PRESS RELEASE

23 December 2003

UNITED SIKHS, a Sikh organisation working for the betterment of 25 million Sikhs globally, deeply regrets French President Jacques Chirac’s call for legislation to ban the wearing of religious articles of faith in public schools and to regulate their wearing at the workplace.

This exclusionary law will ban Sikhs from wearing their distinctive Turbans in addition to banning Islamic head coverings, Jewish skullcaps and oversized Christian crosses in public schools and workplaces.

The global Sikh community urges President Chirac to reconsider his decision as it violates fundamental human rights including freedom of religion and the right to education. Wearing a Turban is not an optional but mandatory requirement of the Sikh faith.. Such legislation will deny approximately 7,000 Sikhs residing in France their fundamental right to practice the Sikh faith.

Sikhs have contributed valiantly to the French aspirations of ’Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’ during the First and Second World Wars. Turban wearing Sikh soldiers served in France in 13 cavalry and 8 infantry regiments during World War 1. The major battles during World War 1 in France in which Sikhs fought valiantly were:Ypres, La Bassée, Neuve, Chapelle, Festubert, Loos, Givenchy and Somme. Their bravery and actions have been globally recognised.

A remarkable French postcard dated Sept 1914 heralding the arrival of Sikh troops of the 15th Sikh regiment, wearing their articles of faith. The leading soldier is seen holding the French tricolour in his left hand. (Courtesy: Paramjit Singh, Co-author :Warrior Saints, London, IB Tauris, 1999).

“The Stasi commission, which recommended the ban, consulted all communities on this issue but did not consult the 7,000 members of the French Sikh community before making its recommendations,” said a dismayed Gurdial Singh, a French Sikh community leader, who has lived in France for 23 years.

“The 7,000 Sikhs of France are law abiding citizens and our children are second generation proud French nationals,” he added.

“The Sikh Turban is not a hat which we can take off when we are at school or at work. It is an insult to a Sikh to ask him to take off his Turban,” he said.

“Our children’s education is at stake here as we cannot compromise on this issue. Our children wear long unshorn hair which needs to be covered with a Turban,” he added.

He said that even though some schools had in the past years objected to the wearing of the Turban, Sikh Community leaders had always successfully appealed to the discretion of the school authorities to allow the wearing of Turbans.

“But after the ban is imposed the school authorities will not have a discretion in the matter,” he said.

Karmvir Singh, 19 year old son of Gurdial Singh, experienced the brunt of this proposed law when he was rejected by 5 French universities in Oct on grounds that he wore a Turban.

“They told me that they were prepared to offer me a place but only if I took off my Turban,” Karmvir Singh said.

Ironically Karmvir Singh had in the past succesfully helped many young Sikh school children to gain admission in schools which had initially objected to the Turbans.

“But now my education plans have suffered a serious setback because the universities acted in anticipation of the government’s plans to ban the wearing of religious articles at educational institutions,” he said.

“I was planning to do a degree in commercial studies and then go on to study computer engineering,” he said.

Karmvir Singh’s school-going brothers have been told by their schools that they will have to leave.

“We don’t know what will happen. Education is important,” he said.

There is no evidence to suggest that the French core values of ’Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’ have been threatened by religious expression. France has emerged as a nation which champions the rights of people of all religions. The strength of its secularity should not harm the very people it protects.

In the name of secularity, France’s cultural diversity and understanding between people of different religions will be jeopardised. UNITED SIKHS fears that the new law will be a throw-back to the dark days when a lack of understanding between people of different religions plagued many nations before World War II.

In the name of secularity, France’s cultural diversity and understanding between people of different religions will be jeopardised. UNITED SIKHS fears that the new law will be a throw-back to the dark days when a lack of understanding between people of different religions plagued many nations before World War II.

UNITED SIKHS has launched a global education campaign for people of all faiths and nations to appeal to President Chirac, the French Parliament, the European Parliament, the United Nations and various religious leaders to allow good-sense to prevail. Spiritual expression promotes greater harmony through inter-religious understanding. UNITED SIKHS urges the global community to take action by signing the petition (See below) to send a strong and unified message to the President of France and the French Parliament that banning religious expression will not be in the human interest. See petition which will be launched today at http://www.unitedsikhs.org/us-eu/petitions/RightToTurban.htm

Petition: http://www.unitedsikhs.org/us-eu/petitions/RightToTurban.htm
and http://www.PetitionOnline.com/sikh5555/petition.html

UNITED SIKHS
www.unitedsikhs.org
spokesperson@unitedsikhs.org
Tel: 0044 (0)709 200 3571
Fax: 0044 (0)871 4335655