Guest post by tf

One consequence of France’s law against the headscarf has been that Sikh boys cannot attend public school if they wear topknots or turbans. French newspaper Libération reported yesterday that a private school will be set up by 2007 for some of these students. But AFP reported on the same day that the mayor of the banlieue (suburb) concerned did not wish to have such a school in his town.

This is a photo that I took of a Sikh march in Paris in January 2004 protesting the ban:

Sikh Demonstration in Paris

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The commission set up by French president Jacques Chirac to advise on a law regarding the headscarf never included Sikhs in their hearings, as Elaine Sciolino reported in the New York Times:

Why didn’t the Sikhs come forward, why didn’t they protest while we were doing our investigation?” Bernard Stasi, who led the commission that produced the report, said in an interview. I have finished my job and it’s too late to change the report. Now it’s in the government’s hands.”

He acknowledged that no French Sikhs were among the more than 200 people interviewed by his commission during its six-month investigation.

An official at the Ministry of National Education, which is responsible for negotiating the law with Parliament, declined comment, except to say: What? There are Sikhs in France?” A senior official at the Ministry of the Interior responsible for religious matters said: I know nothing about the Sikh problem. Are there many Sikhs in France?”

The French parliament went ahead and passed the law without any further hearings. The report by Marie-Joëlle Gros in *Libération** describes the impact on the Sikh community in the the département* of Seine-Saint-Denis, which neighbors Paris. Four Sikh students were kicked out of school. Three of them failed their school year last year, and are now repeating the year at a Catholic school that has accepted them. The fourth was a vocational student, kicked out this year, and he has gone to work for his father.

The report goes on to say that the Gurudwara Sachkhand Guru teg Bahadur association is setting up a private school, to open in 2007. However, the AFP story carried by Le Monde describes the opposition of Mayor Gilbert Roger of Bondy, a town in Seine-Saint-Denis, to the school being opened there. The Socialist mayor, who is also first vice president of the departmental council, reportedly bases his opposition on the lack of ties between the Sikh community and Bondy, as well as on his allegation that the property for the school was purchased in a manner designed to conceal its true ownership.