The ACLU has released a letter it wrote on behalf of Jagjeet Singh, a practicing Sikh, to the Mississippi Department of Transportation (DOT) in Pike County. The complaint contends that in January, Singh, a licensed long-haul trucker, was humiliated by DOT officers after being pulled over for driving with a flat tire.
According to the ACLU, the officers who pulled Singh over believed that his kirpan — a ceremonial “sword” worn by Sikhs that poses as grave a danger to the public as the crosses donned by many Christians — was a “dangerous weapon,” despite the fact that it had been sewn into the waistband of his pants.
Singh tried to educate the lead officer by “show[ing] him, and other officers present, videos stored on his phone and on Youtube about the Sikh faith.” The officers responded with mockery, one of them allegedly referring to Sikhs as “depraved” and “terrorists.”
The officers then allegedly demanded Singh “to circle his truck with his hands on his turban while other officers searched his vehicle and continued to taunt and laugh at him.” Raw Story is unclear as to whether this degrading treatment required Singh to unravel and trod upon “his turban,” which Sikhs actually refer to as a “Dastar.” Although the exact indignity the officers allegedly forced Singh to perform is unknown, the ACLU took pains to detail to the significance of the Dastar to members of the Sikh faith:
As an observant Sikh, Mr. Singh wears a turban at all times as a reminder and public declaration of his connection to God. For him, the turban is an inseparable part of his Sikh religious identity: Like all Sikhs, Mr. Singh believes that a man cannot be considered a Sikh if he does not wear the turban and that unwrapping his turban and exposing his “naked” head in public is sacrilegious and shameful.
The exact details of the officers’ behavior notwithstanding, they did clearly mock Singh’s belief in “Kesh,” which compels Sikhs to allow their hair to grow uncut in order to honor the perfection of God’s creation.
The officers eventually arrested Singh for failing to comply with their commands. As if that was not humiliating enough, according to the ACLU, when Singh returned to Pike County to contest his arrest, presiding Judge Aubrey Rimes ejected him from the courtroom.
In chambers, the ACLU alleges that Judge Rimes told Singh that he wouldn’t be allowed to reenter the courtroom unless he removed “that rag,” referring to his Dastar, from his head. When Singh refused, Judge Rimes forced Singh and his attorney to wait until all other litigants had been heard before allowing him back into the courtroom.
The letter released by the ACLU today demands the Mississippi Department of Transportation and the Pike County Justice Court release all records relating to Singh’s detainment, arrest, and subsequent mistreatment. It also calls for a thorough investigation of the treatment of minorities other than Sikhs in Judge Rimes’s courtroom.
Scott Eric Kaufman is the proprietor of the AV Club's Internet Film School and, in addition to Raw Story, also writes for Lawyers, Guns & Money. He earned a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California, Irvine in 2008.
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