Jan 2 2004
By Tom Heneghan
PARIS (Reuters) - France's tiny Sikh community is seeking
help from India's prime minister to have their traditional
turbans exempted from a planned French law to ban Muslim
headscarves and other religious symbols from schools.
Chain Singh, spokesman for about 5,000 Sikhs here, told
Reuters he was contacting Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee
and Chief Minister Amerinder Singh of Punjab state -- the
home of the religion -- to ask them to urge Paris to exempt
"This law will not just be against Muslims, it will
be against Sikhs as well," he said. "We cannot
live without our turbans. This is our religion. If we cannot
wear them, we may not be able to stay here."
Sikh men use their turbans to cover their hair, which they
never cut. They enjoy exemptions in other European countries,
such as one in Britain dropping a requirement to wear a
crash helmet when riding a motorcycle.
President Jacques Chirac announced last month that France
would soon pass a law banning noticeable religious symbols
in its public schools, a move mainly aimed at Muslim schoolgirls
who wear headscarves as an Islamic duty.
Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders in France have all
criticised the law, which politicians say will reinforce
the legal separation of church and state against growing
Islamist activity here, but they say they will respect it.
JOIN MUSLIMS IN PROTEST
Singh said he had already contacted the Indian embassy
in Paris and would soon transmit letters to Vajpayee and
"India is responsible for Indians around the world.
We want them to talk state-to-state with France."
Sikhs might join Muslim groups in protesting against the
planned law with a march in Paris on January 17, he added.
"We can join the Muslims and pray for everyone, including
Christians who are not supposed to wear big crosses and
Jews who will not be able to wear kippas," Singh said.
The proposed law would also ban those religious symbols,
although few are actually seen in public schools. Most kippa-
wearing Jewish pupils go to private Jewish schools and only
priests wear crosses large enough to be banned by the law.
Singh said Sikh men in France are often refused identity
cards because they will not take off their turbans. Some
schools have expelled Sikh pupils for wearing turbans but
others make no fuss about them, he said.
Most Sikhs in France live in the Paris area, near their
Gurdwara Sahib temple north of the capital. Some remain
Indian citizens while others have taken French nationality.
Singh said he was shocked to see Paris had overlooked them
in the emotional debate over banning Muslim veils.
"There are Sikhs who have died for France," he
recalled with emotion in his voice. Sikhs made up the majority
of the 4,746 Indian soldiers killed while fighting with
the British army in France in World War One.
The Sikh community in France is tiny compared to the five
million Muslims and 600,000 Jews in this traditionally Christian
country of 60 million
French cabinet approved ban on Muslim headscarves, Jewish
skullcaps and large Christian crosses from school premises.