United Sikhs, a UN affiliated international advocacy NGO, joined other civil rights organizations over the weekend in asking Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to discuss the Sikh turban issue in France with President Sarkozy.
Mr Sarkozy's high profile visit to India began on 25 January 2008. Last week, Sikh organizations across the world mobilised for a change in the 2004 French law prohibiting all overt religious dress or symbols in schools and certain other public places.
“No Sikh organization has been granted a meeting with Dr Manmohan Singh or the External Affairs Minister, but we will persist in our request for a meeting so that we are able to effectively apprise him of the issues,” said Mejindarpal Kaur, the United Sikhs director who is leading the legal challenge to the French ban on the Sikh Turban in schools and on ID document photos.
“We are concerned that the details of the problems faced by French Sikhs and the legal arguments that have been presented in the French and in the International courts are not known to Dr Manmohan Singh,” she told a press conference at the Meridien Hotel in Delhi.
“We understand that Dr Manmohan Singh may be preoccupied presently, but we hope that he will grant us a meeting by next week,” said Daljeet Singh, chair of the Dharam Parchar Committee of DSGMC.
“Dr Singh, a Turban-wearing Sikh, cannot turn a blind eye to the injustice suffered by Sikhs in France," he added.
"Since the law was passed, France has also not issued passports, driving licence and residence cards to Sikhs who refuse to remove their turban for their ID photos,” said Gurdial Singh, an Indian national living in France, who has traveled to New Delhi to campaign for the Sikh Turban ban to be lifted in France.
On 16 January 2007, United Sikhs director, Gurpreet Singh, and other members of a Sikh delegation presented a memorandum, addressed to Mr Sarkozy, to the French Ambassador in Delhi, Jerome Bonnafont.
The ambassador informed the Sikh delegation that the French government takes a serious view of the concerns of the Sikhs and he will raise with Mr Sarkozy the issues raised in the memorandum.
The memorandum stated forcefully that the Sikh Turban is the most recognizable feature of a Sikh. Unlike other head coverings, it is an inextricable part of the Sikh identity and is worn by Sikhs at all times to cover their unshorn hair, a mandatory article of their faith. As a part of the core identity of a Sikh, this law essentially has the effect of banning the practice of the Sikh religion in France.