Sikhs march through Paris to oppose possible turban ban

About five hundred British Sikhs crossed the English Channel last week-end to join co-religionists from other European countries supporting a demonstration aimed at persuading the French government not to ban the Sikh turban in state schools.
More than 2,000 Sikhs marched along the traditional route through central Paris in a rally that attracted widespread media attention. Officers of the Sikh Federation UK were among those interviewed on television. Kuldeep Singh, Vice Chairman of the Federation, told viewers: "This issue is not simply about the right of Sikhs in France to wear the turban, this issue affects Sikhs throughout Europe and is about freedom of religion as a fundamental human right enshrined in international law."

The proposed law, which is to be debated in the French National Assembly on Tuesday (February 3), is designed to remove all show of religion from public schools, in line with the country's secular constitution. Specifically it would ban the Muslim hijab, and it is feared that the rule could also include the turban.

Thirty years ago British Sikhs won an exemption from a law requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets, and turbans are now commonplace for Sikh police officers serving in the UK. The leaders of the Federation believe that this experience puts them in a favourable position to help the Sikh community in France.

Federation Chairman Amrik Singh says: "We are hopeful the French parliament will heed our concerns, but we are ready to rise to any challenge to the Sikhs." He and his colleagues believe the proposed law may contravene European Union directives on racial and religious discrimination and plan to ask the European Commission to take appropriate action, if it is implemented.