• France's news in English
 

Sikhs want freedom from France's secular laws

Published: 24 Sep 2013 08:57 GMT+02:00

The contentious issue pits the cherished French principle of secularity in public life and institutions against the essence of the Sikh religion, which requires followers to keep long hair as a mark of their faith and piety and a turban to cover the tresses, worn as a bun on the top of the head.

France's Education Minister Vincent Peillon has unveiled a new charter on secularity which must be displayed in government-funded schools explaining in child-friendly language why the Jewish skullcap and the Star of David, the
Sikh turban, crucifixes and the Islamic veil are taboo.

But the 30,000-strong Sikh community in France argue that they are the victims of ignorance.

They see the recent official emphasis on secularism as being primarily the result of opposition to the Islamic veil and broader tensions with the largest Muslim community in Europe, and say they have been caught in the crossfire.

"We are currently in talks with (Interior Minister) Manuel Valls to explain our unique situation and to be exempted from this law," said Kashmir Singh, a member of the management committee of the largest gurdwara or Sikh temple in France, located in the Paris suburb of Bobigny.

"We have also met Manmohan Singh asking him to put pressure on France for justice to be done," he said, referring to the Indian prime minister who is also Sikh.

Singh added: "Our children are dropping out from school or being expelled for keeping the faith. The cross, the veil and the kippa are not mandatory and are symbols. But the kesh (long hair) and the pagri (turban) are non-negotiable. They are not symbols but a sacred, inherent and intrinsic part of our religion."

Ten students have been expelled since the law on secularity in schools came into force in 2004, according to official records.

But the true number of children affected is much higher since many Sikhs have opted for private schools or home learning rather than give up the turban, said Ranjit Singh, a community spokesman who liaises with the
government.

"Also many Sikh families are ashamed of the fact that their children have been expelled and do not tell us so there are no complete records," Kashmir Singh added.

Ranjit Singh was one of the first Sikh boys to be expelled from his lycee, or high school, after the 2004 law. That left deep scars but he has moved on since and is currently pursuing a doctorate at the prestigious Sorbonne university in Paris.

"I opted for the liberal professions because I then decided I would work for myself as I was sceptical about getting a job that would allow me to keep my turban," he said.

Sikhism was founded five centuries ago in the Indian subcontinent and its cornerstones are the principles of equality and fraternity. It was a reaction to the Hindu caste system and the prevailing Islamic perception and treatment of non-believers as "infidels".

Turban makes everybody a king

The religion does not seek to proselytise. And its only link with terrorism has been confined to India and Indian targets in the wake of a now defunct separatist movement to carve a Sikh homeland called Khalistan out of the
Indian state of Punjab.

The extremist attacks peaked after then Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi controversially ordered the June 1984 storming of Sikhdom's holiest shrine to flush out separatists holed up inside.

That military operation led to Gandhi's assassination in October of that year by two Sikh bodyguards which sparked a wave of anti-Sikh riots in India and claimed thousands of lives. But Sikh extremism has since died out.

Bikramjit Singh, a suave 27-year-old working as an engineer, was also expelled from his school in 2004. He argues that the turban symbolised
equality - the fundamental pillar of the French Revolution of 1789.

"In medieval times in India only the Muslim aristocracy and officials were allowed to wear turbans, while among the Hindus it was only reserved for the priestly class. Our religion undid all that," he said.

"In France, they cut off a king's head to make everyone equal, while we used a turban to make everyone a king," he said.

Another problem for Sikhs - who have won landmark legal battles on the turban issue in the United States, Britain and Canada among other countries - is that they are often mistaken for Muslims in the aftermath of the 9/11
attacks because of their headgear and beards.

A recent study conducted in the United States by Stanford University and an advocacy group showed that more than two-thirds of Americans could not identify Sikhs by their turbans and most mistook them for Muslims.

The situation is the same in France, said Joginder Singh, a middle-aged carpenter and odd-jobs man.

"The British have been able to manage and integrate their former subjects far better, while in France they are still struggling to deal with north Africans and Muslims," he said. "And meanwhile we become the casualties of this mess."

AFP/The Local (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Greek FM to meet French ministers on bailout
New Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis speaks at a press conference after meeting Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who represents Eurozone Finance Ministers. Photo: ARIS MESSINIS / AFP

Greek FM to meet French ministers on bailout

Greece's new anti-austerity government was set to kick off its European charm offensive in Paris on Sunday seeking to renegotiate its 240-billion-euro ($270 billion) bailout, though Germany has already refused to consider any debt relief. READ  

Three more cops held over missing coke haul

Three more cops held over missing coke haul

Three French police officers were on Saturday brought before judges investigating the theft of more than 50 kilograms of cocaine from police headquarters in Paris last year, a judicial source told AFP. READ  

Frenchmen deported for nude pics at Angkor
A man cycles through the north gate of the Angkor Thom. TANG CHHIN SOTHY / AFP

Frenchmen deported for nude pics at Angkor

Three French tourists will be deported from Cambodia after they pleaded guilty to taking nude pictures of each other inside the country's famed Angkor temple complex, a prosecutor said Saturday. READ  

