Getting pulled over is stressful enough. The sight of blue lights in your rear view mirror, clambering to find critical forms, and frantically thinking about how this could affect your insurance or job is definitely an experience all drivers try to avoid. Unfortunately for Sikh trucker Jageet Singh, his traffic stop was not only emotionally taxing, but resulted in a long, tense day in court as well.
Jageet Singh was traveling through Mississippi on January 16th of this year when he was pulled over for a flat tire. In a letter penned by the ACLU to the Commissioner and Executive Director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation, the details paint an incident filled with racism and bigotry.
Apparently, the Department of Transportation officer that pulled over Mr. Singh instructed him to report to a nearby weigh station. Mr. Singh complied and on his arrival was subject to much ridicule. The officers at the weigh station questioned Mr. Singh and requested he remove the small knife he carries around his waist. Mr. Singh tried to explain to them that the item was not a weapon, but to no avail. The item in question is called a Kirpan and is a ceremonial item many Sikhs wear to remind them of their devotion to God. For Sikhs, this small dagger represents the call on all Sikhs to stand for justice and righteousness for all of mankind. The wearing of a Kirpan has been likened to the Christian Cross.
The letter goes on to report what happened after Mr. Singh refused to give up his Kirpan. Reportedly, at least one of the officers laughed at Mr. Singh and called him a terrorist. They then directed Mr. Singh to walk around his truck with his hands in his turban while they searched his cabin. Jageet Singh was then arrested for not following their orders. If Mr. Singh thought this was bad, he later found out how much worse it could get.
Singh’s Day in Court
On March 26th of this year, Jageet Singh made his court appearance in Pike County, Mississippi. While waiting in the court room for his case, two court officials told Mr. Singh that the presiding judge would not see him while he was wearing a “rag”. A rag meaning a turban in the ignorant language of Judge Aubrey Rhimes. The turban in the Sikh religion is very important. The religion requires all Khalsa Sikhs, or baptized Sikhs, to not cut their hair. The turban protects the hair and is viewed as a commitment to the faith. Jageet Singh, being a devout Sikh, refused to remove his turban and was forced to wait until the end of the day for his case to be heard.
After this culturally insensitive debacle, the ACLU, the U.S. Department of Justice, and other Sikhs have gotten involved. Due to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, the Pike County court changed their harassment policy to recognize the unique position many people of faith are in who wear turbans. Now, it is unlawful in this court to require someone to remove a head piece worn for religious reasons.
The letter from the ACLU demands a more in depth investigation into the officers that harassed Jageet Singh in January. They also recommend some form of education for officers regarding other religions. It was clear the officers were not familiar with the Sikh faith, which may have partly contributed to their callous behavior.
Nationally, this episode in racism is getting headlines as well. The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, a committee in India that maintains Sikh places of worship, is calling on the prime minister of India to approach this issue. The president of the SGPC believes this kind of discrimination will continue until people are properly educated about the Sikh faith, and he’s right. Only with more exposure and education can people learn to accept and tolerate others. The Sikh faith is one of peace and respect, undeserving of the hostility Mr. Singh faced this year. Hopefully, the light shed on this issue will prevent the harassment of other Sikhs and members of other misunderstood faiths.
, Truck Driver