Malaysian authorities said on Thursday that they had found “no element of malice” after probing allegations by a Sikh teen that his hair was cut while he was asleep at a National Service training camp.
The incident is a grave insult to the minority community in Muslim-majority Malaysia, as Sikhism requires male followers to keep their hair uncut. Although not likely to cause any major tensions, it has recast a shadow on the National Service, a military-style training for randomly selected high school graduates aimed at instilling patriotism and racial unity but which is often accused of bullying.
Basant Singh, 17, claimed his hair that he had grown since childhood was cut by about 20 inches (50 centimeters) over the weekend while he was asleep at a training camp in northern Penang state. He has since gone on leave until January 23 though his parents are reportedly hesitant to send him back to the three-month programme.
National Service Department director general Abdul Hadi Awang Kechil said in a statement that the department had interviewed 16 witnesses, including camp trainees, trainers and other staff.
“Based on what the witnesses said and evidence obtained, the probe committee concluded that there was no element of malice, involving neither trainees nor trainers,” he said. The statement did not elaborate.
He told The Associated Press that the department had asked police to also investigate the incident, but declined to comment further.
Harcharan Singh, president of the Malaysian Gurdwaras Council that represents Sikhs, said he hoped the Defence Ministry and police would conduct a thorough probe to set a clear sign that such an incident was not taken lightly. He said that he had advised the Sikh community, numbering some 150,000 people, to remain calm.
“The cutting of the hair is definitely very serious. It’s one of the elements of the Sikh religion to grow the hair,” he told the AP. “We want to find out who did it and what was the intention of the person.”
Malaysia has long been upheld as a generally peaceful multi-religious and multiracial country though spats between different groups are common. Some 60 percent of Malaysia’s 28 million people are Muslim ethnic Malays, while ethnic Chinese make up 25 percent and ethnic Indians account for 8 percent.
The National Service programme was set up in 2004 to foster discipline, patriotism and racial integration. But some parents and opposition parties have called for it to be scrapped following the deaths of a total of 16 people.
Half the deaths have been linked to health issues, such as illnesses, infections or seizures, and the others to accidents, such as drowning or fighting.