Let French Sikh Schoolkids Keep Turban On, Prez

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New Delhi, Jan 25 (UNI) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been petitioned to impress on French President Nicolas Sarkozy, currently touring India, the need to end a ban on Sikh kids wearing turban in public schools in France.

Speaking to journalists as Mr Sarkozy started his state visit to India, United Sikhs spokesmen stressed the need for the French to understand that ''a Sikh is inseparable from his turban.'' US spokesmen said they also hoped that Mr Sarkozy draws right conclusions from interacting with Dr Singh, seeing how the Indian Prime Minister wears his turban, never taking it off.

''There must be a message in that,'' said Mejindarpal Kaur, a Britain-based Sikh lawyer and US director leading the legal challenge to the French ban on turbans in schools or official documentation.

Indian and French officials were not immediately available for comment.

The Sikh turban was among religious symbols banned under a law France passed in March 2004, Ms Kaur told a news conference.

Ever since, Sikh kids and adults are required to take off turbans while attending public schools or posing for pictures for such documents as driver's license respectively.

Chandigarh-based Gurpreet Singh, another US director, said he was in a delegation which called on Dr Singh in 2006 and drew his attention to the matter.

The callers were assured that the issue would be handled 'diplomatically,' but there has been little to show, he said.

Ms Kaur said she was told by mediapersons that the issue was not raised at Dr Singh's meeting this morning with the visiting French diginitary, adding that, if so, the community would see that as an ''outrage.'' Recalling attention received by the business worries of ethnic Indian steel magnate L N Mittal, US spokesmen demanded why a government which was so vocal about an industrialist's travails, was a silent spectator to the woes of a community.

Sikhs have lately been at pains to remind the French of the community's contributions since as early as the World War I, when thousands of their ancestors fought for France's freedom.

A documentary screened during the news conference at Le Meridien's Napoleon hall, named after the French dictator, showed glimpses of a war memorial listing, among others, Sikhs who gave their lives at the battlefront.

The news event was attended or addressed by several community leaders, including delegates of Sikh Gurwara Management and Shiromani Akali Dal-- Badal, Panthic, Delhi and Amritsar factions-- and International Sikh Confederation.

A Sikh couple whose son was refused permission to attend public school wearing a turban told journalists that he now attends a private school.

One petitioner Lt Gen Kartar Singh Gill, chief of the Confederation, called it ironic that the French government now ''fails to recognise that it was the Sikh turban which saved their country in the first and second world wars.'' ''French history would have been different had it not been for the turbaned soldiers,'' Gen Gill stated in his letter to Dr Singh.

He recalled that how 83,005 turban-wearing Sikh soldiers were killed and 109,045 wounded for the freedom of Britain, France and the world during the shell fire ''with no other protection but the turbans, the symbol of their faith.'' After the news conference, Ms Kaur said, she gathered that the Indian Prime Minister raised the issue with the French President, but there was no clear word on the outcome.

She said Sarkozy was believed to have said that there was no ban on turbans in France and she hastened to point out that the issue was outlawing turban in schools or official documents.

Sarkozy spokesman Pierre Jerome Henin could not immediately be reached to clarify the matter.

In his first address to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2007, President Sarkozy acknowledged respect for diversity, national identities, religion, beliefs and cultures.

''Attachment to one's faith, to one's language and culture, and to one's way of life, thought and belief-- all this is natural, legitimate and profoundly human.

''To deny that is to sow the seeds of humiliation. It stokes the fires of the very nationalism, fanaticism and terrorism we claim to be fighting.'' UNI MJ BDP KP2131

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