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Sikh religious bodies appeal to France on turbans

Sikh leaders and religious groups from Punjab have asked the French government to review a proposed law banning the wearing of turbans and other types of headgear in public institutions and workplaces.

Chandigarh, Jan 29 - The Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), the apex body that manages the religious affairs of the Sikh community, has written to the French embassy in New Delhi opposing the proposed legislation.

Officials at the SGPC head office in the Sikh holy city of Amritsar indicated the French government had shown a positive response to the concerns raised by Sikhs.

The SGPC appealed to the French government to view the case of Sikhs separately since the turban was part of their religious headgear. Once approved by the French parliament, the law will prohibit the wearing of all types of headgear by children in public schools and at workplaces.

This will lead to a ban on wearing of turbans by members of the Sikh community. France has a Sikh population of about 15,000.

Sikh warriors fought in the French Army in World War II wearing turbans, community leaders here said.

Leaders like International Human Rights Organisation chairman D.S. Gill have said the proposed law will violate fundamental human rights. They noted that not allowing turbans would violate the religious freedom of Sikhs.

Other leaders said wearing a turban was an essential part of being a Sikh. "Sikhs in France cannot be expected to follow the religion without wearing a turban," one leader said.

Meetings have been held in Punjab's leading cities like Amritsar, Ludhiana, Jalandhar and Patiala to oppose the French government's move.

Leaders from Sikh bodies, human rights groups, lawyers, students and gurdwara organisations have voiced their concern over the French move.

The SGPC had earlier decided to start demonstrations in Punjab and even protest outside the French embassy in New Delhi.

Tarlochan Singh, the chairman of the National Commission for Minorities, appealed to the SGPC to postpone the protests as the French government could review the decision on turbans worn by Sikhs.

Reports said certain Sikh organisations were sending delegations to Paris to talk to French leaders on the issue.

Shiromani Akali Dal (Mann) leader Simranjit Singh Mann is heading one such delegation, a report said.

The Sikh community has also pointed out that turbans have been allowed by countries like the US, Britain, Canada, Singapore, Australia and Malaysia.

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