NYC transit system’s “turban-branding” policy defeated

On the morning September 11, 2001, long time train operator Sat Hari Singh (aka Kevin Harrington) was driving the 4 train towards lower Manhattan when news of the attacks came in.  He quickly directed the train in reverse, leading all his morning commuters to safety.  The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) later honored him as a hero of 9/11 for his efforts.

Soon thereafter, Singh and other Sikh transit workers as well as hijab-wearing Muslim transit workers were transferred to new jobs hidden from the public eye by the MTA, as long as they chose to wear their articles of faith, which apparently looked a little too “suspicious” in the aftermath of 9/11.  After an uproar from the Sikh and Muslim communities as well as countless others concerned with civil rights and religious freedom, they were reinstated to their original jobs but with a caveat: their turbans and hijabs were to don the MTA logo.

“They called me a ‘hero of 9/11.’ I didn’t have a corporate logo on my turban on 9/11,” Sat Hari Singh said. “This policy made no sense. It was driven by fear.”

This video from a 2009 press conference organized by the plaintiffs, the Sikh Coalition, as well as over a dozen NYC Council Members provides some more context:

YouTube Preview Image

This week, after nearly a decade-long legal battle, the so-called “turban-branding” policy is officially over with a settlement finally reached.  While this is good news, it’s astounding to me that it took this long for this double-standard of a uniform policy to be changed.  But I suppose this is what the grim reality of post-9/11 America sometimes looks like.

We have discussed this issue at The Langar Hall before, and I have often heard the argument from Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike that the mandatory branding of turbans is not a big deal.  Sikh cops and military personnel do it without complaint all over the world, in fact.  A key difference, however, in the MTA case was the double standard of enforcement.  A 2005 study by the US Department of Justice found over 100 MTA employees wearing unbranded baseball caps, fashion head wear, and yarmulkes.  It was clear here that Sikhs and Muslims were being singled out.

An article in Huffington Post yesterday stated:

Shayana Kadidal, a senior managing attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights [a co-plaintiff], said the policy was little more than “a calculated attempt to hide Sikh workers from public view on the grounds that they ‘look Muslim’ and might alarm the public for that reason.”

As a New Yorker, I am relieved that this bigoted policy has finally come to an end and have much gratitude to the MTA workers who stood up for their right to practice the faith freely and the civil rights organizations and attorneys who helped them fight this case until the end.  Fateh!

 


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3 Responses to “NYC transit system’s “turban-branding” policy defeated”

  1. gsingh says:

    I'd like to point out that you have an omission in your disclaimer below. It should read "hate will NOT be tolerated", the word "not" is missing at the moment. Thanks.

  2. gsingh says:

    Oops, sorry I misread.

  3. imgrum says:

    Thank you for sharing the post! It's good to see the news.
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