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Turban diktat kicks up row in Punjab's Sikh school

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Hindu parents at a school in Punjab are protesting after the school’s Sikh authorities asked all students to wear traditional Sikh headgear to school.

School authorities in the Sikh-dominated state says they were merely enforcing a stipulation in its prospectus that students of all faiths have to wear the traditional Sikh headgear called the “patka” or “dastaar”.

But parents of other faiths say this is an affront to their religion, and have drawn parallels to Sikh protests in France in 2004 after the government there banned religious symbols such as Sikh turbans and Muslim headscarves in state schools.

About 150 parents sat in front of the Akal Academy in protest on Thursday, and reports said they had blocked roads, chanted slogans at the school gates and written to the local education minister saying the school be asked to withdraw its diktat.

“This is unfair to Hindu students,” Sanjeev Kumar Jindal, one of the parents, told Reuters. “Schools should stay clear of religious dogma.”

Hindus said the Sikh school authorities had imposed their religious values on followers of another religion, and said Sikhs had been equally unhappy when France’s secular authorities had crossed into personal religious space with the turban ban.

Sikh religion requires followers to grow their hair and wear a turban. France justified its move saying it was aimed at checking what officials said was the rising influence of radical Islam among France’s large Muslim population.

“What do the France school protests mean if they do it here?” asked Ashok Jindal, another parent offended by the school’s diktat, was quoted as saying by the Times of India. “It is just not fair.”

The school is run by a Sikh trust, but around 20 percent of its estimated 1,400 students are reported to be Hindus. Any student failing to comply with the rule is asked to pay a fine of 10 rupees a day.

“It’s in the prospectus -- you take it or leave it,” Beant Kaur, the principal of the school’s Punjabi division, told Reuters. “This is not about religion. This is part of proper uniform, for uniformity in the uniform.”

Swaran Kaur, the school’s English division principal, says most non-Sikh parents were not bothered about the turban diktat and only a handful of “troublemakers” were creating problems.

“We have information that some of these people don’t even have children studying in our schools,” she told Reuters. “They are obviously trying to give this a religious colour.”

The school’s prospectus says its curriculum lays special emphasis on spiritual development so that the young learners develop into virtuous adults and be the torch bearers of society.

“Moral and spiritual education is compulsory for all students,” it said.

“All non-Sikh students follow their own religion but they have to cover their head ... and they have to follow the spiritual and religious curriculum of Akal Academy.”

Additional reporting by Geetinder Garewal