France turban issue

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Sikhs protest against the French turban ban

The turban has been worn by people for thousands of years. In ancient Egypt, the turban was worn as an ornamental head dress. They called it ‘pjr’, from which is derived the word ‘pugree’, so commonly used in India. Kohanim (priests) in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem wore turbans; they go back at least as far as biblical times!

In the Bible, referring to the high priest, it says, "He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on." (Leviticus 16:4)

The turban has been common throughout Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa for thousands of years. Today, Muslim, Sikh and other men often wear turbans to fulfil religious requirements to cover their heads; traditionally, Hindu men often wear them as well.

Turban is and has been an inseparable part of a Sikh's life for centuries. Since about 1500 and the time of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, the Sikhs have been wearing the turban. Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru says,

"Kangha dono vakt kar, paag chune kar bandhai."

Translation: "Comb your hair twice a day and tie your turban carefully, turn by turn."

It goes without saying that the turban is an integral part of the dress of a Sikh; all baptised Sikhs, especially men are required to don a turban to cover their mandatory long hair called kesh.

Legislation concerning Sikhs in France

France, in contract to the the majority of the world has treated the Sikh turban in the same category as the Muslim hijab. The French believe that the display of any religious "symbol" is against their cultural and traditional requirements and so they have categorised the turban and the hijab as religious symbols and so banned under certain situations. For example, no one is allowed to wear these religious symbols in public schools.

The French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools bans wearing conspicuous religious symbols in French public (i.e. government-operated) primary and secondary schools. The law is an amendment to the French Code of Education that expands principles founded in existing French law, especially the constitutional requirement of laïcité: the separation of state and religious activities. (see French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools for more information).

The bill passed France's national legislature and was signed into law by President Jacques Chirac on 15 March 2004 (thus the technical name is law 2004-228 of 15 March 2004) and came into effect on 2 September 2004, at the beginning of the new school year. The full title of the law is Loi n° 2004-228 du 15 mars 2004 encadrant, en application du principe de laïcité, le port de signes ou de tenues manifestant une appartenance religieuse dans les écoles, collèges et lycées publics (literally "Law #2004-228 of March 15, 2004 concerning, as an application of the principle of the separation of church and state, the wearing of symbols or garb which show religious affiliation in public primary and secondary schools").

Further in 2010, the French passed a law to ban any face covering in a public place (French: Loi interdisant la dissimulation du visage dans l'espace public, "Act prohibiting concealment of the face in public space"). This is an act of parliament passed by the Senate of France on 14 September 2010, resulting in the ban on the wearing of face-covering headgear, including masks, helmets, balaclava, niqĝbs and other veils covering the face in public places, except under specified circumstances.[1] The ban also applies to the burqa, a full-body covering, if it covers the face. The bill had previously been passed by the National Assembly of France on 13 July 2010. (see French ban on face covering for more information).

The net result of these laws is that a Sikh is not allowed to present a photo to the government authorities wearing a turban to obtain a passport, driving licence or any government identification document (ID); nor is a Sikh allowed to attend a state school wearing a turban.

UN human rights body backs French Sikhs on turbans

UN human rights body backs French Sikhs on turbans

BBC By Dil Neiyyar BBC Asian Network -13 January 2012 Last updated at 17:51

A Sikh man in France has won the backing of the United Nations Human Rights Committee in his fight over religious headgear. It said France was violating Sikhs' religious freedom by forcing them to remove their turbans when having photos taken for passports and ID cards.

Ranjit Singh, 76, said he had turned to the UN because he found the French policy disrespectful and unnecessary. The ruling is not legally binding. France was asked to respond by March. Mr Singh welcomed the decision, telling the BBC: "[The turban] is part of my body. It is my identity and I cannot part with it."

Long battle

Sikhs in France have been fighting a long battle over the turban. In 2004 France passed a law banning religious signs in schools. This included turbans and Muslim headscarves. In the following years, people renewing passports

"I had faith that truth and justice would prevail and I patiently waited for this day”

-Ranjit Singh

and certain official documents were also asked to remove the religious headgear for photographs.

In the case of driving licences, French regulations said that motorists must appear "bareheaded and facing forward" in their photographs. But some Sikhs like Ranjit Singh refused to take off their turbans for these official photographs. As a result, they were refused ID cards and passports. For Mr Singh it was not a decision he took lightly.

He has been ill for some time and without official ID he was barred from receiving medical treatment and national and local government help and services.

"I cannot get myself treated," he said. "I cannot get X-rays, I cannot get my blood test done, I cannot get admitted to hospital."

He and a fellow Sikh, 55-year-old Shingara Singh, started their fight against the policy in the French courts. But when they lost their cases, they took the matter to the European courts.

'Patient wait'

In 2008 the European Court of Human Rights dismissed an appeal on grounds of security. It said that whilst Shingara Singh's religious rights had been infringed, France was justified to ban the turban on the driver's licence photo because the turban posed a security risk of fraud and falsification.

