June 17, 2008 / 1:15 PM / 11 years ago

Schoolgirl goes to court over bangle ban

LONDON (Reuters) - A Sikh girl went to court on Tuesday over her exclusion from a school in Wales for wearing a bangle she says is essential to her faith.

Sarika Singh, 14, said it was discriminatory to exclude her from lessons for wearing the kara, a plain steel bracelet worn around the wrist by many Sikhs.

Through her lawyer she asked High Court judge Stephen Silber to quash the decision of governors at Aberdare Girls’ High School to refuse her an exemption.

The school’s jewellery rules permit pupils to wear only one pair of plain earstuds and a wristwatch.

Singh’s counsel, Helen Mountfield, opening the case, said the school rules broke race and equality laws and breached the girl’s human rights.

“At the heart of this case is a vital question about the extent of the protection to be afforded to the rights to cultural expression of members of minority ethnic or religious groups in the school setting, and possibly beyond,” Mountfield said.

Singh attended the school between September 2005 and February 2008. In April 2007, a teacher noticed her bangle, and asked her to remove it.

Singh refused and asked for an exemption, saying that wearing the kara on her right wrist was central to her ethnic identity and religious observance.

While the school considered her application, she was allowed to attend the school wearing the kara, but was taught in isolation and kept segregated from her friends.

In October last year, the school finally refused to grant her an exemption. She was then given a series of fixed-term exclusions, and ultimately was admitted to a different school, Mountain Ash, where she is allowed to wear the kara.

Singh says her education was disrupted by the process.

The school maintains that its uniform policy is lawful and it has complied with its race obligations.

The hearing is scheduled to last three days.

By Avril Ormsby; Editing by Tim Castle

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