February 11th, 2004

French Ambassador to India has reassured Sikhs that a Sikh child will not be made to remove his Turban outside the school gates when the law banning
religious symbols is implemented in the new school year in September.
“I am confident that had the Sikhs been consulted by the Stasi commission the Turban would not have been considered a religious symbol which falls under the remit of the law” Mr Girad Dominique told a Sikh delegation who met him in Delhi today.

“ The law will most certainly be passed but it will only be valid for a year as it will have to be reviewed by parliament again,” he said.

“France never knew so much about the Sikhs as they do now. I am confident that as
we are a secular society, an accomodation will be found for Sikhs to practise their faith,” he said.

“ We have taken on board all the representations which have been made by Sikhs globally and we are aware that the Turban is essential to cover a Sikh’s unshorn hair,” he added.
During the meeting, UNITED SIKHS director Jaspal Singh delivered to Mr Girard 100,000 online and handsigned signatures which were collected in the Panjab, Kanpur and Delhi areas for the Right To Turban petition, which was organised by UNITED SIKHS.
UNITED SIKHS, a human development organisation had launched the global petition campaign to appeal against the French government’s decision to ban religious symbols in public schools. Akal Purakh Ki Fauj’s Jaswinder Singh Advovate, who is also a member of SGPC, the apex Sikh representative body in the Panjab, had joined UNITED SIKHS by collecting signatures in Panjab.

In a joint memorandum, the delegation said that the single message that has been conveyed in the signature campaign is that the Sikh Turban is a non-negotiable article of faith and identity for the Sikhs.

The French Ambassdor appreciated the views, the restraint and the clarity with which the memorandum and support documents had been presented.

Mr Girard said that the law was not against any religion.

“It was only by default, that the Sikh Turban has been brought under the remit of the law,” he said.

He said that the French Government was committed to protect total religious freedom and to protect freedom of thought and religious practice.

He further appreciated that for the Sikhs, the Turban was an article of faith and has been caught in this cross debate.

He also put forward his deep feelings, sympathy and his friendship for Sikhs and highlighted the deep and strong relationship between the Sikhs and the French, who in their evolution, had faced wars of religion and massacres, on account of such intolerances.

He was handed a CD with slide shows on “Sikhs In French History” an an Introduction to Sikhism” produced by UNITED SIKHS.

The National Minority Commission chairman, Tirlochan Singh, is due to meet the French External Affairs Minister who arrived in Delhi today.

“ I have forwarded a dossier from UNITED SIKHS to Mr Tirlochan Singh for the attention of the French External Affairs Minister,” Mr Jaspal Singh said.

The delegation which met the French Ambassador comprised Mr. Jaspal Singh , Director – UNITED SIKHS, Mr. Vikramjit Singh Sahney , International President – World Punjabi Organisation , Mr. Prehlad Singh Chandhok , President – Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee , Mr. H.S. Phoolka , Human Rights Lawyer , Lt. Gen. M.S. Bhullar , former QMG – Indian Army .

“ The meeting with the ambassador was very encouraging and succesful,” said Mr Vikramjit Singh Sahney.