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Sikhs urge Chirac to lift ban

Sikh leaders issued an appeal to visiting French President Jacques Chirac to lift a ban on turbans.

india Updated: Feb 28, 2006 13:48 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse

Indian Sikh leaders issued a "humble appeal" Monday to visiting French President Jacques Chirac to lift a controversial ban on wearing turbans in French state schools.

The Sikhs made the call in an open letter appearing on the front page of The Indian Express newspaper as Chirac was slated to hold talks in the Indian capital with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is himself a Sikh.

"We make a humble appeal to you that in order to safeguard Sikh tenets, the French government may in time with their culture and commitment to cultural freedom, permit Sikhs ... to wear scarves and turbans over their unshorn hair," the letter said.

The letter, signed by six Sikh leaders, was published as the French president began the formal one-day leg of his visit to India that winds up early Tuesday. Chirac arrived the previous afternoon.

France's "secularity" law, which came into effect in 2004, bans "conspicuous" religious attire such as Muslim headscarves and Sikh turbans in state schools.

Though the law does not single out any faith, many among France's five-million-strong Muslim community believe the government was targeting the hijab worn by teenage girls.

The Sikh religion forbids male followers from cutting their hair and obliges them to wear a turban. France's Sikh population is estimated at 6,000 of which an estimated 300 Sikh boys attend French state schools. Several boys have been expelled for refusing to remove their turbans.

Meanwhile, Paramjit Singh Sarna, head of the Shiromani Akali Dal, a leading Sikh body in New Delhi, said leaders had abandoned plans to stage a "turban march" on the French embassy involving 400 schoolchildren to protest the ban.

"Protests are not going to help our case," Sarna said. "We will never be able to get direct access to the French president to explain ourselves."

But, he added, "by publishing a letter ... there is a chance he (Chirac) will read it himself".

First Published: Feb 28, 2006 13:22 IST

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