14 January 2004
“Free people, remember this maxim: we may acquire liberty, but it is never recovered if it is once lost.”
Jean Jacques Rousseau
Members of the Sikh, Jewish and Muslim communities have joined hands in furthering support for the UNITED SIKHS campaign against French President Jacques Chirac's proposed law to ban the wearing of articles of faith, religion and ethnic identity at public schools and the workplace. The anti-ban campaign has sprouted into a variety of actions worldwide including a global petition for all communities, developed by UNITED SIKHS, a non-governmental human developmental organisation working for the betterment of 25 million Sikhs globally.
The proposed ban, which did not involve consultation of the 7,000 Sikhs in France, will force thousands of French men, women and children out of public nondiscriminatory education and a safe workplace.
“UNITED SIKHS approached the various minority communities to join the campaign for this very reason. This ban will be a serious detriment to the living conditions of many people throughout France,” Mejindarpal Kaur, Director of UNITED SIKHS said.
The Sikh community in France is seeking a meeting with the President and Home Minister of France to present their case next week.
“We need to make our representations directly to the President and Home Minister since the Stasi commission did not interview a single Sikh before proposing the law.” said Chain Singh, one of the French organisers of the campaign and the president of the Paris Singh Sabha Gurdwara.
“We are also holding a rally at Republic Place in Paris on 31st Jan which will be attended by all communities including the Sikh community from around the world.” he added.
“It has been reported recently that the people in France do not know that there is a Sikh community living in France. This rally will make us more visible,” Mr Singh said.
“The petition will also be delivered by members of various communities to French ambassadors in countries around the world next week,” said Mejindarpal Kaur, a director of UNITED SIKHS.
“For a start, the French Ambassador in Washington has agreed to meet a delegation led by UNITED SIKHS on 21s Jan 03,” Mejindarpal Kaur said.
Petitoners will also be seeking meetings with French Ambassadors in countries including United Kingdom, Canada, Italy, Holland, Germany, India, New Zealand, Chile, Mexico, Malaysia, Singapore, Nigeria and Kenya.
The campaign moved up a gear this week when UNITED SIKHS started a letter writing campaign urging petitioners to obtain support from their respective Members of Parliament (MPs) and members of US Congress.
The sample letters are at: http://www.unitedsikhs.org/us-eu/petitions/RightToTurban.htm
A Prominent Sikh contender for the forthcoming United States Senate elections, the second highest elected office, Dr Chirinjeev Singh Kathuria, who, if elected, will be the first Turban wearing Senator in the US, has expressed his support for the petition campaign.
“I will make a public statement and endorse this petition shortly,” Dr Chirinjeev Singh told UNITED SIKHS.
In the UK, the campaign is supported by an Early Day Motion (EDM 362) moved by UK MPs in addition to support for an adjournment debate.
The EDM may be viewed at: http://edm.ais.co.uk/weblink/html/motion.html/ref=362
Mohamad Sawar MP who tabled the EDM welcomed UNITED SIKHS' move to get petitioners to write to their MPs to support the EDM.
“I will be requesting an adjournment debate too, which will boost the campaign,” Mr Sarwar told UNITED SIKHS. MPs from all three main political parties have signed up to the Early Day Motion in the UK
Political lobbying in Europe has also begun. It is being spearheaded by the Sikh Federation (UK), the Sikh first ever Sikh political party in the UK which was launched in September 2003. Sikhs across the UK are being requested to contact MPs and MEPs.
“All UK MEPs have been contacted to take the matter up at a European level,” said Amrik Singh, Chair of the Sikh Federation UK.
“Some MPs and MEPs have already written to the French authorities on behalf of the Sikh community and a petition at the European level has been lodged,” he added.
Danny Stone, President of United Jewish Students (UJS), a partner in this campaign, said, ‘It is unacceptable and ill-advised to try to prohibit religious symbols.’ The skullcap, known as the Kippah, is a Jewish custom that symbolises ones humility and humbleness in the presence of God. The UJS is working with UNITED SIKHS and other faith organisations in promoting a petition, as well as working with the European Union of Jewish students.
On 17th Jan Muslim organisations will hold rallies outside French embassies around the world to protest against the proposed ban.
Even though the Sikhs are the smallest minority affected by the proposed ban, UNITED SIKHS has taken the lead to facilitate an interfaith campaign.
“We were inspired by the teachings of our 9th Guru who, many years before French philosopher Rousseau's declaration on defending another's rights, not only fought for but laid down his life fighting for the human right of a minority community of another faith in Kashmir,” Kaur added.
UNITED SIKHS has also designed a campaign t-shirt, poster and banner that highlights the irony that Turbanned Sikh soldiers fought for French freedom in WWI and 90 years later French Sikhs are fighting for the freedom to wear their Turban.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Our Mission: To transform underprivileged and minority communities and individuals into informed and vibrant members of society through civic, educational and personal development programs, by fostering active participation in social and economic activity. UNITED SIKHS is also an avenue for networking between like-minded organisations to establish and nurture meaningful projects and dialogues - whether social, cultural or political- to promote harmony, understanding and reciprocity in our villages, towns and cities. UNITED SIKHS is a coalition of organisations and individuals, who share a common vision based on the belief that there is no greater endeavor than to serve, empower and uplift fellow beings. The core of our philosophy is an unwavering commitment to civic service and social progress on behalf of the common good. Accordingly, UNITED SIKHS has sought to fulfill its mission not only by informing, educating and uplifting fellow beings but also by participating in cross-cultural and political exchanges to ensure that the promises and benefits of democracy are realized by all. We at UNITED SIKHS believe that the development of enlightened and progressive societies can be made possible by socially conscious groups of people who make a commitment to develop and direct human potential. Our work, efforts and achievements stand as a testament to our faith in this vision.