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Press Release: 16 February 2004, 5th Phalgun, 535 Nanakshahi
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - A delegation of concerned Sikhs met with Consul General of France Rene-Serge Marty on February 13th to express their concern on the proposed ban of articles of faith in France. Lead by Kuldip Singh, Director of UNITED SIKHS, the delegation emphasized the dismay of Sikhs in France that none of them were consulted before the commission led by Bernard Stasi and the subsequent proposal of the law.
The delegation argued that children wearing clothes of religious significance cannot possibly pose a threat to freedom. Rather, they argue, this would endanger the freedom of consciousness and religious express. “The law has created an environment of anti-religion mentality rather than religion-neutral,” said Singh. “It contravenes European Union Laws on race equality.”
Livtar Kaur Khalsa of the Sikhs Education and Welfare Association showed pictures to the Consul General, of her three children wearing turbans, commenting, “as sun goes up their hair goes up. They look at mirror each day and the turban reminds them of the Guru’s call for being a Sikh.”
The turban and unshorn hair are mandatory and inseparable elements of the physical body of a Sikh: this was the message echoed by the delegates. “Sikhs learn to wear their turban from childhood. It is an integral part of Sikh heritage,” Gulbarg Singh Basi from Sikh Study Circle said. “Sikhs have fought for justice,” he added, “ and the Turban makes this clear. It is important to educate people to become responsible citizens rather than to ban peoples’ freedom of religious expression.”
Above: Rene-Serge Marty (third from left) meets with the delegation of Sikhs
Raminder Singh of UNITED SIKHS reflected on the legacy of the 9th Sikh Guru, who sacrificed his life for “self righteousness” and “made a clear message to the world that the right to freedom of religious expression should be protected.” The delegation further commented that Sikhs have no problem wearing the Turban in the USA and many other countries throughout the world Preetinder Singh Narang of Sikh Education and Welfare Association translated the main points of delegation’s concerns in French to the Consul General, also noting, “Sikhs with their Turbans have left a lasting legacy in every part of the world. People admire there bravery, and commitment towards justice.”
Consul General Rene-Serge Marty thanked the delegation for their educational visit, which included a slideshow presentation. He asserted his acceptance of the delegation’s positive views and further stated that he understands (pointing at the delegation), “you are not you, if you don’t have the Turban.” Expressing his newfound understanding of the problems of the law for the Sikh community, he added, “I feel pity that the Stasi commission did not consider or consult Sikhs while proposing the law.”
Marty gave a background explanation, defending the proposed law, citing the problems between interfaith communities. He commented that in state-sponsored schools where children from diverse backgrounds study, conflicts arose between teenagers of different religious backgrounds. However, Marty also added that he wishes to approach the issue from any other more sensible approach, so as to not limit the freedom of religious expression, as he asserts the original laws were created with good intentions and the French government is not racist. Marty promised to read and take into consideration the memorandum and other information provided by the delegation.
- END -
February 13th, 2004
To: Rene-Serge Marty
From: Kuldip Singh
Director UNITED SIKHS
On behalf of 500,000 Sikhs in United States, I am leading a delegation to French Consulate in Atlanta, GA to support Sikhs in France. The delegation comprises members from
1. Sikh Study Circle Inc. Atlanta – Gulbarg Singh Basi and Dr. Inderpaul Singh
2. Sikh Education and Welfare Association, Atlanta – Preetinder Singh Narang and Livtar Kaur Khalsa.
3. UNITED SIKHS – Raminder Singh Bindra, Nimrata Kaur Arora and myself
We are here to discuss with you the importance of the Sikh Turban and to appeal to your government to reverse its decision to pass a law to ban all "religious symbols" in public schools.
To support our discussion we have brought 500 signatures, particularly from Atlanta, GA, Michigan and 9,000 global online signatures for a petition titled "Right To Turban", which was started by UNITED SIKHS last December. The comments on the online petition carry a single message : that the Sikh Turban is a non-negotiable article of Faith and Identity for the Sikhs.
The Sikh Turban:
In December 2003, President Jacques Chirac endorsed a proposal, recommended by the Stasi commission, to prohibit schoolchildren from wearing religious symbols and clothing in French public schools. President Chirac made reference to the banning of the Muslim Hijab, Jewish Kippah and large Christian Crosses. The proposed Law that was tabled in the French parliament got passed on 10th Feb. 2004 to upper house.
Will the proposed ban prevent a Sikh from wearing a Turban, which is an integral part of a Sikh way of life and not a symbol, at public schools and the workplace?
We submit that to ask a Sikh to remove his/her Turban would be asking him/her to perform an impossible act, for the reasons outlined below.
A Sikh is inseparable from his or her Turban, which has been worn for centuries to cover his/her unshorn hair. The Sikh faith promotes a follower's devotion to God. To a Sikh his/her unshorn hair and turban are mandatory but not every Turban wearing person is a Sikh. Unshorn hair, and by extension the Turban, is not a symbol or an article of clothing as it does not symbolize: it is part of his/her being a Sikh.
The Sikh Turban is an outward commitment of the mission given to all Sikhs to fight for truth, stand up against tyranny, and protect the weak – and by so doing to uphold "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity".
