Sikhs want Indian PM to press Sarkozy to lift ban on turban
25 Jan 2008

* France banned turbans in 2004 under country's secularity law

NEW DELHI: Indian Sikh organisations on Friday urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to take up the issue of a ban on wearing turbans in French state schools with visiting French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Sikh activists said they would take their fight to the European Court of Human Rights if France did not lift the ban.

The Sikh religion forbids men from cutting their hair, which is kept neat by wearing a turban.

“We have high hopes from Dr Manmohan since he is a Sikh himself,” Sikh religious leader Manjeet Singh told a news conference in New Delhi, where Sarkozy met premier Singh earlier on Friday.

“[Manmohan] will be wearing his turban when he meets the French president. It is the best evidence of how important a turban is to a Sikh,” the activist said.

Sarkozy will be the chief guest at India's 59th Republic Day celebrations on Saturday, after which he will visit the Taj Mahal.

Earlier this month, a Sikh delegation presented an appeal to Sarkozy through the French ambassador in India, the activists said.

French ban: France has an estimated 10,000 Sikhs, and hundreds of school boys are affected because of the ban, which came into effect in 2004 under the country's secularity law.

“Conspicuous” religious attire such as Muslim headscarves and Sikh turbans in state schools are banned under the law.

Six boys were expelled for refusing to remove their turbans, and French courts are hearing their case as well as of those who were not allowed to wear a turban for their identity document photographs.

“We will go to the European Court of Human Rights against the ban in the next two months,” said Mejindarpal Kaur, who heads the non-profit United Sikhs organisation. “It is a question of the dignity of every Sikh,” she said.

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