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Community Voice

17 MAY 2004

3rd Jayth Samvat 536 Nanakshahi

RIGHT TO TURBAN CAMPAIGN (FRANCE) UPDATE

(See separate UNITED SIKHS News release on RIGHT TO TURBAN (Germany) issue. Click here to read)

PARIS, FRANCE – The French Prime Minister has given a conditional assurance to the Sikh community that French Sikh school children will not be banned from wearing their Turban in public schools, when the new school year begins in September. He said, however, that the Sikh Turban may only be worn in public schools if it does not result in conflicts within the school establishment.

“The objective of the law is only to prohibit signs, which, by expressing a religious membership openly, could result in conflicts within the school establishment.” Michel Boyon, the Cabinet Director of the French Prime Minister writing on behalf of the Prime Minister said in a letter to the Gurdwara Singh Sabha France.

“Today young Sikhs are perfectly integrated in public schools, which respects their beliefs, and where they are very successful. Be assured that all will be done to ensure that they (Sikh school children) continue, within the framework of the new law, to benefit from the same conditions as before to practice their traditions in dignity,” he said in the letter dated 10 May.

Karmvir Singh and Kudrat Singh, UNITED SIKHS Members in Paris said that they were cautiously optimistic about Mr Boyon’s letter.

“We do not understand how in the framework of the new law young French Sikhs could continue to go to school in the same conditions and keep their traditions alive”, said Karmvir Singh.

In a straw poll survey by Karmvir Singh, the French Sikh community expressed a mixed reaction to Mr Boyon’s letter. Some were optimistic others said the letter did not give a clear indication of the position on the Turban.

“We welcome the assurance given by the Prime Minister. However, we are concerned that the school establishment will have the discretion to prevent a Sikh child from wearing his Turban, in anticipation of a conflict,” Karmvir Singh said.

“Further, the law appears to be subjective and could be applied unfairly and inconsistently. A child may be prevented from wearing a Turban when circumstances outside his control may result in a conflict situation,” he added.

“For example, a Turban wearing Sikh child may be teased or bullied about his Turban by another child in a school. This has happened since Sept 11, where Turban wearing Sikhs have been called Bin Laden or Taliban. This may result in a conflict and the principal of the school may then apply his discretion to prevent the Sikh child from wearing the Turban,” he said.

“Will this child be allowed to wear his Turban if he seeks a transfer to another school? The fear is that the principal of the second school may be influenced by the incident in the first school and apply his discretion against this child on grounds that a conflict may arise. We also fear that the influential secularist lobby may operate in the schools,” Kudrat Singh said.

Mejindarpal Kaur, Director of UNITED SIKHS said that this assurance given by the Prime Minister is of limited value as it is persuasive but not legally binding.

“This assurance should have been given in the text of the law which was passed on 15 March. This assurance has not even appeared in the implementation circular which will be tabled by the education minister on 17 May,” she added.

UNITED SIKHS will be seeking a meeting with the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Director to ask if the Implementation circular could be amended to specifically include the Prime Minister’s assurance.

“We would also like an assurance that a Turban wearing Sikh child will not be penalised if a conflict arises through no fault of the child,” Karmvir Singh said.

“If the law is not repealed when it is up for review next year, we would like the Government to include the Prime Minister’s assurance in the Law,” Karmvir Singh said.

The Sikh community all over the world has been vociferous in its support for the French Sikhs’ right to wear the Turban. This has helped the small Sikh community in France to be heard.

UNITED SIKHS led a global Right To Turban petition campaign soon after the French president announced the proposal for the law in December 2003.

The petition was delivered, by UNITED SIKHS representatives, to the French government during meetings with the French Education Minister, Religious councillor in the Foreign Affairs Minister and French ambassadors around the world.

For more information on the Right to Turban campaign, please link to:http://www.unitedsikhs.org/us-eu/petitions/RightToTurban.htm


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