AMRITSAR: A Sikh religious body said yesterday it was “deplorable” that a French ban on the wearing of religious symbols, including turbans, in state schools was depriving boys of education in France.
Officials of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), which runs Sikh religious and cultural affairs worldwide, expressed serious concern over Sikh boys being barred from public schools because they wear turbans.
Around 30 boys of France’s small Sikh community have been blocked from attending school, although a community leader said none of them had been formally expelled, and negotiations were ongoing.
“The action of various school authorities in France is highly deplorable and a direct attack on the individuality and faith of Sikhs in France,” said SGPC secretary Manjit Singh Calcutta.
“For Sikhs the turban is an integral and inseparable part of the Sikhism. Sikh boys have no option about shunning the turban as it is at the very core of the religious identity of Sikhism.”
The SGPC also urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who took over as India’s first Sikh premier in May, to visit France and take up the issue with French authorities.
Last week, the prime minister said he had sent National Security Adviser J N Dixit to Paris in August to meet French President Jacques Chirac to explain the Sikh community’s concerns.
“Merely sending a special emissary… to hold talks is not enough since the problem faced by Sikhs in France is highly sensitive and requires an immediate solution rather than hollow assurances,” said Calcutta.
“In these circumstances Dr Singh should personally visit France along with the SGPC to hold talk with the French President Jacques Chirac to sort this out,” he added.
Manjit Singh Randhawa, who is the president of the Sikh Organisation which has branches all over the world, said they would hold street protests from London to New York from September 16.
“Sikhs living all over the world in Britain, Canada, Germany and the United States will wear saffron-coloured turbans and demonstrate against the French government for one week starting from September 16,” said Randhawa.
The new French law passed in March amid much controversy and some overseas criticism, prohibits wearing of any ostentatious religious insignia, including Islamic headscarves, Jewish skullcaps, Sikh turbans and large Christian crosses in state schools and universities.
The Sikh religion forbids male followers from cutting their hair and obliges them to wear a turban. French officials estimate there are 5,000 to 6,000 Sikhs living in Paris and its suburbs.