By Nandini Jawli, London
A Sikh student banned from school for wearing a kara, has taken her case to the High Court on Tuesday, claiming unlawful discrimination. The judicial challenge could prove to be pivotal in the debate over religious expression in the UK schools. Sarika Singh, 14, is in dispute with Aberdare Girls' School in south Wales.
The school bans girls from wearing jewellery other than wristwatches and plain ear studs. She was the only Sikh girl in the school, which expelled her last November for refusing to take off her kara. Since February she has been attending another school at nearby Mountain Ash, where the kara is permitted.
Sarika's family has handed in a petition at Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Downing Street residence last week, urging him to intervene to show that 'discrimination is totally unacceptable'.
The petition is backed by 150 Gurdwaras, more than 250 Sikh organisations and 70 non-Sikh bodies. Around 100 MPs have also offered their support.
The judicial challenge, an attempt to force the school to readmit Sarika with her kara, is expected to last three days. Lawyers representing Sarika, will argue the school's actions contradict a previous ruling which enshrined the right for Sikh boys to wear turbans at school should they wish to. In the 1983 ruling, the House of Lords defined Sikhs as a race, not just a religious group, protected from discrimination under the Race Relations Act.
After Sikh teenager's case came up, the Welsh Assembly Government published new guidelines for school Governors, saying they should take account of religious views and consider whether uniform policy interfered with the right to manifest a religion or belief.
Sarika, who started wearing the kara after a trip to India in 2005 said, she felt compelled to protect the rights of all Sikh children who wish to wear the symbols of their faith. "I never thought I would be forced by a school to choose between my religion and my education," she said. Sarika case is backed by Human rights group Liberty, which believes that the school breached race, equality and human rights laws by not allowing Sarika to wear the kara.
"Sarika Singh has suffered humiliating isolation and is being denied a proper education simply because she wears the kara," said Anna Fairclough, representing the case on behalf of Liberty.