In an attempt to calm tempers ahead of President Francois Hollande's February 14-15 visit to India, the French government has underlined that that there is no ban on wearing Sikh turbans on the streets of the country. But, there is a ban on displaying religious symbols, including the turban and even the cross, in public schools, diplomats underlined.
The clarification comes after some Sikh organisations and even the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) protested the turban ban and wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to take up the issue with French president. Even former MP Tarlochan Singh, a former head of the minorities panel, wrote to Manmohan on Monday: "I request you to kindly request him (President of France) to allow Sikh students to cover their heads while studying in public schools."
But French diplomatic sources, preferring not to be named, said there were misunderstandings about the turban ban. "They diktat is that while being on the street, no one should cover their face. Turban doesn't fall in that category, the way burkha (hijab or veil) does," they explained.
But in schools, the officers insisted, "You cannot even display the cross (a Christian symbol)."
"We have this policy in place for sometime now, and French people are supportive of it. This is a policy in accordance with our secularism."
It was on March 15, 2004, that the then President Jacques Chirac brought in an amendment to the French code of education that banned wearing clothing or symbols in state schools which "conspicuously exhibit a religious affiliation".
Hollande is to meet Manmohan on February 14 and then visit Mumbai the next day. Both sides look set to deepen their strategic ties, in which military, nuclear, space and counter-terrorism cooperation are vital.