Delhi, India: Days ahead of President Francois Hollande’s visit to India; France has indicated that it is not going to overturn the ban on Sikh turban in its public or government schools. Clarifying that the ban on religious symbols in schools is not Sikh specific, diplomatic sources said that Paris is ready to explain its position – that irrespective of religion no student can wear any religious symbol to school — if the Indian side thought it fit to raise the issue with Hollande during his visit to India later this week.
“There is overwhelming support in France for ban on religious symbols in public schools, which prevents Sikh students from wearing turban but this is not specific to them,” said a source.
“It’s the same with the Jews, the Muslims or the Catholics who constitute 75% of France’s population. If a Catholic student wants to wear the Cross to school, he has to hide it in his clothes. For a Sikh it is obviously difficult to hide his turban but the law is the same for everybody,” he added.
According to sources, France had on its own taken up the issue with foreign minister Salman Khurshid when he visited Paris earlier this year, and made the same point before him. “France is open to dialogue over the issue and will encourage groups which have reservations to put forward their point of view so that French authorities can put things in the rights perspective,” said the source.
The government has repeatedly taken up the issue with French authorities in the past saying that the turban was not just an “obvious religious symbol” but also formed the Sikhs’ core identity. Punjab’s ruling Shiromani Akali Dal has again appealed to PM Manmohan Singh to take up the issue with Hollande and explain how the turban is “inextricably” linked to the Sikhs.
In the meeting with Khurshid in Paris, it is learnt that the French authorities said that the issue should be looked in totality and how Sikhs are free to wear turbans on the streets of France. They said that there was only a ban on hiding one’s face while in the open which translates into a ban on the burqa.
Hollande’s two-day visit to India (February 14-15) will also be his first to Asia after taking over as president. He will be accompanied by his companion Valerie Trierweiler. With the Rafale fighter aircraft deal and commercial agreement with Areva for six European Pressurised Reactors still being negotiated, no big ticket announcements are likely even though the 2 sides are looking to sign an agreement for cooperation in cyber security. Sources said that France too had the same safety concerns about the next generation EPRs as it was building the same reactors in France too.