Journalist | Writer | Analyst
The big story out of Paris today is the signing of the nuclear cooperation agreement between India and France, the first by India with any nuclear supplier since the Koodankulam agreement with Russia in the late 1980s. I’ll have more on that later, when the text becomes available.
Meanwhile, my friend, Tito Singh, who writes for New Europe, had Nicolas Sarkozy squirming when he asked him about France’s ridiculous laws banning Sikhs from wearing turbans to school or receiving official documents like a driving license if they insist on being photographed with their turbans. Muslims in France, many of whom feel equally enjoined by their religion to cover their head, are also subject to the same discriminatory laws that the French claim are mandated by their strict adherence to laïcité, or secularism.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, at the concluding press conference of the European Union/India Summit in Marseille, France, stood next to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a Sikh wearing a light blue turban, as he answered this reporter’s (Tejinder Singh) question about the wearing of turbans by Sikhs in France. Regarding the required Sikh head covering, an integral part of their religious identity, Sarkozy, replied curtly,”Sir, we respect Sikhs. We respect their customs, their traditions. They are most welcome to France.”
Visibly irritated, Sarkozy continued, “But sir, we have rules, rules concerning the neutrality of civil servants, rules concerning secularism, and these rules don’t apply only to Sikhs, they apply to Muslims or others. They apply to all on the territory of the French Republic.”
The practice by Sikhs of allowing one’s hair to grow naturally is a symbol of respect, the most important of the five outward symbols required of all Sikhs, and the turban is worn to cover the uncut hair. Sarkozy explained that the banning of turbans is not discrimination, that, “These rules apply to everybody, to everybody with no exception. There is no discrimination whatsoever.”
These rules apply to everybody, without exception? How fortunate that Christians, who form more than 90 per cent of the French population, are not enjoined by their religion to wear headgear, unlike Jews, Muslims and Sikhs. As Anatole France said, “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets or steal bread.”