Turban diktat kicks up row in Punjab's Sikh school

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Sangrur (Punjab), May 17 : About 150 Hindu parents at a school in Cheema town of Sangrur district in Punjab are not sending their children to school as a protest after the school's Sikh authorities asked all students to wear traditional Sikh headgear to school.

Authorities of 'Akal Academy' say they were merely enforcing a stipulation in its prospectus that students of all faiths have to wear the traditional Sikh headgear called the "patka" or "dastaar".

Parents of other faiths say this is an affront to their religion, and have drawn parallels to Sikh protests in France in 2004 after the government there banned religious symbols such as Sikh turbans and Muslim headscarves in state schools.

About 150 parents met school authorities and submitted a memorandum signed by everyone asking them to withdraw its diktat.

"About 350 Hindu children have studied in the academy for 15 years. Now school authorities have started saying that children should wear turban. Our children are not ready to wear turbans. When they go to school, school authorities talk rudely and punish them. Around 150 children haven't gone to school and they are not even willing to. Our children are not ready to wear turbans and even we won't send them to school with turbans," said Kewal Singh Rai, a parent.

Authorities say that this rule has been mentioned in a declaration, which has to be signed by every parent at the time of admission.

"It's not just about Hindu children. If Christian children will not wear turbans and will not follow the dress code, there will be no place for them as well in this school," said R.S Chhatwal, chief coordinator, Akal Academy, Cheema.

But parents claim that such clause has been invoked recently and they haven't signed any such declaration earlier.

The school is run by a Sikh trust, but around 20 per cent of its estimated 1,400 students are reported to be Hindus. Any student failing to comply with the rule is asked to pay a fine of 10 rupees a day.

The school's prospectus says its curriculum lays special emphasis on spiritual development so that the young learners develop into virtuous adults and be the torchbearers of society.

Hindus said the Sikh school authorities had imposed their religious values on followers of another religion.

Sikhs had been equally unhappy when France's secular authorities had crossed into personal religious space with the turban ban.

Sikh religion requires followers to grow their hair and wear a turban. France justified its move saying it was aimed at checking what officials said was the rising influence of radical Islam among France's large Muslim population.

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