First 'observant' Sikh woman graduates from US military academy

Anmol Narang has become the first “observant” Sikh to graduate from the US Military Academy at a ceremony presided over by President Donald Trump

Arul Louis Jun 14, 2020

Anmol Narang has become the first “observant” Sikh to graduate from the US Military Academy at a ceremony presided over by President Donald Trump.   Although Sikh men have graduated from West Point, the Sikh Coalition described her as “the first observant Sikh” to graduate from the revered institution.   This was because she was not required to compromise her faith as past Sikh graduates had been required to under the regulations since discarded. 

Narang was among about 1,100 cadets who graduated on Saturday at the premier Army institution's campus in West Point in New York State with the rank of 2nd lieutenant.

“I am showing other Sikh Americans that any career path is possible for anyone willing to rise to the challenge,” Narang said in a statement released through the Coalition. She did not have to cut her hair as women are exempt from the personal grooming regulations which forced her Sikh predecessors to violate the religious rules against cutting their hair and beard.

  “While 2nd Lt Narang required no accommodation for her articles of faith, her exemplary service to date underscores how diversity and pluralism remain core strengths of the US military and the country as a whole,” the Coalition said.   

 Sikh men have now received an exemption and there are currently at least two Sikh men studying at the academy who are allowed to keep their beard and hair uncut under new regulations.  

US Army Captain Simratpal Singh, a 2010 West Point graduate who had been required to cut his hair under the regulations at that time, said, “I am immensely proud of 2nd Lt Narang for seeing her goal through and, in doing so, breaking a barrier for any Sikh American who wishes to serve.”

“The broader acceptance of Sikh service members among all of the service branches, as well as in top tier leadership spaces like West Point, will continue to benefit not just the rights of religious minority individuals, but the strength and diversity of the US Military,” he added.

Singh won a court case challenging the Army ban on Sikhs keeping their hair and beard uncut leading to the change in rules.

Currently, only the Army and the Air Force have given across the board exemptions to Sikhs, while other services have not.

Several women of Indian descent have graduated from West Point, with at least one passing in the past three years and becoming Army officers. Smran Patil, who was born in Bengaluru graduated last year, Neha Valluri in 2018 and Sneha Singh in 2017. The academy began admitting women in 1976.

Narang's maternal grandfather’s career in the Indian Army gave her an interest in military service and she began her application process for West Point after her family visited Pearl Harbor National Memorial in Hawaii, where Japanese surprise air attack took place, the coalition said.

Admissions to the military academy are extremely tough. Besides fulfilling educational and physical requirements, a candidate will have to be nominated by a member of US Congress, the vice president or the president to be admitted to West Point.

(Arul Louis can be followed @arulouis)

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