European MPs to take up cudgels with French govt on turban issue

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New Delhi, Apr 21 (UNI) Sensing the deep sense of hurt and humiliation of the Sikh community, a visiting delegation of members of the European Parliament today avowed to put pressure on the French government to review the legislation affecting sikh students who wear turbans.

"We will also make a strong case with the European Union countries to liberalise the visa regime for students as the existing restriction was not in tune with the spirit of the move of the EU to enable larger intake of students," Ms Neena Gill, Chairperson of the eight-member delegation told a press conference here.

Other members of the delegation were also present on the occasion.

The Standing Delegation of the European Parliament for relations with countries of South Asia visited Amritsar, Ludhiana and Chandigarh from April 15 to 19, before rounding up the talks at New Delhi on April 20 and 21. This is the first official visit of the European Parliament members to Punjab, which started in Amritsar by a visit to the Golden Temple.

Ms Gill, who is from the Labour party in the United Kingdom, said the purpose of the visit was to grasp India's diversity and understand the interaction between States and the Union,"very much as Europe deals with the relationship between the EU and its Member states." "It is aimed at increasing the mutual understanding with India, the world's largest democracy and one of the few countries with whom the EU has engaged in a strategic partnership", she said.

The delegation members said their talks with the SGPC leadership and common people in Punjab had convinced them that the issue of turban was the one related to the honour of the community, as much as it was to their religion.

"We did not understand the deep sentiments involved until we visited India", Mr Jim Nicholson, a member of European Parliament from the United Kingdom said.

Ms Gill said the members would raise the issue in the European Parliament. But, this was not the only manner in which they intended to help the Sikh Community address the problem. Legal processes were also at work and NGOs in Europe too had taken up the cause of the community.

She said the delegation would help arrange a meeting between the SGPC leaders and French Ministers so that they get an opportunity to express their viewpoint.

The members of the delegation said students in Punjab expressed their disquiet about the 'restrictive visa regime' by the European countries, even as the EU has announced a much higher level of intake into Universities of member countries.

Ms Gill said there was substance in these arguments and the delegation would make a forceful case for liberalising the visa regimes in the EU member countries.

The other issues which the delegation took up with the Indian government and officials related to agriculture and social problems, like female foeticide.

Ms Gill said two earlier delegations had visited other parts of India and the subsequent delegation of MPs from Europe would visit some poorer regions, so that a realistic and holistic view could be had of the changes taking place in the country.

The delegation met Home Minister Shivraj Patil, Commerce Minister Kamal Nath and Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma.

The delegation visited the Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana and bicycle factories as well as some other small scale units there.


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