'Colonel Kalsi' is a documentary film about an American Sikh army officer's struggle to serve his country with honor and dignity.
Kamaljeet Kalsi always wanted to serve in the US army. His father had served in the Indian air force, and his grandfather in the British Army. As a son of an immigrant, he wanted to continue his family's tradition. He was willing to die for his adopted country. The one thing he was not willing to do, though, was to give up his religious identity.
Kamaljeet was born a Sikh and grew up immersed in the traditions and tenets of his faith. Sikhs wear a turban and a beard and adorn a strict religious uniform. Unshorn hair is a mark of their deep-rooted identity. "It is not just a baseball cap that you can just take off and put on at any time,” he explains. “It is a part of my soul”.
When Kamaljeet joined the Army, he was pursuing a career in medicine. While in training, the Army had no issue with him holding on to his religious identity or attire. But when the time came for him to deploy to Afghanistan, they reneged on their promise. They said he would have to cut his hair and shave his beard, as it would interfere with the mission and "esprit de corps” (spirit/cohesion of the unit), a reason that was often given to keep blacks, gays, women and others out of the forces.
The United States Armed forces desegregated in 1946 by order of then-president Harry Truman. It was a deeply unpopular decision, but it opened the doors to all and made any discrimination based on “race, color, religion or national origin” unlawful. Although the forces were desegregated by executive order, they were not welcoming to all -until recently. Kamaljeet decided to sue the US Army to obtain his religious accommodation, his constitutional right.