Greek FM in Paris to lobby for debt cuts
Yanis Varoufakis at the handover to the new Greek government earlier this week. Photo: ARIS MESSINIS / AFP

Greek FM in Paris to lobby for debt cuts

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has moved forward to Saturday a planned trip to Paris that launches the new anti-austerity government's search for EU allies, his office said. READ  

When French tourists behave badly abroad
In 2013 France's consul-general in Australia issued a plea to French backpackers saying their behaviour was bringing shame on the French community. Photo: drunk_by_i_woke_up_today/Flickr

When French tourists behave badly abroad

The French aren’t known to be a particularly rowdy bunch, but they have been known to misbehave while abroad. From an orgy in the Pompeii brothel to scaling an American landmark, we've made a countdown of some of their most mischievous exploits. And the prize for the naughtiest goes to… READ  

France lists how to spot jihadists (and new dads)
Nine ways to spot a potential jihadist, by the French government. New parents beware. Photo: AFP

France lists how to spot jihadists (and new dads)

As part of its new counter-terrorist campaign “Stop Jihadism”, the French government has released a nine-point check list to help people spot someone on the path to jihad, but The Local fears suspicion may fall on all new parents. READ  

Your top 20 favourite French words
Your top 20 favourite French words. photo: Shutterstock

Your top 20 favourite French words

Everyone's got their favourite French words, whether they're amusing, odd or just fun to pronounce. After we put the call out to readers The Local has put together a list of your suggestions. See if yours made our top 20. READ  

Football
Marseille victim of €700,000 Chinese scam
Marseille's teammates celebrate after winning the French Ligue 1 friendly between Marseille and Benfica Lisbonne in July, 2014. Photo: Thierry Zoccolan/AFP

Marseille victim of €700,000 Chinese scam

French Ligue 1 giants Marseille were the victims of a €700,000 ($793,000) international bank transfer scam to China last year, sources close to the case told AFP on Friday. READ  

Frenchmen held for nude pics at Angkor temple
The male tourists were discovered inside the Banteay Kdei temple. Photo: Leon petrosyan/Wikicommons

Frenchmen held for nude pics at Angkor temple

UPDATED: Three French tourists have been arrested by Cambodian authorities for taking nude photos of each other inside the country's famed Angkor temple complex, officials said on Friday. READ  

Man kills ex-wife and takes body to police
A man who murdered his wife drove to a police station with her body in the car. Photo: AFP

Man kills ex-wife and takes body to police

Police in western France had to deal with a "rare" incident this week when a man murdered his ex-wife, stuffed her body into the boot of his car and drove to a police station to report his crime. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Culture
Why you should steer well clear of Michelin's top Paris restaurants
Business & Money
FATCA: 'The age of financial privacy is over'
National
France's trial of the year: DSK prepares for court
Culture
The myths that mean French lovers regularly disappoint
National
What you can’t say or tweet in post-terror attacks France
Features
Everything you need to know about studying in France
Culture
What's on in France: Ten things to do in February
National
The ways French motorists drive expats crazy
National
'French culture demands jihadists are punished not de-radicalised'
Culture
'Midriff the new cleavage' at Chanel's Paris show
Politics
'Syriza victory is good news for French people'
Society
France bars parents from naming baby 'Nutella'
National
France has no entrepreneurs!? What about fart pills for windy lovers?
Society
Nutella to Happy: The wacky French baby names banned by law
Culture
Men's Fashion Week in Paris in pictures - from penises to androgyny
Health
Could France be the next country to ban sunbeds?
Gallery
Ten French words you will never hear in France
National
Wrap up warm: Big freeze to hit northern France at the weekend
National
Muslims in France - 'They say we're not French'
National
Paris wants New York-inspired 'citizen cards'
Gallery
An architect has shown how he thinks Paris should look in 2050
Culture
Where are the real "no-go zones" in Paris? We've listed 10.
Society
Cheese diet helps oldest Frenchman live to 110
National
Charlie Hebdo chief stands firm over cartoons as global protests spread
National
'It feels like I'm in a warzone': Paris tourist
National
Are there really 'no-go zones' in Paris?
National
Europe in statistics - from Spain to Sweden
National
A futuristic vision of Paris revealed... and other news
National
What now for France post-terror attacks?
National
France to beef up its surveillance powers
National
Charlie Hebdo sells out within hours in France
Politics
Paris attacks: Knock-on effects in Sweden and across Europe
National
France moves to crack down on terror speech in aftermath of attacks
National
French Muslims react to Charlie Hebdo's Muhammad cover
National
'I only had a few seconds to hide from the Kouachis'
National
After three days of terror France feels like a nation
National
IN PICTURES: France's biggest street demos in recent history
National
And in other news in France ...
National
A defiant France rises up on solidarity like never before
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Paris marches for unity after terror attacks
National
OPINION: 'As bloody as it's been, France is not at war'
National
'It's a true nightmare': Parisians react to terror attacks
National
French to march in unity to help heal their wounded nation
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

549
jobs available