This Woman Is The First Observant Sikh Cadet To Graduate From West Point

Supermajority Education Fund

June 23, 2020

When second lieutenant Anmol Narang graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on June 12, she became the first Sikh to wear her articles of faith throughout her time at the academy. As an observant Sikh, Narang completed her studies while also adhering to requirements of unshorn hair (and, for men, turbans and beards).

While other Sikhs have matriculated at West Point before, Narang told the New York Times that her faith, which began in the Punjab region of South Asia in the 15th century, was not listed as an official religious option when she arrived on campus.

Amrith Kaur, the legal director for the Sikh Coalition, told Supermajority News that Narang’s graduation from West Point is significant because it “is further proof that observant Sikhs are able to serve honorably and capably while keeping their articles of faith.”

Kaur noted that one of the biggest challenges for Narang was meeting the Army’s uniform and grooming regulations every day. “She had to figure out a way to get her long thick hair consistent with army regulations,” Kaur noted of the requirement that women cadets wear their hair in a bun that is no more than 3.5 inches. While Narang could have requested a religious exemption, she told the Times that she practiced pulling her hair tight enough to meet the requirement.

Narang’s graduation also comes at a time when observant Sikhs are largely prohibited from serving in many branches of the U.S. military due to dress codes. While Sikhs traditionally have a long history of military service in India and England, adherents have only been permitted to wear their articles of faith while serving in the U.S. Army since 2017. The Air Force began accommodating Sikhs and Muslims who enlist earlier this year and in March the Navy announced they will change its accommodation policy but, according to Kaur, “these conversations are ongoing.”

The fact that Sikhs are not currently able to practice their religion while also serving in many branches of the armed forces means that they are effectively barred from working for the military, which is the largest employer in the United States, said Kaur.

It is for those reasons that “we need people like [Narang] to help us understand that the current system is not adequate,” due to restrictive dress codes, Kaur said. “It needs to be revised and ultimately changed in order to meet the needs of the diverse society and population that we have today.”