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This Press Release may be read online at: http://www.unitedsikhs.org/PressReleases/PRSRLS-25-01-2008-00.html

Press Release: 25th Jan 2008,  13th Magh (Samvat 540 Nanakshahi)

Sikhs Seek Assurance from Indian PM that he would Raise Turban Issue with French President

Sikhs Will Persist to Keep The French Turban Ban Issue Alive Until it is Resolved

New Delhi, 25th January 2008 –UNITED SIKHS, a United Nations affiliated international advocacy NGO and other Sikh organizations request the Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to publicly state if he will discuss the Sikh Turban issue in France with French President Nicholas Sarkozy during the latter’s visit to India, which starts today.

In the last week, UNITED SIKHS and Sikhs organizations globally have requested a meeting with Dr. Manmohan Singh to request that he raise the French ban on the Sikh Turban issue with Mr Sarkozy. We have also written to the Chairperson of the UPA, Sonia Gandhi and the Indian External Affairs Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, seeking an assurance that the issue will be on the top of Dr. Manmohan Singh’s agenda with Mr Sarkozy.

“No Sikh organization has been granted a meeting with Dr. Manmohan Singh or the External Affairs Minister, but we will persist in our request for a meeting so that we are able to effectively apprise him of the issues,” said Mejindarpal Kaur, UNITED SIKHS director who is leading the legal challenge to the French ban on the Sikh Turban in schools and on ID document photos.

“We are concerned that the details of the problems faced by French Sikhs and the legal arguments that have been presented in the French and in the International courts are not known to Dr. Manmohan Singh,” she told a press conference at the Meridien Hotel in Delhi today.

“We understand that Dr. Manmohan Singh may be preoccupied presently, but we hope that he will grant us a meeting by next week,” said Daljeet Singh, chairman of the Dharam Parchar Committee of DSGMC.

“Dr. Manmohan Singh, a Turban-wearing Sikh, cannot turn a blind eye to the injustice suffered by Sikhs in France, who have not been allowed to practice their faith freely, since a law was passed in 2004 that banned the wearing of the Sikh Turban in schools.

Since the law, France has also not issued passports, driving licence and residence cards to Sikhs who refuse to remove their turban for their ID photos,” said Gurdial Singh, an Indian national living in France, who has traveled to New Delhi to campaign for the Sikh Turban ban to be lifted in France.

“Dr. Manmohan Singh, a Sikh who has never been seen without his Turban, is the best evidence France needs to be convinced that a Sikh is inseparable from his Turban,” said Manjeet Singh GK, president of Akali Dal (Panthik).

The French president has also been approached by UNITED SIKHS and other Sikhs organisations and individuals. On 16th January 2007, UNITED SIKHS director, Gurpreet Singh, and other members of a Sikh delegation presented a memorandum, addressed to Mr Sarkozy, to the French Ambassador in Delhi, Jerome Bonnafont. The ambassador informed the Sikh delegation that the French government takes a serious view of the concerns of the Sikhs and he will raise with Mr Sarkozy the issues raised in the memorandum.

The memorandum stated forcefully that the Sikh Turban is the most recognizable feature of a Sikh. Unlike other head coverings, it is an inextricable part of the Sikh identity and is worn by Sikhs at all times to cover their unshorn hair, a mandatory article of their faith. As a part of the core identity of a Sikh, this law essentially has the effect of banning the practice of the Sikh religion in France.

The meeting with the Ambassador was also attended by Paramjit Singh Sarna, President of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC), Anoop Singh of the International Sikh Confederation and the Sikh Samaj Sudhar Committee, Advocate HS Phoolka, and Manjeet Singh GK of the Akali Dal (Panthik).

This memorandum has also been sent by Sikh organizations and individuals to French embassies around the world. Amongst Sikh organisations that submitted a memorandum to French embassies worldwide are:
Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management (DSGMC), Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal), Shiromani Akali Dal (Panthik), Shiromani Akali Dal (Delhi), Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar), International Sikh Confederation, Sikh Samaj Sudhar Society, Dastaar Action Committee (France), Khalsa Action Committee, British Sikh Council UK, Sikh Forum Dharmik Ekta Mission, International Human Rights Organisation (IHRO).

