UK Sikhs take lead to defy French Govt ban on turbans
Trevor Barnard (ANI)
London, January 28

British Sikhs, as the largest Sikh community in Europe (estimated at about 700,000), have taken the lead in campaigning to persuade the French government not to ban the wearing of turbans in state schools, in the wake of the proposed ban on the Muslim hijab.

Led by the Sikh Federation (UK) - the recently formed "political" organisation of Sikh activists - a delegation held talks with Assia Xixiou, a special adviser to the French Ambassador, and then about 100 activists from around the country held a silent rally
outside the Embassy. Their banners read: "Turban for Sikhs is a requirement - and not negotiable."

The controversial proposal by President Chirac, which is to be debated in the National Assembly on February 3, seeks to ban Muslim pupils in state schools from
wearing a hijab, on the ground that is a religious symbol and therefore runs counter to the country's secular constitution. French Sikhs, who number only about 7,000, fear that the same argument could be applied to the turban, and could be extended to other government offices and institutions.

They took comfort from a statement in the Assembly by the Education Minister, Luc Ferry, who said that the turban, if it was discreet, would be allowed. The British Sikhs have taken up this suggestion, saying that a turban of a discreet colour, perhaps black or blue, could be made part of the school uniform. They told the French Ambassador in a memorandum that this would be acceptable to the Sikhs of France and elsewhere.

The memorandum recognised that the French authorities were sympathetic to the predicament of the Sikhs in France, but also pointed out that the proposed law may
be in direct contravention of European Union directives on racial and religious discrimination, and that, if it were implemented, British Sikhs would ask the European Commission to take appropriate action.

The Sikh Federation and its associated organisations have no fear that a similar ban to that proposed in France might be imposed in the UK, but they feel that they have a duty to help their co-religionists in Europe to maintain their religious freedom.