Christian school in Australia amends uniform policy to admit Sikh boy with patka

Sidhak Singh on a recent trip to Darbar Sahib [Golden Temple], Amritsar.

Sidhak Singh on a recent trip to Darbar Sahib [Golden Temple], Amritsar.
MELBOURNE, Australia: The Melton Christian College (MCC) amended its uniform policy this month to enrol five-year-old Sidhak Singh in the new academic year, after refusing him admission last year because he wore a patka, a head covering worn by Sikh children.

MCC amended its uniform policy to allow exceptions where genuine medical or religious grounds exist, following a landmark decision of the Victorian Administrative and Civil Tribunal (VCAT) in September that found that Sidhak Singh had been unlawfully discriminated against by MCC when they had refused to enrol him because he had unshorn hair and wore a patka.

The Tribunal ruled that the Melton Christian College (MCC) had indirectly discriminated against Sidhak Singh and violated section 38 of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 of Victoria that prohibits discrimination by an educational authority in the enrolment of students.

“I consider that MCC’s uniform policy in so far as it prohibits head gear of a non-Christian faith, could be described as ‘openly discriminatory,” said VCAT member, J. Grainger, in a 50-page judgment. You may read the full judgment here.

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, which had intervened in the case, had said in a statement, “The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal’s decision in the Arora v Melton Christian College case was an important test for clarifying the exceptions in the Equal Opportunity Act 2010. This is the first time that these exceptions from discrimination have been considered in Victorian courts or tribunals.”

“I was approached by United Sikhs [organization] in January this year when they learnt that I did not have legal representation. They assisted me and arranged pro bono representation by Herbert Smith Freehills, a top law firm in Australia,” Sidhak Singh’s father, Sagardeep Singh, said after VCAT’s ruling.

VCAT had ordered that Sidhak’s parents and MCC attend a compulsory conference to determine what orders VCAT should make. Following the compulsory conference that was held in November, both parties issued the following joint statement:

“MCC, Sagardeep Singh Arora and Anureet Kaur Arora are pleased to have resolved the matter of the enrolment of the Aroras’ son, Sidhak Singh Arora, which was the subject of proceedings before the Victorian Civil and Administration Tribunal under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic). MCC has made amendments to its uniform policy to allow exceptions where genuine medical or religious grounds exist, such that Sidhak will be able to start at MCC in the beginning of the 2018 school year.

“MCC is founded on Christian doctrine, and is committed to an inclusive school community partnering with families in excellent Christian education. MCC regrets the difficulties that took place with respect to the enrolment and the Arora family is grateful to the school for the amendments it has made to the uniform policy in order to welcome Sidhak to the school.”