BRITAIN’S HIGHEST ranking Sikh police officer last night condemned the Garda ban on turbans as ‘racist and antiquated’.
Chief Inspector Raj Kohli was responding to the decision last week to stop a Garda reservist from wearing the Sikh head gear.
He told the Irish Mail on Sunday: ‘It is extraordinary that in this day and age a turban is such an issue.
‘The attitude of the Garda is similar to that of UK police force in the 1970s.
‘I can understand that they would take such a stance but they are being fundamentally naïve.’ And he questioned claims by senior gardaí on an RTÉ Prime Time programme on Wednesday night that they had extensively researched the issue before reaching their decision.
Metropolitan Police Chief Inspector Kohli, who is based at the Met’s Earl’s Court headquarters in west London, said: ‘I am the most senior serving Sikh officer in the UK.
‘And I am very active in the Sikh Police Officers Association, which is the only organisation of its kind in the world.
‘It receives requests for information from police forces all round the world, but it has never been approached by the Garda.
‘I would have thought that if anyone was seriously interested in dealing with turbans as an issue they would have given me a call.
‘I would have been more than happy to help out in any way with advice.’ And he added: ‘I would go so far as to say that the gardaí had already made up their minds on this issue.
‘Whatever anybody says about England and Ireland, they are closest neighbours in cultural terms.
‘Sure we have our problems with integration issues but we have moved on and the whole issue of whether people can or cannot wear a turban is long gone.’ Garda commissioner Noel Conroy denied his force was being racist and said the decision was made to uphold the Garda’s reputation as a religiously impartial police force.
On his own experience of wearing a turban on duty, London-born Chief Inspector Kohli said it had never had any negative impact on the way he has worked as a police officer since he joined the force in 1992.
The turban is important to him and other practising Sikhs because it is one of the five ‘signs’ of Ks of Sikhism.
They include Kirpan (dagger), Kesh (hair) and Kara (steel bracelet). The dagger symbolises the wearer as a member of a warrior nation. The significance of long hair – which must be covered by a turban – is that it is a gift from God.
And the bracelet represents, among other things, the importance of equality between men and women.
The 41-year- old father- of-two said: ‘When I joined the force, I was sent to the uniform room and couldn’t believe they actually had special fabric set aside for turbans.
‘My sister’s ex-husband was the first Sikh officer in the UK and he wore his turban with pride, so I did not expect to have any problems wearing it.
‘I get as much abuse as my white colleagues while I am in uniform and I get racial abuse when I am in my civilian clothes because that’s just the way things are.
‘But I have no problem wearing my turban and being proud of my religion. ‘If other people have a problem with that, then that is up to them.’ He pointed out the practical sides to wearing a turban.
As well as keeping his head warm, and serving as a way of helping wedge his police radio ear piece firmly into place at the side of his head, it can provide protective padding against blows to the side of the head.
He said: ‘It’s pretty good on the sides, although the top is a bit exposed in terms of padding.’ A fully trained riot-squad officer, the only time he takes his turban off is if he is called to attend a riot and needs to don the classic NATO helmet with its pull-down hard plastic visor and internal head set communications.
He said: ‘While I always want to be able to wear my turban, I have to be realistic and pragmatic.
‘Because I have undergone Level 2 Public Order training, I can find myself in the thick of things and I will take it off if I feel I stand a serious risk of getting injured.
‘I know I’m no use to anyone if I get injured in a riot. ‘As well as not being able to command my men, I would also compromise their safety.’