The Sikh Faith:
The Sikh faith is monotheistic and propounds a life encompassing three virtues – earning an honest living, sharing what you earn, and worshipping the Supreme Creator. Today, the Sikh faith is the fifth largest faith group in the world and its people number 25 million around the world. I hereby present to Your Excellency a CD with a slide show titled "Introduction To Sikhism" produced by UNITED SIKHS.
Past and Present:
Despite the fact that there are over 10,000 Sikhs residing in France, the Stasi commission failed to consult or take into account the consequences this proposal poses to the French-Sikh population. Therefore, the Sikh community in France was unable to put its case for wearing the Turban to the commission.
Historically, Sikhs have gallantly fought against oppression while wearing their Turbans. The Sikhs have a long and glorious relationship with France that dates back to the 19th century when military officers from Napoleon’s armies assisted Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Panjab in modernizing the Sikh army. Later, hundreds of thousands of Sikh soldiers fearlessly fought for French freedom during both World Wars, laying down their lives for the noble values that epitomize France’s principles of "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity".
While wearing the Turban, Sikh soldiers fought for the Allied Forces, including the United States, England and France, in World War I and II. More than 100,000 Sikhs died to protect the honor and integrity of people of all faiths. It is not only sad but ironical and extremely painful that the community which fought for the freedom of France wearing their Turbans, now has to fight for the freedom to wear the Turban in France. I hereby present to Your Excellency a CD with a slide show titled Sikhs in French History, produced by UNITED SIKHS.
Sikhs in France:
The Sikh community of France embraces the strong values of French culture and history. Their history resonates with the right to defend "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity". For Sikhs, their commitment to their faith is the very basis for loyalty towards a just nation/republic. There is no conflict of affairs between the two entities, faith and nation, which is prevalent as in the role played by the Sikhs in history especially in World War I and II. In fact, Sikhs have successfully integrated into French society and have adopted French culture as their own. The Sikhs consider France as their homeland and, if called upon, are ready to repeat their sacrifices for France. A Power-point presentation entitled "Sikhs in French History" is enclosed for your information.
Furthermore, the ban on the Turban will affect Sikhs from other parts of the world, especially the European Community, who may wish to participate in student exchange or learning programs.
We submit that by allowing the non-Sikhs French community to become familiar with the Turban at schools, integration will be promoted.
The Sikh community strongly feels that by not consulting the Sikh French population, the Stasi commission has failed to take into account the Sikhs and the deep significance of the Sikh Turban.
We are confident that had the Stasi commission investigated the case for the Sikh Turban, it would have come to the conclusion that the Sikh Turban is not a symbol or clothing which compromises the French ideal of secularity.
International Laws, Treaties and Resolutions:
We submit that if the proposed ban on religious dress includes the ban on wearing the Sikh Turban, it would be a violation of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights - the right to manifest one’s religion.
In our opinion, the secular nature of the French state can be secured by preventing the state itself from imposing or endorsing any religion. The proposed ban goes further and forces an individual to violate his or her own conscience. It seems to rest on a largely symbolic rationale, as a signal of the kind of society that France is. But it is precisely such symbolic statements that cannot be imposed on an individual by the state under the European Convention.
Although the issue is primarily one that falls under Article 9, also of potential relevance are Article 8 (respect for private life, which includes dress); Article 10 (freedom of expression, which includes symbolic speech); and Article 14 (freedom from discrimination in the enjoyment of other Convention rights).
France as a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is committed to encourage and respects human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the Right to Religion.
We also wish to highlight the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action, adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights (June, 1993), of which France was a signatory, which called for the comprehensive elimination of all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
Further, France is a signatory to the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR).
Under para 67 of the WCAR report, France jointly declared: ‘We recognize that members of certain groups with a distinct cultural identity face barriers arising from a complex interplay of ethnic, religious and other factors, as well as their traditions and customs, and call upon States to ensure that measures, policies and programmes aimed at eradicating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance address the barriers that this interplay of factors creates’
In order to seek an amicable solution, we would like to make the following proposals:
- Forward the representations in this Memorandum to the French President His Excellency Jacques Chirac, highlighting the concerns of the French-Sikh community to carefully review the position of the French Sikh Turban in his proposed legislation to promote secularity in public schools.
- Indicate the unique predicament of the Sikh community on how the Sikh Turban is a requirement of his faith and not simply an item of symbolism.
- Request your assistance to secure an audience with French President Jacques Chirac, Education Minister and Interior Minister to explain the case of the French-Sikh community and how their basic human rights to Freedom of expression and the Right to Education are being denied if France pushes this legislation further.
In conclusion, we thank you for taking the time to meet with us and to listen to our concerns. We wish for a positive resolution, fair to all affected faith groups and communities, in keeping with the French commitment to "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity".
As a world leader, France has shown leadership in upholding the rights of unheard voices. Implementing the proposed ban on religious expression would be a regressive step and it would be detrimental to its own citizens.
Sikh Study Circle Inc. Atlanta, GA
Sikh Education and Welfare Association, Atlanta GA
For detailson the Right TO Turban campaign, please link to:http://www.unitedsikhs.org/us-eu/petitions/RightToTurban.htm
Tel: 0091 981 540 260
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