A YOUNG Sikh man taken off a Qantas flight because fellow passengers were afraid to depart with him on board was the trigger which led Amaninder Singh Sandhu to seek a role within police.
Struck by the fear and ignorance of people regarding his race and religion, he thought that one way to win the trust and confidence of the public was to work for an agency that exemplified those qualities.
Superintendent Mike Wilson (centre left), Commissioner Howard Broad and Constable Amininder Singh Sandu (centre) with supporters from the Sikh Community.
Photo: Ann-Marie Pickles
In September 2007, Amaninder attended a police recruitment session in Auckland, intending to be an observer. However Asian Liaison Officer Jessica Phuang encouraged him join the session. When he raised the issue of wearing a turban as a possible barrier to his joining, Jessica said, “Let’s worry about that when we get there.”
The turban has spiritual and historical significance and is worn with a great deal of pride by orthodox followers of Sikhism. Sikhs do not cut their hair or beards, to demonstrate they are living their lives as Waheguru (God) wills.
That ‘can do’ attitude first demonstrated by Jessica has typified the subsequent relationship between police and the Sikh community as the question of uniform was considered.
Police needed to ensure that the health, safety and public recognition elements of the uniform were maintained, while Amaninder and the Sikh community wanted to preserve the essential elements of faith necessary to practice the Sikh religion.
Both parties approached the issue with goodwill and a desire to reach common ground.
In December 2007 the Sikh Council of New Zealand presented police with a sample turban, correctly tied for consideration. Police confirmed that the turban was acceptable and the process of developing protocols to govern its use was begun by Inspector Jason Ross and Advisory Officer Jackie Mulligan.
From that point Amaninder, the Sikh Council, Police College and Police National Headquarters representatives, including Superintendent Wally Haumaha, Senior Sergeant Iain Saunders, Sergeant Rakesh Naidoo and Kefeng Chu, worked together to find a solution to issues which arose. The understanding and knowledge of all parties grew as a result of this process.
In March 2008, three members of the Sikh Council stayed at the Police College to experience first-hand the life of a recruit. They agreed to solutions to minor problems – for example an acceptable smaller version of the turban for use during swimming training and with the riot helmet.
Amaninder is a trailblazer. He is the first Sikh police officer to wear a turban as part of NZ Police uniform and the first turbaned officer to graduate from the Police College.
The work undertaken to make the turban a part of NZ Police uniform has already reaped rewards for other officers.
Constable Jagmohan Malhi, an officer based in Nelson, was able to return to the practice of his faith and adopted the approved turban in September.