Pressure on Preneet Kaur to take up turban issue during Hollande visit

Chandigarh, Punjab: The Union ministry of external affairs (MEA) is likely to take up the issue of turbans with French President Francois Hollande when he visits India on Thursday. Sources in the MEA said the ministry is likely to recommend to him steps like allowing Sikh students to wear keski (a small turban) to school and wearing turbans in photographs in ID cards like driving licences so that Sikhs do not have to take off their turbans every time French authorities check their ID proof for verification.

The move comes in the wake of protests by various Sikh bodies, who plan to stage demonstrations on Thursday in front of Teen Murti Bhavan in Delhi, where Hollande is scheduled to deliver a lecture. Groups like United Sikhs have been asking minister of state for external affairs Preneet Kaur, who is an MP from Patiala, to take up the issue.

Sources said the minister is likely to hand over the letter in the presence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Union external affairs minister Salman Khurshid. Preneet, however, refused to comment on this.

Sikhs in France and across the world have been upset over the ban on turbans on school campuses in France. They have also been peeved over instances of Sikhs being asked to take off their turbans by traffic policemen and government officials to match identities as it is mandatory in France to have photos in I-cards without any headgear.

France has made photos without turbans mandatory despite adopting biometric documents by introducing biometric passports in November 2008 and biometric driver’s licences in January this year in compliance with EU norms.

And, another woman MP from Punjab, SAD’s Harsimrat Kaur Badal, has lent her voice to the cause. However, Harsimrat, who had a telling 20-minute talkfest with US President Barack Obama in 2010, when she gustily asked him to put a stop to the US border practice of frisking Sikh turbans, tore into her Congress counterpart.

“It is ironical that when world over there are protests from the Sikh community on the ban, Sikh PM and Sikh minister are happy with the French government’s reply,” said Harsimrat.

“We will submit a memorandum to Hollande. I am meeting several representations of Sikh communities. The ban is like telling us to remove our clothes,” she added.

“Every time I have visited the US, I have been asked to let loose my hair and remove the hair pins. Each time, I have put up a defiant face. They would escort me to an enclosure and then the lady would do a pat down on me. My shoes, my bangles, my rosary were put aside,” she recollected.

Sikh men have long accepted they cannot take a sword aboard planes and so have modified the religious requirement by carrying pendants or blades embedded in their comb, she said.

The Bathinda MP said the community must not subscribe to meekness and such timidity. “The turban is an inextricable part of the Sikh identity. Sikhs say you may take off their head but not the turban,” she said.


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