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HindustanTimes Sun,20 Apr 2014

Sarkozy may face a 'turbanful' of trouble

Jaideep Sarin, IANS  Chandigarh, January 23, 2008
First Published: 15:27 IST(23/1/2008) | Last Updated: 16:09 IST(23/1/2008)

French President Nicholas Sarkozy may have overcome matters of the heart after girlfriend Carla Bruni said she was not visiting India, but he may have to confront matters of the head as angry Sikhs take up the turban ban issue with him during his visit to India starting Friday.

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Right from the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) - the mini-parliament of Sikhs - to several Sikh organisations and individuals, everyone wants to confront Sarkozy on the ban imposed by the French government on children wearing turbans to schools in that country.

The ban on wearing turbans to schools was imposed by the French government in 2006. Turbans were classified by French authorities as one of the religious symbols which children attending schools were barred from wearing.

The ban had led to widespread protests from the Sikh community in India and abroad which claimed that growing long hair and wearing a turban was part of the Sikh identity and not merely a religious symbol. But the French government, despite the pressure from Sikhs, did not withdraw the ban on turbans.

The SGPC has already sought time from Sarkozy during his India visit. The French president is the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi Jan 26.

SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar is meeting top foreign ministry officials in Delhi Wednesday to brief them on the turban ban issue so that the case can be put in proper perspective before President Sarkozy. Makkar has sought an appointment with the French president.

"The French government should understand that Sikh identity and sentiments have been affected by the turban ban," Makkar said in Sikh holy city of Amritsar this week.

A delegation of Sikh organisations Khalsa Action Committee (KAC) met French ambassador Jerome Bonnafont in Delhi Tuesday to apprise him of the fact that turban was integral to Sikh identity and not a religious symbol that people could flaunt.

"Sikhs are conscious of the secularist ideals of France. We want a solution to the problem that Sikh children are facing in schools in France," KAC spokesman Kanwarpal Singh said after meeting the French ambassador.

Sikhs have already planned protests in New Delhi, Chandigarh, Amritsar and several other places to coincide with the arrival of the French president. In Chandigarh, a Sikh protest march will be taken out Thursday from a gurudwara to the Alliance Francaise, an educational and cultural institution run by the French government.

The International Sikh confederation, United Sikh, Institute of Sikh Studies and Sikh legal foundation will lead the protests.

Members of Parliament (MPs) from Punjab, especially those from the ruling Akali Dal have been meeting French officials in recent days to seek intervention of the French government in this matter. Akali Dal's working president and MP Sukhbir Badal also wrote to the French ambassador this week to get the turban ban revoked.

But Sikh intellectuals feel that the turban issue concerned the entire Sikh community and not just one political party.

"It is frustrating that political affiliations are coming into this issue. The SGPC wants the Akali Dal to step in. This is not required," Gurpreet Singh of United Sikh said here.

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