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Turban Issue in France



                     
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Copy of Memorandum presented to Mr. Dominique De Villepin,
Foreign Minister of France on 13-02-2004.
Dominique De Villepin,
Foreign Minister,
Govt. of France,
Paris.

Respected Sir,

We take the liberty of drawing your kind attention to the ban recently imposed by the French Government on wearing of religious symbols in public schools over there. The ban would have grave consequences for the people practicing Sikh religion and has caused extreme concern amongst the Sikh Diaspora.

We write to your goodself on behalf of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee which is the apex representative and religious organisation of the Sikhs.

1. The Law has banned wearing of turban which forms an integral part of the Sikh form. Every practicing Sikh is enjoined upon to have unshorn hair and have it covered by the turban. It is mandatory for every Sikh and no one has an exemption or option to this basic Sikh tenets and tradition. As such the Sikh case on turban is basically unique as compared to other religions. The Sikh religion and culture require its absolute adherence.

2. Your Excellency would appreciate that on November 25, 1981, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a declaration on the elimination of all forms of intolerance and of discrimination based on religion or belief and that no one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have a religion or belief of his choice. Freedom to manifest one’s religion and belief may be subject to limitations to protect public safety order, health or morals in the rights of others.

3. The recent world conference against racism held at Durban, South Africa, recognised the distinct cultural identity of certain groups and called upon to protect it against any form of discrimination.

4. In the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 that every one shall have rights to freedom of thoughts, conscience and religion and to manifest his religion or belief in worship. Observance, practice and teaching and no one shall be subject to coercion which would impair this freedom. The States, parties to the covenant undertake to have respect and ensure the religious and moral education of their children in uniformity with their own convictions.

Your Excellency, it may also be not out of place to mention that the Sikhs have age old ties with the French people. The sovereign Khalsa State of Punjab had senior French officers. The Sikhs fought against the dictatorial and despotic regimes and for the forces of liberty, freedom and democracy along with the French people & State. Thousands of Sikhs were killed in action & your esteemed country has graves of such brave Sikh soldiers who sacrificed their lives to protect the dignity and freedom of every human being. They were all Sikhs having unshorn hair and wearing turban in accordance with the Sikh religious discipline. Your Excellency, we seek your personal intervention to undo this injustice and allow the Sikhs to practice and manifest their religion by restoring their right to wear turban.

With profound regards,
Yours sincerely,

(Gurcharan Singh Tohra)
President,
Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee,
Sri Amritsar.

Letter to The President of France
His Excellency,
The President of France,
Paris.

His Excellency,
We take the liberty of drawing your kind attention to the proposed ban of France Government on wearing of religious symbols. It has very grave consequences for the people practicing Sikh religion and has caused extreme concern amongst the Sikhs living all over the world.

We write to your goodself on behalf of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee which is the apex representative and religious organisation of the Sikhs.

1. The proposed legislation would ban wearing of turban which forms an integral part of the Sikh form. Every practicing Sikh is enjoined upon to have unshorn hair and have it covered by the turban. It is mandatory for every Sikh and no one has an exemption or option to this basic Sikh tenant and tradition. As such the Sikh case on turban is basically unique as compared to other religions. The Sikh religion and culture require its absolute adherence.

2. Your Excellency would appreciate that on November 25, 1981, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a declaration on the elimination of all forms of intolerance and of discrimination based on religion or belief and that no one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have a religion or belief of his choice. Freedom to manifest one’s religion and belief may be subject to limitations to protect public safety order, health or morals in the rights of others.

3. The recent world conference against racism held at Durban, South Africa, recognised the distinct cultural identity of certain groups and called upon to protect it against any form of discrimination.

4. In the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights 1966 that every one shall have rights to freedom of thoughts, conscience and religion and to manifest his religion or belief in worship. Observance, practice and teaching and no one shall be subject to coercion which would impair this freedom. The States, parties to the covenant undertake to have respect and ensure the religious and moral education of their children in uniformity with their own convictions.

