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Sikhs to protest turban ban during Hollande visit


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Rohan Dua, TNN Feb 12, 2013, 04.43AM IST

CHANDIGARH: The recent ordeal of a baptised Sikh student in a government school in Paris is likely to become the rallying point for Sikhs planning to protest against the ban on turbans in schools in France, during President Francois Hollande's visit to India this week.

The incident happened on January 7, the day 16-year-old Amritpal Singh's school reopened after the winter break. "In front of 40 students and 30 teachers, I was asked to go to the bathroom and remove my keski (a small turban)," Amritpal told TOI over the phone.

Some people, under the banner of the International Sikh Confederation, have already written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, asking him "not to allow intolerance of Sikh faith in France". A group of 300-odd Sikhs have pledged to gherao the French president's cavalcade in Delhi on February 14 to register their protest against the ban on turbans.

A similar show of protest will be held by Sikh leaders, who will wear black bands and assemble outside Teen Murti Bhawan, where Hollande is scheduled to deliver a lecture. Members of the newly elected Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee have planned a candle-light march from Gurdwara Bangla Sahib to Teen Murti Bhawan.

"When I protested, they rang up my parents," Amritpal said recalling the incident. "In the meanwhile, I starting showing them the documents of a judgment copy from the UN, but the principal told me that the French law of 2004 was supreme."

Amritpal was referring to last year's UN judgment that supported Sikh students' right to wear the turban and other articles of their faith in school.

On March 15, 2004, the then French president Jacques Chirac had brought an amendment to the French code of education that banned clothes or symbols in state schools which "exhibit conspicuously a religious affiliation". But last December, a UN rights body asked France to reverse the expulsion of a student from a public school for wearing a keski. "The student has the right to manifest one's religion and right to privacy and non-discrimination," the UN judgment had said. "The reply must be given to the UN within 180 days."

Amritpal's parents, who have been staying in France since 2000, were forced to take him back home. For now, Amritpal goes to school with a tiny handkerchief wrapped around a knot of hair on his head. There are at least 8,000 Sikh students studying in France who have to either leave their hair open or face restrictions like in Amritpal's case.

The incident took place days before Union foreign minister Salman Khurshid January 9-10 visit to France. "We went to Khurshid with a letter and photograph of our son while he was being asked to leave the school premises," said Amritpal's father Basant Singh Panjatha, an employee with a construction company in Paris. "Dozens of Sikhs had gathered around. We gave him a memorandum and copy of the UN judgment, but he did not act."

Panjatha, a baptised Sikh himself, then came to India to meet minister of state for external affairs Preneet Kaur. "I submitted another letter to Preneet Kaur, who is from my hometown Patiala," he said. "However, no assurances were given."

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