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Sikhs help pilot anti-bias bill in NYC Council

November 18, 2005 21:50 IST
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Sikhs in New York, along with several other community organisations, have played a role in piloting an anti-bias bill in the City Council.

The first hearing of the Int 577, as the Uniformed Agency Anti-Discrimination bill is known, was held on Thursday.

A news conference was also held on the occasion and David I Weprin, a Democratic Party City Council member, was present at the hearing and addressed the news conference.

"I do not believe it to be unreasonable to ask that city agencies respect the practices of different religions by not directing that in order for an employee to retain his or her job, he or she must forgo a particular religious creed and violate a religious mandate," said Weprin.

"As John F Kennedy said, we must make the world safe for diversity. This is what I believe is the purpose of this legislation and larger task of this City Council," he added.

Weprin is head of the council's Finance Committee. The bill drafted by the Sikh Coalition seeks to amend the city's administrative code, which mandates that its employees comply with a uniform code. That code forces employees forgo their religious practices.

Amric Singh Rathour, who won an anti-bias legal case, was also present at the meeting. Rathour, a traffic cop in the New York Police Department, had filed a federal lawsuit against the department after he was fired for refusing to remove his turban.

"There are turban-wearing Sikhs fighting side by side with American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. They also fought as part of the army of Great Britain. If a Sikh can fight and die with American troops in Iraq, they should be able to police New York City's streets," said Rathour.

"I was delighted to win my lawsuit, but I hope no New Yorker has to go to court again to serve his or her city," he said.

Brijinder Singh Gill, a former Transit Authority official, quit immediately after the lawsuit was filed.

"My supervisor tried to physically place a Transit Authority logo on my turban," said Gill, adding, "I never felt so humiliated."

Other Sikh and Muslim employees had also faced discrimination by some city agencies.

Amardeep Singh, legal director of the Sikh Coalition, said, "There is nothing about a turban or a hijab (the Muslim headscarf) that stops one from being a great police officer or transit employee," he said.

"New York City is the world's capital. Our city agencies should have uniform policies that reflect the city's diversity rather than rejecting it. We welcome a bill that will require city agencies to evaluate employees on their ability to do their job, rather than their religious headdress," he added.

Members of the American Jewish Committee, New Immigrant Community Empowerment, South Asian Bar Association of New York and other groups were also present at both the hearing and news conference.

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