That is when Ranjit Singh decided to file a case to the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC). It has now judged that a turban does not pose a risk to security. In its judgement, reached in July but only now revealed,

"We now look to France to fulfil its treaty obligations under international law ”

-Mejinderpal Kaur United Sikhs"

the UNHRC said: "Even if the obligation to remove the turban for the identity photograph might be described as a one-time requirement, it would potentially interfere with the author's (Ranjit Singh's) freedom of religion on a continuing basis."

The committee also said that France had failed to explain how the Sikh turban hindered identification since the wearer's face would be visible and he would be wearing it at all times. Therefore, it argued, the regulation constituted a violation of Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

"I had faith that truth and justice would prevail and I patiently waited for this day," said Ranjit Singh.

"I pray that France will now fulfil its obligation and grant me a residence card bearing my photo without baring my head."

Mejinderpal Kaur of United Sikhs, which backed Mr Singh's case, said: "We now look to France to fulfil its treaty obligations under international law and its moral duty to ensure that the freedom of religion and belief is upheld for everyone who lives within its territory."

The news was welcomed by Sikhs around the world. Mrs Praneet Kaur, Indian minister of state for external affairs, said she was "very happy with the UN's decision and... for making everyone realise what the turban means to Sikhs"

More related news

Sikhs express shock at ECHR decision

The wearing of religious clothing is a topical issue in many European countries. This month, the Court declared inadmissible the complaint of a Sikh, in Mann Singh v. France. The applicant had tried to obtain a duplicate driving licence after the original had been stolen. His request was refused, because he did not want to pose for the identity photographs without his turban (Sikh men are required to wear a turban at all times), although the applicable rules required that a person should be "bareheaded and facing forward" on an identity photograph. The reasoning of the applicant that this had not been necessary in earlier years, was not accepted.

The European Court of Human Rights found that the French requirement interfered with Mann Singh's freedom of religion, but that it was provided by law and served the legitimate aim of ensuring public safety. In this context it was necessary for the authorities to be able to identify persons under road traffic regulations to check whether someone was authorized to drive. Referring to earlier case law, it held that the details of such national arrangements fell within a state's margin of appreciation. It also noted, that the requirement was a sporadic one. The earlier cases to which the Court refers are Phull v. France (Sikh in airport security check), El Morsli v. France (muslim woman in consulate of France in Morocco, in context of identity check), and Karaduman v. Turkey (identification in order to receive university diploma).

One can conclude from all of these cases, that - unless manifestly unreasonable or disproportionate - ECHR state parties can go against people's own religious rules for the purposes of necessary identification which serves a legitimate aim.

Although the applicant also invoked the right to privacy and the prohibition of discrimination, the Court did not find any appearance of a violation of those provisions. The decision itself is available only in French, but the press release in English can be found here.

More related to this news

Sarkozy has an "open mind" on turban issue: Manmohan

Nicolas Sarkozy and Manmohan Singh

The Hindu News update service October 1, 2008

On Board PM's Special Aircraft (PTI): Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday said French President Nikolas Sarkozy had an "open mind" in dealing with the controversy over the turban issue in France that has unleashed protests in the Sikh community.

Singh said he had raised the turban issue again with Sarkozy during summit talks in Paris on Tuesday.

"He(Sarkozy) said we have an open mind and we will look at it. He said he had an open mind in the light of what I had said. He said he will have a relook it," said the prime minister while mentioning he had raised the sensitive issue before too when Sarkozy came on a visit to New Delhi in January this year.

The prime minister he told Sarkozy that the turban was a very essential part of the Sikh way of life because the members of the community are not allowed to cut their hair. The President was told that turban is one way that enables them to keep their hair bridled, he said.

"There are problems in France, when Sikh children go to school they are discouraged from wearing their turbans. And when seeking identity cards they are asked to remove their turbans. These are some inconveniences that Sikhs face," the prime minister told reporters.

Sarkozy at a joint news conference with Singh after the ninth Indo-EU summit in Marseilles in France on Monday said Sikhs are not specially targetted and the turban rules applied to other minority communities as well in France.

Sarkozy at the same time said minority communities must respect rules that need to be followed in France.

More related news

French Sikhs appeal on turban ban

Sikhs have also fallen foul of a ban on religious symbols in schools

BBC News 7 March 2006

French Sikhs have appealed to President Jacques Chirac over a ruling that they must remove their turbans for driver's licence photographs.

France's highest administrative body reversed an earlier ruling in favour of Shingara Mann Singh, a French citizen forced to remove his turban in 2004.

It said the order was justified on the grounds of public security and was not a restriction on freedom of faith.

Mr Singh's lawyer said he might appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

The French branch of United Sikhs has called on Mr Chirac to intervene in the matter.

It argues the ruling makes its small community of several thousand in France the victims of "indirect discrimination".

Sikh males are required by religion to allow their hair to grow and most wear a turban, a symbol of Sikh identity, to keep the growth under control.

Boys expelled

Mr Singh, from the northern Paris suburbs, brought his case after he was refused a duplicate driving licence in 2004 because he would not remove his turban.

