Page last updated at 13:45 GMT, Tuesday, 17 June 2008 14:45 UK

'Bangle' girl case heard in court

Sarika Singh
Sarika Singh was excluded from Aberdare Girls' School in November

A bangle at the centre of a row between a Sikh girl and her school is not jewellery but a religious symbol, a High Court judge has heard.

Sarika Watkins-Singh was banned from classes at Aberdare Girls' School in south Wales as she would not remove the bangle, which is a symbol of her faith.

The 14-year-old claims unlawful discrimination.

But the school says pupils are banned from wearing most jewellery. The hearing in London continues.

The hearing is looking into whether the decision of the school is justified.

The first day of the hearing heard the simple steel bangle is also worn by England cricketer Monty Panesar.

Lawyers for the schoolgirl, who was excluded from Aberdare Girls' School last November for not removing the bangle, said the item - known as a Kara - means as much to Sarika as it does to the spin bowler.

They said it is one of the symbols of their Sikh faith and not a piece of jewellery.

Mr Justice Silber said he would like to see one of the bangles at some point during the hearing, which is scheduled for three days.

Monty Panesar
Monty Panesar also wears the bangle, which is a symbol of his Sikh faith

In the meantime, Sarika's counsel, Helen Mountfield, referred the judge to a photograph of Panesar wearing the Kara.

Before her exclusion from school, Sarika had been taught in isolation for two months.

The school, at which Sarika was the only Sikh pupil among 600 girls, does not permit jewellery other than wristwatches and plain ear studs.

In February, Sarika enrolled at Mountain Ash Comprehensive School, which allows her to wear the Kara, pending the outcome of her court challenge.

Her mother, Sinita, 38, has said that, although Mountain Ash is a good school, her daughter's education suffered as a result of the move and the stress involved in the run-up to her GCSEs.

Human rights laws

Last Friday, the family travelled to 10 Downing Street to hand in a petition calling on Prime Minister Gordon Brown to intervene in the matter "to show discrimination is totally unacceptable".

The petition gained the backing of 150 Gurdwaras - the main Sikh religious institutions - and over 200 Sikh organisations and 70 non-Sikh organisations.

More than 100 MPs have also offered support.

Human rights group Liberty, which is supporting Sarika's case, claims Aberdare Girls' School breached race, equality and human rights laws by not allowing Sarika to wear the Kara.

The governors of the school rejected her request to wear the bangle after a "significant period of research" examining the uniform policy and human rights legislation in detail.

In January, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council told the school's governors it would no longer give them any more support or financial assistance and confirmed this was continuing for the court case.

In the same month, the Welsh Assembly Government published new guidelines for school governors, saying they should take account of religious views and consider whether uniform policy interfered with the right to manifest a religion or belief.


SEE ALSO
Senedd protest for 'bangle' girl
15 Jan 08 |  South East Wales
School fights bangle case 'alone'
24 Jan 08 |  South East Wales
'Bangle' girl case goes to court
23 Jan 08 |  South East Wales
'Bangle' pupil is excluded again
13 Nov 07 |  South East Wales
Legal challenge for 'bangle' girl
04 Jan 08 |  South East Wales

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