Sarika Watkins-Singh wins right to wear bangle at school

London, UK - A Sikh teenager excluded from school for breaking a “no jewellery” rule by refusing to remove a wrist bangle which is central to her faith was a victim of unlawful discrimination, a judge ruled today.

The victory in the High Court for Sarika Watkins-Singh, 14, means that she will be returning to Aberdare Girls’ School in South Wales in September - wearing the Kara, a slim steel bracelet.

Her lawyers had told Mr Justice Silber that the Kara was as important to her as it was to England spin bowler Monty Panesar, who has been pictured wearing the bangle.

Sarika, of mixed Welsh and Punjabi origin, of Cwmbach, near Aberdare, was at first taught in isolation and eventually excluded for refusing to take off the bangle in defiance of the school’s policy, which prohibits the wearing of any jewellery other than a wrist watch and plain ear studs.

Today, the judge declared that the school was guilty of indirect discrimination under race relations and equality laws.

After the judgment, Sarika’s mother, Sinita, 38, said: “We are over the moon.It is just such a relief.” Afterwards, a spokeswoman for the family hailed it as a “common sense” judgment.

Sarika said: “I am overwhelmed by the outcome and it’s marvellous to know that the long journey I’ve been on has finally come to an end.

“I’m so happy to know that no-one else will go through what me and my family have gone through.”

She added: “I just want to say that I am a proud Welsh and Punjabi Sikh girl.”

Anna Fairclough, Liberty’s legal officer who was representing the Singhs, said: “This common sense judgment makes clear you must have a very good reason before interfering with someone’s religious freedom.

“Our great British traditions of religious tolerance and race equality have been rightly upheld today.”

After being permanently excluded last November, Sarika was enrolled at Mountain Ash Comprehensive School, where she was allowed to wear the Kara.

The judge said today that the Aberdare school, after being informed in advance of his decision, had agreed to take her back in September, when she would start preparing for her GCSEs.

He said he hoped she would be quickly integrated back into school and would not be subject to any bullying.

In his judgment, he said the Kara - much narrower than many watch straps - was regarded universally by practising Sikhs as an important part of their religious observance. It could not be seen under long sleeves, and Sarika was willing to remove it for safety reasons during games.

Her determined stance led to her being taught in isolation and segregated from her fellow pupils - she was even accompanied to the toilet by a member of staff who waited outside.

An appeal against the school’s refusal to grant her exemption from the jewellery rule was dismissed and she was eventually excluded for “open, deliberate and persistent defiance of the policy”.

The judge said the school’s governing body accepted that the way it conducted the appeal was unfair.

The judge said the school’s attitude was that wearing the Kara was roughly similar to displaying the Welsh flag in that it engendered emotion.

That was a “seriously erroneous attitude because it totally ignored the religious importance of the Kara which is not shared by the Welsh flag”.

He also rejected argument that the Kara, as a piece of jewellery, might be seen as a symbol of affluence and allowing Sarika to wear it would be widely misinterpreted by other pupils.

The school had failed in its positive obligation under the Race Relations Act to promote equality of opportunity and good race relations, and discourage discrimination, he said.

Her exclusion from school was unlawful.

The judge refused the school permission to appeal, although it can still seek permission from the Court of Appeal.

The Kara is one of the five Ks of Sikhism, the others being the Kesh (uncut hair), the Kanga (wooden comb), the Kaccha (specially designed shorts) and the Kirpan (sword).