The Council of State had ruled in his favour on a technicality in December, but has now upheld a revised transport ministry circular insisting that people pose for driving licence photos with bare heads.

It ruled the order was not an obstruction to freedom of religion and cited a European Court of Human Rights ruling which said Sikhs could be obliged to take off their turbans at airport controls.

A number of Sikh boys were expelled from schools in France last year for refusing to remove their turbans after a law came into force which banned students from wearing conspicuous religious symbols.

More related news

Turban issue: SGPC chief decries govt’s lack of support

Sikhs protest against French turban ban

Tribune News Service Begowal (Kapurthala), June 1, 2005

Unhappy over the lack of government support to the turban issue in France, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) has initiated direct liaison with the French government in this regard.

Bibi Jagir Kaur, president of the SGPC, said that she met Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, recently in this regard but was not satisfied with the steps being taken by the Central Government to safeguard interests of Sikhs and their school-going children in France.

The SGPC, she said, therefore decided to have communication with the French government. “We have sent them CDs based on the importance of turban in Sikhism. We have also started a dialogue with them by sending e-mails in this regard. We have received confirmation of receipt of CDs and e-mails from the French government. We have also given them applications for permitting me and a few other members to visit France to present our views more clearly,” said Bibi Jagir Kaur who was at her Begowal dera for the inauguration of a three-day mela here today.

The SGPC chief said that since there had been some problem in communication due to the use of French language in government offices there, the committee was now seeking the help of Dr Roma Singh, working with the Guru Gobind Singh Study Circle based at Ludhiana, who is a Ph D in French. While Dr Roma Singh is at present putting up at Canada. The Bibi said that he was now being called back as she wanted to take up the issue at the earliest.

Bibi Jagir Kaur said that even though some members of the executive committee were to visit France on April 24, it could not be possible. “The members were to accompany some French Sikhs but at that time we were not sure of getting in touch with top French authorities. No specific appointment had been fixed and no agenda of the meeting could be sent to the government there prior to the visit which was therefore cancelled,” she said.

Bibi said that the issue had been hanging fire for the past few months as she was busy with Muktsar mela. “Later there were other issues hotting up such as the release of movie ‘Jo Bole So Nihal’ and that pertaining to forming of a separate Sikh body for Haryana,” she said.

She said that the SGPC had raised six objections to the film including changing of its title since it was not a religious movie, an error in the ‘jaikara’ as “jo” was not a part of it, raising of the ‘jaikara’ when the protagonist seems drunk, extra-marital affair of an “Amritdhari” character and deletion of a scene in which an “Amritdhari” mother checks five “kakars” of his “Amritdhari” son forcing him to remove his trouser.

More related news

France raises Sikh turban hopes

BBC News 13 February, 2004

The French Government says it will find a "solution" for Sikhs who are angry at a proposed ban on turbans and other religious symbols in state schools.

Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin made his remarks in India, where he has faced opposition over the issue.

"I am sure we are going to find a solution that will be satisfactory for the Sikh community in France," he said after talks in Delhi.

But he said any solution would be within the constraints of the new law.

Several dozen Sikhs and Muslims held protests in the Indian capital ahead of Mr De Villepin's talks with his Indian counterpart, Yashwant Sinha, at which the new law was discussed.

Turban 'way of life'

The French foreign minister said France's commitment to human rights and democracy had led to the decision to ban religious symbols in state schools.

He was at pains to stress that the law was not intended to target any religious group.

As a Sikh, I would be outraged if a ban were made on Sikhs to prevent them wearing a turban in school

Kiran Kasbia, Bristol, UK

But he gave no details of how his government might find a compromise within the new law for the tiny, 6,000-strong Sikh community in France.

Nor did he say whether "solutions" could be found for the many other religions whose members are up in arms at the proposed ban.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, Mr De Villepin said Sikhs were respected in France

Mr De Villepin later told Tarlochan Singh, head of India's National Commission for Minorities and himself a Sikh, that France would seek "practical solutions" to the problem, a French official said.

Sikhs say the turban is not a religious symbol but an integral part of the Sikh way of life.

The turbans are used to contain the long hair of Sikhs, which their religion prohibits them from cutting.

They complain that the ban will force them to do so and is tantamount to forcing them to give up their religion.

'Accidental victims'

On Wednesday a Sikh delegation met the French ambassador in Delhi and presented him with a petition asking for the government to reverse its decision to pass the law.

The petition included 100,000 signatures from Sikhs worldwide.

MPs in France's lower house passed the controversial bill this week.

The legislation is not expected to face difficulty clearing the upper chamber, and should be in force for the new academic year in September.

Sikhs in France complain they are accidental victims of legislation intended to curb the wearing of headscarves by Muslim schoolgirls.

They say the proposed law was drawn up without officials realising its potential impact on their community in France, which has five million Muslims.

The wearing of Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crucifixes will also be affected.

See also

External links

These articles deal with Sikh's Five ks

Kesh (uncut hair) -|- Kara (bangle) -|- Kanga (small comb) -|- Kachera (under garment) -|- Kirpan (sword)