Sunday, May 5, 2013

Unacceptable ban on Sikh turbans by bus company in Finland

There are lots of good people working tirelessly in Finland to promote diversity, but stories regularly come to light that portray Finnish society as intolerant and disrespectful of the identity of ethnic and religious minorities, including Muslims, people of African descent and now, Sihks.

A bus company in Finland banned bus drivers from wearing the turban behind the wheel. The turban, it is worth mentioning, is a headwear and religious identity of Sikhs - followers of Sikhism.

A Sikh bus driver, Gill Sukhdarshan Singh, would like to wear the turban during work, but his employer, Veolia Transport Vantaa, banned the use of the turban in February, according to Helsingin Sanomat. Other bus companies in Finland reportedly support the ban.

The Managing Director of Pohjolan Liikenne, service jobs require "neutral dressing" that don't "stir up passions".

In my view, I do not see how turbans stir up passions. I see a ban on turbans behind the wheel as an infringement on freedom of thought, conscience and religion. It is a threat to all visible religious minorities in Finland, including Muslim women - many of whom wear the veil. Should bus companies like Veolia have their way, Muslim women would also be forced to take off their veils before working as bus drivers.

According to the Transport Manager of another bus company called Nobina, the ban is for security reasons.

"Security", it should be noted, is commonly invoked to justify human rights infringements around the world, including the existence of Guantanamo Bay detention facility - a hallmark of torture, cruel and inhumane treatment.

I am not surprised therefore that security was put forward as an excuse for a clear attack on Sikhism in Finland.

I applaud Gill Sukhdarshan Singh's decision to take the matter to the Ombudsman for Minorities and to court. Giving in without a fight to an attack on freedoms and liberties is not a good option. People whose rights, freedoms and civil liberties are threatened or infringed in Finland and elsewhere should, like Singh, have the courage to demand redress.

According to Helsingin Sanomat, the bus driver in question does not want to loose his job. He is standing up in order to secure his son's freedom to use to turban. He is ready to go to court on behalf of his children, which in my assessment is an honorable thing to do.

Finland is party to international treaties that guarantee freedom of thought, conscience and religion - such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (article 18) and the European Convention on Human Rights (article 9).

It remains to be seen what the court will decide, but given Finland's obligations under international law it would be a slam-dunk case in Singh's favor.

*Image: Migrant Tales.

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