To access slides, on French Sikh History and the sacrifices made by Turbaned Sikh soldiers during the World Wars, click http://www.unitedsikhs.org/rtt/pdf/French_Sikh_History_Presentation_Combined.pdf

To read a previous press release on the Right To Turban campaign please click http://www.unitedsikhs.org/PressReleases/PRSRLS-24-01-2008-00.htm

Issued by:

Jaspreet Singh
Staff Attorney
International Civil and Human Rights Advocacy (ICHRA)
Tel: 91 9999 481 785

Notes to Editors:

UNITED SIKHS is a UN affiliated international non-profit NGO that protects civil and human rights of minorities. We were founded in New York in 1999 and now have chapters all over the world. Our mission is to transform underprivileged and minority communities and individuals into informed and vibrant members of society. We have been in the forefront of a legal campaign on behalf of French Sikhs, since France passed a law in 2004 banning the wearing of a turban in schools and on identification documents.

Nicholas Sarkozy’s views on promoting religious diversity in a speech to the UN General Assembly on 25th September 2007:
“Attachment to one’s faith, to one’s language and culture, and to one’s way of life, thought and belief – all this is natural, legitimate and profoundly human…To deny that is to sow the seeds of humiliation. A clash of civilizations will not be averted by forcing everyone to think and believe alike; cultural and religious diversity must be accepted everywhere and by all.”

The French law that bans the Turban
“Art. L. 141-5-1. – In primary schools, schools and high schools, the wearing of a sign or dress by which the students reveal ostentatiously a religious affiliation, is forbidden.

About the Turban Ban in France:

As a result of the law passed by France banning the Turban in French schools in 2004, a Sikh Student is not allowed to wear a turban to school. Six French Sikh children have been expelled from schools. As a consequence of the law, French Sikhs have also not been able to renew their driving licence, passport or refugee card because they refuse to remove their turban for their ID photographs.

UNITED SIKHS, a UN affiliated international civil and human rights NGO has filed cases in French courts on behalf of the expelled French Sikh students and those who have not been allowed to wear a turban for their ID documents photographs.

UNITED SIKHS is in the process of filing cases against France in the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the European Court of Human Rights.

UNITED SIKHS has argued in the French courts that Frances’ ban is in violation of its treaty obligations under article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), on the right to manifest one’s religion. Enclosed are legal arguments in one of the cases to be filed with the UN Human Rights Committee shortly.

Further, UNITED SIKHS has argued in all courts that the Sikh Turban poses no identification risk as a Sikh is recognizable only because of his Turban and not without it. Further, the Turban does not interfere with identification in today’s age of biometric photos, as evidenced by the fact that French immigration does not prohibit a Sikh national from any other country who wears a turban on his passport photo.

The law banning religious signs in schools was passed to promote secularity. However, Sikhs are non-proselytistic; wearing the turban is an expression of a Sikh's identity and in no way threatens the secular space in French society.

In a recent speech on justice to the UN general assembly, President Sarkozy stated, “Attachment to one’s faith, to one’s language and culture, and to one’s way of life, thought and belief – all this is natural, legitimate and profoundly human.”

Despite numerous promises in the past by various French officials and President Sarkozy’s unambiguous statement, the policy in France has not changed towards Sikhs. Instead, France’s stance on this issue has, we believe, led other countries to follow suit by discriminating against turbaned Sikhs in airports and schools. It is our concern and belief that if this law is not repealed or acted against, it will lead to widespread abuses and discrimination against Sikhs and their right to practice their faith freely and openly worldwide.


Our Mission

To transform underprivileged and minority communities and individuals into informed and vibrant members of society through civic, educational and personal development programs, by fostering active participation in social and economic activity.

UNITED SIKHS is also an avenue for networking between like-minded organisations to establish and nurture meaningful projects and dialogues - whether social, cultural or political- to promote harmony, understanding and reciprocity in our villages, towns and cities.

UNITED SIKHS is a coalition of organisations and individuals, who share a common vision based on the belief that there is no greater endeavour than to serve, empower and uplift fellow beings. The core of our philosophy is an unwavering commitment to civic service and social progress on behalf of the common good.

Accordingly, UNITED SIKHS has sought to fulfil its mission not only by informing, educating and uplifting fellow beings but also by participating in cross-cultural and political exchanges to ensure that the promises and benefits of democracy are realized by all.

We at UNITED SIKHS believe that the development of enlightened and progressive societies can be made possible by socially conscious groups of people who make a commitment to develop and direct human potential. Our work, efforts and achievements stand as a testament to our faith in this vision.