[Tejwinder Singh Rai] got a letter in the mail from the U.S. Department of State rejecting his son Arunvir Singh Rai's application for a passport, in part because his son, now 7, was wearing a religious head covering known as a rumal in his passport photo.
"This is our religion," said Tejwinder Singh Rai, 38. "When your hair grows, you have to cover it."
The letter arrived just a few days after the Transportation Security Administration adopted a policy giving the nation's 43,000 airport screeners the power to scrutinize travelers who wear head coverings and subject them to additional searches, angering Sikhs across the country.
"A turban is not just a hat," said Amardeep Singh, executive director of the Sikh Coalition, a Manhattan-based advocacy group. "It's not something you just flip on and off like a Yankees cap."
The letter said Arunvir's photographs could not be used "because hats or other headgear, which obscure the hair or hairline, may not be worn in passport photographs."
The federal government does allow religious headgear in passport photos, but any applicant wearing a head covering in a photo must submit a signed letter stating it is being worn for religious purposes, said James Lawrence, a spokesman for the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs. He said the rule, instituted in 1994, applies to all religions.
But Sikhs in the metropolitan area are growing tired of having to explain themselves. In the face of reprisals after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, they embarked on a campaign to tell the public who they are. Now, many of the 50,000 Sikhs on Long Island and in New York City feel they have to start all over again.
"The frustration for Sikhs in the United States is that our articles of faith, particularly the turban and the beard, have become synonymous with the image of a terrorist," Amardeep Singh said. "We tend to have to explain to everyone who we are and what our faith stands for." [Link]
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