UK Sikhs to protest French ban


UK Sikhs to protest French ban
RASHMEE Z AHMED

TIMES NEWS NETWORK[ SATURDAY, JANUARY 17, 2004 02:29:38 AM ]

LONDON : Hundreds of British Sikhs will take to the streets of the British capital on Saturday, alongside Muslims and Jews, in Europe ’s first inter-faith public campaign against a controversial French law.


The law, which will be put to the French Parliament next month and take effect later this year, makes it illegal to wear Sikh turbans, Muslim hijabs or Jewish yarmulkes to school. Outsize crucifixes are a nono as well.

The Sikhs, just 7,000 and counting in France , are the smallest minority affected by the proposed ban, but their Europe-wide campaign has been the loudest.

Many say it points to a growing assertiveness within a largely peaceful, prosperous and increasingly politically conscious community, which inaugurated Europe’s very own Golden Temple in the heart of west London just last year.

Till recently, rally organiser Mejinderpal Kaur told TNN, France did not seem even to know it had Sikhs living there.

Hectic political lobbying across Europe is being spearheaded by the Sikh Federation (UK), Britain ’s first Sikh political party, which openly espouses Khalistani sentiments.

Saturday’s rally is to be addressed by the party’s Dabinderjit Singh. Kaur, a barrister whose UNITED SIKHS organisation is meeting the French ambassadors in London and Washington on Monday, says the inter-faith campaign has a deeply moving background.

Turbaned Sikh soldiers fought for French freedom during WWI, serving in 13 Cavalry and eight infantry regiments. But, just 90 years later, French Sikhs are fighting for the freedom to wear the turban.

The British street protest is held just two weeks before French Sikhs hold a parallel rally in Paris . Just last week, nearly 30 British MPs put their names to a parliamentary motion supporting Sikh outrage at being asked to take the turban off "just like a hat", in order to fit in with French secularist principles.

Stark black-and-white posters and trendy T-shirts have been printed to commemorate the Sikh legacy to the saddest military roll-call in 20th century European history: Ypres , La Bassie, Neuve, Chapelle, Festubert, Loos, Givenchy and Somme , all WWI battles in which Sikhs fought and fell.