|French Consul General (Atlanta) Rene-Serge Marty says, “You are not you, if you don’t have the Turban. I feel pity that the Stasi commission did not consider or consult Sikhs while proposing the law.”|
FEBRUARY 16, 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.”
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.
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February 13th, 2004
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Sikh Study Circle Inc. Atlanta, GA
Sikh Education and Welfare Association, Atlanta GA