By Mallory Simon
Although their paths began at different times and traveled different courses, Amric Singh Rathour, 28, of Ozone Park and Jasjit Singh Jaggi, 36, of Richmond Hill ultimately began their uphill battle against the city after they were told they would be forced to comply with the dress code, which did not allow for turbans or untrimmed beards.Jaggi, who moved to Vermont after leaving his job, was set to return to work July 29, but will be reinstated when he returns to New York. Rathour is awaiting contact from the NYPD for his scheduled return to work.Jaggi left his job in 2002 and Rathour was dismissed by the NYPD the same year because both refused to compromise their religious beliefs. The Sikh religion requires that men leave their beards unshaven and wear a turban.Rathour said he tried to reconcile with the NYPD and filed a reasonable request form with the NYPD Equal Employment Office asking that his turban and beard be accepted as a part of his uniform, but his petition was denied. “For Sikhs a turban is not a matter of choice,” said Pritin Singh Bindra, an adviser to Jaggi. “It's a proud devotion to our religion.”With nowhere else to turn, Rathour said he had no choice but to file a suit in federal court against the city in March charging that the NYPD had violated his civil rights. Rathour was dismissed two months after being sworn in and Jaggi, the valedictorian of his Police Academy class, left 10 days before he would have been a fully certified officer.”It wasn't even about the actual job anymore. It was about not being allowed to do my job,” Rathour said. “It makes you feel like you don't belong in a city that's supposed to welcome everyone.”The city Human Rights Commission ruled in Jaggi's favor in June after Administrative Law Judge Donna Merris found in April that the NYPD had violated Jaggi's civil rights when it threatened to fire him if he did not remove his turban.The NYPD had one month to file an appeal to the decision but has since decided to reinstate both Jaggi and Rathour instead. The commission ruled on June 29, and the city decided to reinstate Rathour under the same principle. Eamonn Foley, assistant corporation council for the city, said the NYPD has scheduled Jaggi to return to work this week.”Upon reinstatement, discussions regarding a reasonable accommodation of (Jaggi's) request will occur,” Foley said. “With respect to Amric Rathour … an agreement has been reached in principle to resolve his lawsuit, as well.”Whether a member of the police force should be allowed to wear religious garments has been an issue brought to the forefront by many different religions.In 1990 Baltej Singh Dhillon, a Sikh member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, challenged the police force and won the right to wear his turban and beard as a part of his uniform.In 1999 two Sunni Muslim police officers won a suit against the city of Newark to keep their beards, a case that eventually was taken to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court upheld a decision that a ban on beards would violate the officers' freedom of religion.And so on the same grounds, the two Queens men mounted their defense and won their place in the NYPD force, but not without the help of their community.The Sikh community, led by the Sikh Coalition, a collaboration of 50 Sikh organizations based in Richmond Hill, rallied behind both men. An online petition directed to Mayor Michael Bloomberg collected more than 9,000 signatures in support of the Sikh men.”I think we've made public officials and people know we will ask for and demand our rights and demand the same equal playing field,” Amardeep Singh, legal director for the Sikh Coalition, said.For Rathour and his wife, the good news only begins here. After learning they would be having a child, Rathour rejoiced, hoping his children would never endure the pain he has gone through during the past two years.”If they denied me, I can't even imagine what hardships my children would have to go through,” he said. “Thankfully, this should serve as a stepping stone for us Sikhs.” Singh said he hopes this marks one of the main developments in equality the Sikh community will continue to see.”It gives us an opportunity to be served and be of service,” he said, and “not only to be protected by police but to protect alongside them as well.”While Rathour said the process has been emotionally draining, he could not be happier with the result.”This has given me hope that things can get better. It's like a boulder being lifted off of my shoulders,” Rathour said. “Now we can say we have a place in this beautiful country and city. It's a great day for all Sikhs everywhere.”Reach editorial intern Mallory Simon by e-mail at email@example.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.