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The Turban Headache in France

Discussion in 'Hard Talk' started by spnadmin, Jan 18, 2010.

  1. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    The Turban Headache in France

    France-based Sikhs bring the turban issue to Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, hoping for a larger support from the diaspora, says SUJATHA SAMY

    At the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, this year, there were three men on a mission. Although they came from France, you can think they were just regular Sikhs wearing a turban. In fact, this is notreally the case. Their dastaar (turban) is a major source of headache in their new homeland.

    The reason? A French law requiring that all people be “bare-headed” on the photographs submitted for identification documents such as ID cards, passports or even as simple as a public transportation card.

    For most Sikhs, removing their turban even for a picture is a sacrilege. Most of the France-based Sikhs I spoke with claimed their headgear is part of the identity and without it they would look completely different. Hence, they could not see the relevance of the requirement.

    Unfortunately, in their cases, no exception could be made. Sikhs refusing to submit pictures “bareheaded” end up without papers. Among those cases, the one of Shingara Mann Singh is unique. He is a French citizen but because of the current requirements, he has no valid ID. “I am the only French without papers,” he jokes when asked about it.


    He becomes tense when talking about his fate in the coming months. He owns a taxi agency and drives regularly. His driver’s license is about to expire and he knows his turban will bar him from getting its renewal. In his case, it could mean that he will be jobless pretty soon. His bank has also warned him that they would not be able to renew his debit card if he cannot prove his identity.

    His friend Ranjit Singh has a legal political refugee status. The man has severe health issues but without valid papers, he is unable to get his social security benefits and has to pay full price for any medical treatment. He is also not able to apply for housing.

    So far, the local Sikhs are leaving no stone unturned. They have filed cases in local courts and appealed court decisions, but without much success. They have written to local MPs, ministers and politicians in India. But no one took up their case. They then decided to bring their problem to the European Court of Human Rights. Here again they met with disappointment.

    In 2004, a delegation of Sikhs from France was even sent to India. They spent days, meeting as many officials as they could. Sonia Gandhi was also on the list. After speaking with them, she assured that the issue would be taken up through the diplomatic channel. So far, the French Sikhs say, they have not seen any movement.

    Even during the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the French Bastille Day, last July, Sikhs claimed they were ignored. No Punjabi association was invited to the official reception, whereas 200 other Indian associations were part of the function.

    So what about the future? In New Delhi, the delegation brought a memorandum explaining their difficulties to the members of the Diaspora. They also collected 4,000 signatures from other Sikhs here (French law does not allow statistics based on race or gender, but here are an estimated 12,000 Sikhs in France). However, they have no illusions about a positive outcome from the conference but still have the hope that a solution could come out from political intervention.

    On the legal front, United Sikh – a UN-affiliated NGO fighting the Sikh cause – had turned to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 2008. They are expecting a decision soon.

    The turban issue is far from being a simple one – Neither for France nor India.

    France has a tradition of “integration”. The country expects its immigrants “to blend” into French society. However, what “integrate” really means remains unclear nowadays. Does it mean that in order to fit in, all individuality or unique community symbols have to be erased? Another question to ponder is: Unlike the burqa – a commission is currently studying the possibility of a legal ban on the burqa in France – one can see the faces of the men wearing a turban. So how is the turban posing an identification problem?

    No society can function properly without a fair set of boundaries. However, France has to come to terms with the changing face of its society and opt for more nuanced laws that would not alienate its minorities. This would be a good step to attain the much coveted integration objective.

    India is not in a comfortable situation either. What much can the Indian government, even headed by a dastaar-wearing Sikh, can do when those people have become foreign nationals? What could be done beyond basic education and information? The local Sikhs blame the Indian inertia on lucrative business prospects. Could that be the only reason?

    In the middle of so many questions, to which answers could never come, the Sikhs in France have no intention of ending their struggle. Love them or hate them but their resolve cannot leave you indifferent.
     

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  3. spnadmin

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    What do forum members think about this? In the article about Banning the Burqa the French government was protecting the safety of Muslim women by banning their head covering. Since a turban is not a safety hazard, and it does not cover the face preventing identification, the reasoning becomes equally far-fetched.

    Also I cannot believe that the people of France are visually impaired to the extent that they cannot pick out features that identify a person. So something else is going on. Or no!

    And we are told that the French law requires people to be bare-headed for identification photos. So what happens when a common criminal -- or a terrorist -- carrying proper identification of himself/herself bare-headed commits a crime wearing a hat? Surely a sharp-wit has already asked this question. :happysingh:
     
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  4. BhagatSingh

    BhagatSingh Canada
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    Narayanjot Kaur Ji, again, I think the idea is to treat the religions equally. It would be considered unfair to allow sikh turbans but not muslim hijabs and niqabs.

    Kesh are one of the five k's, and not the turban so why is there a problem??
    The article says "For most Sikhs, removing their turban even for a picture is a sacrilege."
    Sacrilege:profanation: blasphemous behavior; the act of depriving something of its sacred character; "desecration of the Holy Sabbath"
    wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn
    Isn't that just a tad bit exaggerated?? Where is this coming from???
    I think the real deal here is that Sikhs are not used to taking their turbans off in public. So why not come prepared with no turban?
    I mean, in the movie "Life Aquatic" Warris Ahluwalia removed his turban to go diving.
    Sometimes I remove my turban in public washrooms (gets loose sometimes, or is too tight) so that I can tie it again.
    Does that make the turban less sacred??
    The problem is we are attributing too much importance to religious symbols but not enough importance to the spirituality that the religion is supposed to lead us to!


    Just exploring my thoughts.
    Again, it would be considered unfair to allow sikh turbans but not muslim hijabs and niqabs.
     
  5. spnadmin

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    Bhagat ji

    I appreciate your thoughts and reflections. However, there is a little something more than the wearing of a head-covering in this scenario.

    In Europe people cannot travel from A to B without having official papers of some kind. We in the US and Canada do not have this imposed on us -- though there has been such an effort for some time coming from the paranoid wings of left and right. In France -- a Sikh male cannot drive a cab or a woman will not be able to travel on a bus (example) without official ID and the ID must show the head uncovered. No ID, not job. No ID, you have to walk, and maybe you won't be stopped by the police.

    So the "uncover your head so we can identify you" has economic consequences for Sikhs, Muslims, and Orthodox Jews who have not yet been mentioned. Opposition to the ban is less about "hurt religious feeling" and more about "prior restraint by the government." Prior restraint is any effort by the government to place restrictions on individuals -- "just in case they might do something" ...anything.. before there is any reason to suspect that they will do something wrong. So the entire matter makes me wonder how indeed the revolutions of Europe and the New World that freed humankind from the oppressions of state religions, kings and tyrants, started in France? Just being tongue in cheek.

    Just a little digression from the past. There was once a news story from the State of Florida in which a Muslim woman protested having to remove her veil for a driver's license photo. Of course common sense prevailed. An ID photo has to show your face. Otherwise why have one. But a turban is not a potential disguise. That is the difference.

    So I am not questioning equal treatment for Muslims and Sikhs. I am questioning the real agenda of the French government. Nothing adds up in either story: turban bans, burqa bans. Hog wash!
     
  6. kds1980

    kds1980 India
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    There is another question.Why these laws suddenly started coming after 9/11? was France not seculer in 80s or 90s .What problem they faced in 90s ? Why there is need to change the law.?

    I think the reality is that they want to discourage muslims to settle in France by Imposing these type of laws but they don't understand the nature of islam .Muslims will keep quiet
    untile they reach the numbers when they could influence the politics and after that we all know what is going to happen
     
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