PRESS RELEASE

03 January 2004

The chairman of the National Minority Commission in India, Tirlochan Singh, has requested the French government to reconsider its decision to ban Sikhs in France from wearing a turban in public schools and the work place.

“I met the French ambassador in Delhi recently and made repesentations that the Sikh identity should not in any way be hampered as it is the right of every Sikh to wear a turban,” Mr Tirlochan Singh told UNITED SIKHS in a telephone interview from London.

He said that he has also written to the Indian government to intervene at a governmental level.

“All efforts will be made to assist the Sikhs in France exercise their right to practise their faith,” he added.

Delhi-based human rights lawyer HS Phoolka said that he will be seeking a meeting with the French ambassador on behalf of UNITED SIKHS, a non-governmental, human developmental organisation working for the betterment of 25 million Sikhs globally.

“For Sikhs the Turban is not optional but mandatory, and as such enforcement of the legislation would amount to asking Sikhs to give up their religion and way of life,” said Mr Phoolka, who has worked tirelessly for justice for Sikhs in the aftermath of the Delhi carnage in 1984, when 7,000 sikhs were killed in revenge attacks following the death of the former Indian premier Indira Gandhi.

“I am of the view that the manner in which this legislation is sought to be enacted would not further the object of secularism, rather this would cause a serious damage to the basic principles of secularism by discriminating a particular community and forcing them to give up their faith, culture, ethnicity and religion,” he added.

Sikhs all over the world will be joining a campaign at Sikh Gurdwaras all over the world on Jan 5 and jan 11th to get support for a global petition launched by UNITED SIKHS calling on the French people, President Jacques Chirac and the French parliament not to ban the Turban and other articles of faith, religion and ethnic identity at public schools and the workplace.

Fortuitously, on those dates Sikhs will be celebrating the birth anniversary of the 10th Sikh master, Guru Gobind Singh, who made unshorn hair and a turban to cover it, a requirement of the Sikh faith.

UNITED SIKHS is confident that the petition will also have the support of leaders of all faiths, religions and ethnic identities.

On 17 Jan French Sikhs will be joining thousands of people from all faiths in a rally in Paris against the proposed legislation. French Sikhs have issue an open invitation to Sikhs all over the world to join them in the rally and to sign the petition which will be presented to the French President and Parliament shortly.

UNITED SIKHS launched the global petition last week in response to president Chirac’s announcement on Dec 17 that he will call on the French parliament to pass legislation which will ban the wearing of articles of faith, Religion and Ethnic Identity in public schools and regulate their wearing at the workplace.

The proposed exclusionary law will ban Sikhs from wearing their distinctive Turbans in addition to banning Islamic head coverings, Jewish skullcaps and oversized Christian crosses in public schools and workplaces.

Wearing a Turban is not an optional but mandatory requirement of the Sikh faith. Such legislation will deny approximately 7,000 Sikhs residing in France their fundamental right to practice the Sikh faith.

Sikhs have contributed valiantly to the French aspirations of ’Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’ during the First and Second World Wars. Turban wearing Sikh soldiers served in France in 13 cavalry and 8 infantry regiments during World War 1. The major battles during World War 1 in France in which Sikhs fought valiantly were: Ypres, La Bassée, Neuve, Chapelle, Festubert, Loos, Givenchy and Somme. Their bravery and actions have been globally recognised.

A remarkable French postcard dated Sept 1914 heralding the arrival of Sikh troops of the 15th Sikh regiment, wearing their articles of faith. The leading soldier is seen holding the French tricolour in his left hand. (Courtesy: Paramjit Singh, Co-author :Warrior Saints, London, IB Tauris, 1999).

“The Stasi commission, which recommended the ban, consulted all communities on this issue except the 7,000 members of the French Sikh community before making its recommendations,” said a dismayed Gurdial Singh, a French Sikh community leader, who has lived in France for 23 years.

“The 7,000 Sikhs of France are law abiding citizens and our children are second generation proud French nationals,” he added.

“The Sikh Turban is not a hat which we can take off when we are at school or at work. It is an insult to a Sikh to ask him to take off his Turban,” he said.

“Our children’s education is at stake here as we cannot compromise on this issue. Our children wear long unshorn hair which needs to be covered with a Turban,” he added.

He said that even though some schools had in the past years objected to the wearing of the Turban, Sikh Community leaders had always successfully appealed to the discretion of the school authorities to allow the wearing of Turbans.

“But after the ban is imposed the school authorities will not have a discretion in the matter,” he said.

Karmvir Singh, 19 year old son of Gurdial Singh, experienced the brunt of this proposed law when he was rejected by 5 French universities in Oct on grounds that he wore a Turban.

“They told me that they were prepared to offer me a place but only if I took off my Turban,” Karmvir Singh said.

Ironically Karmvir Singh had in the past successfully helped many young Sikh school children to gain admission in schools which had initially objected to the Turban.

“But now my education plans have suffered a serious setback because the universities acted in anticipation of the government’s plans to ban the wearing of religious articles at educational institutions,” he said.

“I was planning to do a degree in commercial studies and then go on to study computer engineering,” he said.

Karmvir Singh’s school-going brothers have been told by their schools that they will have to leave.

“We don’t know what will happen. Education is important,” he said.

There is no evidence to suggest that the French core values of ’Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’ have been threatened by religious expression. France has emerged as a nation which champions the rights of people of all religions. The strength of its secularity should not harm the very people it protects.

In the name of secularity, France’s cultural diversity and understanding between people of different Faiths, Religions and Ethnic Identities will be jeopardised. UNITED SIKHS fears that the new law will be a throw-back to the dark days when a lack of understanding between people of different Faiths, Religions and Ethnic Identities plagued many nations before World War II.

UNITED SIKHS has launched a global education campaign for people of all Faiths, Religions, Ethnic Identities and nations to appeal to President Chirac, the French Parliament, the European Parliament, the United Nations and various Faith, Religious and Ethic Group leaders to allow good-sense to prevail.

Spiritual expression promotes greater harmony through inter-faith, inter-religious and inter-ethnic understanding. UNITED SIKHS urges the global community to take action by signing the petition (See below) to send a strong and unified message to the President of France and the French Parliament that banning Faith-based, Religious and Ethnic expression will not be in the human interest.

The petition below was launched on 23 Dec 2003 at
http://www.unitedsikhs.org/us-eu/petitions/RightToTurban.htm

For more information on Sikhs and the Great War in France, please visit the following URL:
http://www.unitedsikhs.org/us-eu/sacred/france/Sikhs_in_France.htm
(Thanks to A Madra and Paramjit Singh for their book: Warrior Saints: Three Centuries of the Sikh Military Tradition, A Madra and P Singh London, IB Tauris, 1999).

For More updates on this campaign please visit:
http://www.unitedsikhs.org/us-eu/news/RightToTurbanUpdate.htm

Petition: http://www.unitedsikhs.org/us-eu/petitions/RightToTurban.htm
and http://www.PetitionOnline.com/sikh5555/petition.html

UNITED SIKHS
www.unitedsikhs.org
spokesperson@unitedsikhs.org
Tel: 0044 (0)709 200 3571
Fax: 0044 (0)871 4335655