Your Excellency, it may also be not out of place to mention that the Sikhs have age old ties with the French people. The sovereign Khalsa State of Punjab had senior French officers. The Sikhs fought against the dictatorial and despotic regimes and for the forces of liberty, freedom and democracy along with the French people and State. Thousands of Sikhs were killed in action and your esteemed country has graves of such brave Sikh soldiers who sacrificed their lives to protect the dignity and freedom of every human being. They were all Sikhs having unshorn hair and wearing turban in accordance with the Sikh religious discipline. Your Excellency, we seek your personal intervention to stop this discriminatory law and protect the Sikh religious customary and cultural law which is basic to the Human Rights and allow the Sikhs to practice and manifest their religion by restoring their right to wear truban.

With profound regards,
Yours sincerely,

(Gurcharan Singh Tohra)
President,
Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee,
Sri Amritsar.

Copy to:
1. S. Sukhdev Singh Ji Dhindsa, Hon’ble Minister for Chemicals & Fertilizers, Govt. of India, New Delhi.
2. S. Tarlochan Singh, Chairman, National Commission for Minorities, Lok Nayak Bhawan (5th Floor), Khan Market, New Delhi.
3. Dr. Rajwant Singh, 1700 Pasture Brook Way, Potomac, M.D. 20854, U.S.A.
4. S. Kuldeep Singh Toledo, 6863, Cloister Road, Toledo, Ohio 43817, U.S.A.

Letter to Mr.Kofi A.Annan, Hon’ble Secretary General,
Mr.Kofi A.Annan,
Hon’ble Secretary General,
United Nation Organization,
New York.

Sub: Discrimination against the Sikh Community.

Dear Sir,

Your Excellency will appreciate that on November 25 1981, the General Assembly of the United Nation adopted a declaration on the elimination of all forms of intolerance and of discriminations based on religion or belief. Article 1 of the declaration states that everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and that no one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have a religion or belief of his choice. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. Article 2 states that no one shall be subject to discrimination by any State, institution, group of person or person on the grounds of religion or other beliefs. Article 3 further states that discrimination between human beings on the grounds of religion or beliefs constitutes an affront to human dignity and a disapproval of the principles of the charter of the United Nation, and shall be condemned as a violation of the Human Rights and enunciated in detail in the international Covenants on Human Rights, and as an obstacle to friendly and peaceful relations between nations.In spite of above declaration in many countries Sikhs are facing discrimination in employment, education and in places of social interaction because of their practice of wearing a turban and maintaining unshorn hair in an expression of their respect of nature and their distinct identity. It is not always that the active prejudices the Sikhs face, but the invisibility within legislation and public policy regarding Sikhs that leads to discriminatory practices.

The problem of discrimination is not seen in Asian and African countries where Sikhs have enjoyed equal status without the need of judicial clarification. However Sikhs are facing problems in western countries. Recent example is new law in France, which does not allow Sikh students to wear turban.In this connection in the recent World Conference against racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance, Durban, South Africa, a paragraph 67 was introduced which inter alias as below.

“We recognize that member of certain group with a distinct cultural identity faced barriers arising from a complex interplay of ethnic, religious and other factors as well as their tradition and customs and call upon states to ensure that measures, policies and programs aimed at eradicating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance address the barrier that this interplay of factor creates”

The above paragraph of the World conference offers an opportunity to address problems that Sikhs have faced many European Countries and may face in developing countries.The international law has also given emphasis on universal declaration on Human Rights. These rights have been considered as natural or inalienable rights. As a matter of fact, India was party to the Universal Declaration of Rights and the declaration describes some Fundamental Rights as inalienable.In the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights 1966 the following Articles are relevant:-

Article 18

(i) Everyone shall have rights to freedom of thoughts, conscience and religion. These rights shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually of in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.

(ii) No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.

(iii) Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitation as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals or the Fundamental Rights and freedom of others.

(iv) The States, parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guarantee to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.

Your Excellency will appreciate that at its 1981 session the United Nation General Assembly adopted a declaration on Religious Freedom titled as declaration on the elimination of all forms of intolerance and of discrimination based on Religion or Belief. According to that everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have a religion and no one shall be subject to coercion, which would impair his freedom to have a religion or belief of his choice.

