear a turban while on ceremonial duty but had permission to do so.

"Discussions are under way between his unit, representatives from the Sikh community and the MoD on this, whatever the outcome we can be clear that the individual will have the full support of the army and his colleagues. To suggest anything else would be misleading and inaccurate."

Bhullar's father, Surinder, said he was confident his son would wear the turban. He told the Mail on Sunday: "He deserves respect and will stay strong. That includes wearing his turban, no matter what other soldiers say. He is observing his religion."

Bhullar, a former bricklayer, trained for the Parachute Regiment before joining the Guards. He finished his training last month.

The MoD added: "The Army takes great pride in its diversity and it is its long term aim to be manned by personnel from all of the UK's diverse communities so that it reflects the society it serves. There are a number of Sikhs already in the army who wear their turbans when in uniform."

- Independent

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