NEW DELHI: Scores of Sikh schoolchildren staged a "turban" march in New Delhi on Monday to demand that visiting French President Jacques Chirac lift a ban on wearing turbans in French state schools.
Waving placards declaring the "Turban is the pride of Sikhs" and "Restore Sikh dignity," the boys (with brightly coloured turbans) and girls marched through the capital’s streets to the French embassy where they presented a petition.
"This march does not just challenge a law but the Western way of thinking," said senior Sikh religious leader Manjit Singh, who led the children’s march.
The children presented the petition to the embassy and urged the French government to "accommodate the tapestry of diversity within it," Singh said. "We don’t have this (turban ban) problem in Germany, Britain, Canada or the US or anywhere in the world – it’s only in France," Singh said.
France’s "secularity" law, which came into effect in 2004, outlaws "conspicuous" religious attire such as Muslim headscarves and Sikh turbans in state schools. The protest came as Chirac, who was on the second day of a three-day visit, was meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is himself a Sikh.
Also on Monday, the Sikhs issued an appeal to Chirac to end the turban ban that was published on the front page of the a national daily. "We make a humble appeal to you that in order to safeguard Sikh tenets, the French government may in time with their culture and commitment to cultural freedom, permit Sikhs … to wear scarves and turbans over their unshorn hair," said the letter which was signed by six Sikh leaders. The Sikh religion forbids male followers from cutting their hair which is kept neat by wearing a turban.
Though the French law does not single out any faith, many among France’s five-million-strong Muslim community believe the government was targeting the hijab worn by teenage girls.