French Sikhs Urge Vajpayee To Intervene In Turban Ban

http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/181_515158,00050003.htm

Sikhs living in France have appealed to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh to intercede with the French government on its decision to ban display of religious symbols in public places, especially schools.

French Education Minister Luc Ferry has been instructed to introduce a bill in the French parliament that will pave the way for a strict law banning display of religious symbols in schools.

Under the proposed law, Muslim girls will not be able to wear headscarves or veils in school while the Jews will be prohibited from wearing their kippa.

While the Muslim population of France has been the focus of the controversy, the Sikhs say that they will be hit even harder than other religious minorities by the ban. Sikh students are already facing problems in wearing patkas, or turban, in school.

Sikh community leaders in France fear that with the new law, school administrations will become more hawkish and may even try to force their children to cut their hair or shave their beard.

The trouble for the Sikhs does not end with schools. In fact, they are forced to take their turbans off for any photographs for getting any 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 Kashmir Singh, a Sikh who has been living 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.

"We appeal to Prime Minister Vajpayee and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh to use their good offices with the French government to ensure that the Sikhs are not impacted by the new law which threatens to lead to a total extermination of Sikhism within France," says Chain Singh, leader of the Sikh community in Paris.

The Sikhs are now preparing to drum up support for their cause by launching a high profile campaign for their rights in France.

"We plan to join hands in a big demonstration against the new law that will be held in Paris on January 17. We will also hold our own demonstrations, later, where we will invite leading Sikh personalities from all over the world and go to the French media about how unfair and harsh the new law will mean for the Sikhs," Chain Singh told IANS.

The Sikh leaders say they will not give up the fight easily and will carry the battle into the European Court of Human Rights, if the French government goes ahead with the draconian act.