A Sikh student of Kings College London (KCL) has had his degree put in jeopardy after a French school he was due to work in for an overseas placement refused his position.
On October 3rd M.Singh Pandhal was told that due to strict application of Laicité, the French secularist law, his role as a teaching assistant was rescinded. As a Sikh, M.Singh wears a dastar (Sikh turban). In order to complete a degree in French and Management, KCL students must spend one year studying abroad in a French speaking environment.
“I feel disappointed and frustrated with this situation. French authorities allowed me to settle here, knowing what I came for, without telling me anything until I walked into the school. When I came in the headmaster did not even greet me, he just began questioning me on my dastar. I was later told I would not be allowed to work in any public school in France.”
M.Singh is currently speaking with both the Sikh Federation UK, who have long lobbied the UK government to challenge the discriminatory European law also observed in countries such as Belgium and Turkey, along with the Representative Council of Sikhs of France (RCSF), in order to remedy the situation and allow the British student to complete his degree.
With his application to work abroad as part of his degree going through the British Council, it leaves questions as to how much responsibility the educational institution will take in ensuring all British students – including Sikhs – get a fair chance to use their services.
KCL released the following statement to the Sikh Press Association regarding the situation:
All King’s College London students studying or working abroad through our schemes are made aware of legislation in country and of local customs which may affect them.
As an institution the safety and welfare of our 30,000 students and staff is paramount. King’s is proud of its diverse and inclusive community, which comprises students and staff from more than 150 countries, from all backgrounds and faiths. We are committed to respect for all of our students and staff.
Our procedures are under regular scrutiny and a review of this case with the student involved is already underway.
Ranjit Singh, director of RCSF, who is taking up the issue with French authorities, stated, “Our goal is find an alternative solution with the French academy. We thank KCL for their support during this period. We are seeking support from any organisations that believe in freedom of religion.
“Sikhs once proudly wore their daastars, refusing helmets, to fight for the freedom of France in both World War One and World War Two. It is disappointing it is now seen as a barrier in working for the state, whereas once it symbolised protection of the state.”
Earlier this year, the French turban ban was criticised by newly elected Slough Labour MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, a dastar wearing Sikh, in his maiden speech, calling it a “warped interpretation of secularism”.
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