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A wasted opportunity

Last update - Wednesday, March 3, 2010, 10:51 By Priya Rajsekar

Last week’s report by Catherine Reilly on An Garda Síochána’s ‘double standard on faith’ was a very interesting read. It has been mentioned time and again by other writers in other columns, but often it seems religion – which is meant to integrate – is used to the opposite effect, with adverse consequences.

The one thought that came foremost to my mind was that it just does not make sense. Why would any occupation that counted on the bravery and integrity of its employees say no to a Sikh man or woman? Time and again throughout history, Sikhs have proven their mettle and have lived as the epitome of courage, honesty and perseverance – the very qualities that would enrich the police or military force of any country.
So why would the Gardaí turn their backs on such an opportunity by denying admission to a Sikh man merely on religious grounds?
Without question, they could only gain from employing a Sikh man’s services. Surely, the benefits far outweigh the cons of ‘accommodation’ or ‘inclusion’.
Whether or not religious symbols are to be permitted in Ireland’s police force – and whether or not the Sikh turban is somehow detrimental to its interests and objectives – is a debate that will probably not be resolved in the foreseeable future, given how long it usually takes for radical changes to be adopted by institutions that are set in their ways.
In the meantime, purely in the context of human resource strength and basic logic, unquestionably the Gardaí will miss out on a valuable opportunity. If anything, measures should be taken to encourage more Sikhs to join – as well as other young immigrants, irrespective of nationality or religion.
Indian history – especially during the independence struggle – bears testimony to the invaluable contributions of the Sikh community, many of whom were at the frontlines, leading the nation’s fight for freedom.
Without discrimination, without fear, several thousands of brave Sikh soldiers fought for India, and members of the community continue that service to this day as leaders in the Indian armed forces.
Sikhs have enriched India and their adopted countries not just in the military forces but in every conceivable sphere of activity. The contributions of the current Indian Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh’s, are just one easily recognisable example.
The issue is not limited to Sikhs, of course. Blinded or hindered by established belief systems, stereotypes and outdated regulations, we often do ourselves a huge disfavour by discriminating against people who could make a significant contribution.
If the backgrounds and cultural wealth of immigrants are weighed in their favour and counted as a positive, there is a whole world of opportunity that Ireland can tap into. Instead, every day in subtle, discreet ways, in almost every sphere of activity, a person’s ethnicity and religion is used as a millstone to drag him or her down – resulting in a loss not just for the affected person, but for the country as a whole.
As we stand witness to the dying roars of the Celtic Tiger, our only hope of resuscitation lies in joining forces and pooling our individual strengths to rejuvenate the economy and the State. All it takes is a large enough heart and an open mind. Is that too much to ask for?

Priya Rajsekar is a freelance writer and co-founder of College Canteen (, a social network dedicated to students and academics.

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