Therefore, Your Excellency is requested to intervene in the matter urgently and take necessary steps in restoration of the Sikh customary, Religion and Human Rights and no racial discrimination be made to Sikhs in the World, so that they can reside peacefully and with dignity.

In the context of the latest proposal of France Government not to allow the Sikhs to wear turban in all Schools and also for getting photographed for official purpose, the proposed legislation is sheer discrimination and violation of all international laws. The Sikh religion and culture makes it mandatory to have unshorn hair and wear turban. No Sikh can remain bare headed. Turban is an integral part of Sikh personality and there is no exception to this rule. Application of this proposed State law would force the Sikhs out of France which would be an affront to all modern, secular non discriminatory and just ideals to which all civilised people adhere, prescribe and practice. We request you to write to Government of France to exempt the Sikhs from this draconian, arbitrary and unjust law which is an affront to human dignity & violative of human rights.

We make an appeal to you to issue an advisory note to all countries, specially to France to treat the Sikhs as religious & cultural minority and to give them all facilities guaranteed under the UNO declarations to protect their religious beliefs.

Thanking you,
With profound regards,

Yours faithfully,

(Gurcharan Singh Tohra),
Pesident,Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee,
Sri Amritsar.

Copy to:
1. S. Sukhdev Singh Ji Dhindsa, Hon’ble Minister for Chemicals & Fertilizers, Govt. of India, New Delhi.
2. S. Tarlochan Singh, Chairman, National Commission for Minorities, Lok Nayak Bhawan (5th Floor), Khan Market, New Delhi.
3. Dr. Rajwant Singh, 1700 Pasture Brook Way, Potomac, M.D. 20854, U.S.A.
4. S. Kuldeep Singh Toledo, 6863, Cloister Road, Toledo, Ohio 43817, U.S.A.

Letter to Embassy of France, New Delhi.

Hon’ble Mr. Dominique Girard,
Ambassador,
Embassy of France,
New Delhi.

Dear Sir,

The Sikhs feel highly concerned and perturbed over the issue of proposed ban on external religious symbols that would specifically affect the Sikhs. The Sikh turban is an article of faith and forms an integral part of the Sikh personality. It is the Sikh religion, culture and tradition which make it mandatory for any practicing Sikh to have unshorn hair and wear turban which perhaps is not the case of other religious denominations.

Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC the highest and largest elected religious organisation and is an apex organisation, which manages the historical Sikh Shrines including Golden Temple and Sri Akal Takhat Sahib, the highest seat of Sikh spiritual and temporal authority. It is the SGPC that have been entrusted upon, besides managing the historical Sikh Shrines, codifying the basic tenets and traditions for the Sikhs.

The proposed ban on turban that would affect the Sikhs specifically has stunned the Sikhs world over and the office of SGPC is in receipt of innumerable calls and representations demanding the withdrawal of the proposal referred to above. SGPC has thus authorised S. Kuldip Singh of Toledo, Ohio, USA, hon’ble member of the Religious Advisory Board of SGPC to visit Paris to represent, on behalf of the Sikh and SGPC, the case of proposed ban on the subject metioned above in France.

We would request you to kindly arrange a meeting of the Sikhs delegation led by S. Kuldip Singh with your honourable Home Minister and Education Minister.

Kindly extend all help and co-operation.

Thanking you.
Yours sincerely,



(Manjit Singh Calcutta)
Secretary,
Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee,
Sri Amritsar.

To Whom It May Concern

Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Sri Amritsar is an apex representative religious organisation of the Sikhs constituted under Sikh Gurdwaras Act, which manages the historical Sikh shrines including the Golden Temple and Sri Akal Takhat Sahib, the highest seat of Sikh temporal and spiritual authority.

The undersigned, in capacity of being the executive head of SGPC, hereby authorise S. Kuldip Singh of Toledo Ohio, USA, the chairman of World Sikh Council, America region and an honourable member of the Religious Advisory Board of SGPC to represent SGPC which is the largest and highest representative elected body of the Sikhs and explain the Sikh position on the proposed ban on religious symbols in France.



Secretary,
Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee,
Sri Amritsar.