Sikhs from across the world will be joining in moral and practical support of a peace march in New Delhi, India, today to protest against a French secularity law that bans the wearing of sacred turbans in schools and other work places throughout the country.
The one kilometre march from Gurudwara Bangla Sahib to Jantar Mantar, prefiguring the arrival of the controversial French president next week, will be followed by a candle light vigil.
The new law in France prohibits all “ostensible” religious articles - including the Sikh turban, the Muslim hijab, the Jewish Kippa and Christian crosses in public schools in France.
For Sikhs, the turban is one of five key symbols of their faith. For those who wear it, it is not just a head-dress but an extension of who they are as a person. It is also a willingly accepted obligation in a way that a cross, for example, is not for Christians.
Eastern Orthodox Christians wear a cross which is consecrated for them at the change of name they have through baptism, but it is usually worn under the clothing, for example.
Civil rights campaigners say that the French law is unacceptably prohibitive, and an example of "eliminative secularism" - a version of secularity which is not simply about equal treatment and the denial of privilege to any one group, religious or non-religious, but a deliberate attempt to deny any visibility to religion in public life.
The march is taking place a week ahead of French President Sarkozy’s arrival as chief guest at the 58th Indian Republic Day celebrations.
Six Sikh schoolchildren and two adults have unsuccessfully turned to the French courts for redress. They are now appealing their cases to the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
United Sikhs, a body which brings together Sikh people from the India, the USA, Canada, Britain, Ireland and elsewhere, will file for third party intervention in these cases in order to reinforce the importance of the turban to Sikhs.
The turban, they point out, poses no security threat as a Sikh is recognizable only with and because of the turban and not without it. Further it does not interfere with identification in today’s age of biometric photos.
A number of national and international Sikh organizations are participating in the march.celebration. Over 2,000 Sikh school pupils and 1,000 Sikh college students will join in the candle light vigil.
Delegates from Dharmik Ekta Mission, Shromani Akali Dal (Panthic), Shromani Akali Dal Delhi, and the International Sikh Confederation are expected to take part in the nonviolent protest.
United Sikhs aims to "recognise the human race as one" and to work with minority and underprivileged communities for empowerment, spiritual development, education and understanding.
Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow writing on religious symbols at work: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/6279