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August 05, 2004
21 SAWAN, 535 Nanakshahi
Indo-Asian News Service
Paris, August 3
Sikhs in France have sought an urgent meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over their dispute with the French government over allowing children to wear turbans in public schools.
The managing committee of the Gurdwara Singh Sabha Paris has despatched a letter to the prime minister, urging his rapid intervention in the matter in order to ensure that Sikhs can continue to live honourably in France.
In the letter, the community leaders have congratulated Manmohan Singh on becoming the first Sikh to occupy the highest job in India and expressed hope that being a Sikh himself, he would be able to feel the problems that the community has been having about wearing turbans here in France.
"Since he himself wears a turban, he knows and understands how crucial it is for a Sikh to have his turban," say the members of the managing committee of the Gurdwara.
And as schools in France are about to reopen in about three weeks, time is running short for the Sikh community.
The new law will come into effect from the new term that begins in September and Sikh leaders in Paris say that they will feel much easier and comfortable once the French government clarifies the issue once and for all.
"We just hope that the officials are not simply trying to buy some more time rather than look for a real solution that will allow Sikh children to keep their faith and also get educated here," says a member of the managing committee.
The trouble for Sikhs does not end with the schools. In fact, they are forced to take their turbans off for any photographs for getting official French documents like the identity card or driving licence.
"We are already facing a huge challenge in terms of getting the French administration to accept our photographs with the turbans. The new law can lead to a situation that will be extremely dangerous for the Sikh religion in France," says a Sikh who has been living here in France for the last 15 years.
"I came to France at the height of the Punjab problem, thinking that I had come to the land of democracy, freedom and equality. But now I find that these kinds of laws are taking even the simplest of freedoms away from us. This is totally unacceptable," he adds.
The community has already held demonstrations and several media conferences to highlight the issue and the importance of a turban for a Sikh.
However, despite very sympathetic noises, nothing concrete has yet been achieved, the Sikh leaders say.
So now they want to turn to the Indian government to help them overcome this problem.
The Sikhs say they would like to send a delegation from Paris to New Delhi to brief the prime minister about the plight of the community in France and that they are optimistic he will act to protect the interests of the community.
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