Sikhs will no longer have to remove turbans in Italy
TNN, Jun 4, 2011, 01.28am IST
NEW DELHI: Sikhs travelling to Italy will no longer have to remove their turbans at the airport during security screening. This was officially announced by the Italian interior ministry after bilateral discussions between foreign minister SM Krishna and his Italian counterpart, Franco Frattini, in Rome on Friday.
The turban will be accepted as a symbol of religion when Sikhs are photographed for identification cards at local police stations in Italy. Official sources said this was a "big achievement" for Indian diplomacy.
Krishna, who is in Rome to participate in the 150-year celebrations of Italian unification, made a strong case for Sikhs to be treated more respectfully. He told Frattini that even the European Union accepts Sikh turbans as a religious symbol, so Italy should not discriminate against them either. He pointed out better practices in the UK which had started a more equitable system -- let a man touch his own turban and run it through an explosives check.
A decree by the Italian interior ministry later said there would be no more checks of Sikh turbans at airports, except if they set off any "alarms". The decree said there would be "respect of privacy protection and fundamental freedoms including those related to the expression of religious beliefs''. The new instructions have been issued after the talks with Krishna.
Krishna had made the turban issue the main point on his agenda -- more respectful treatment for Sikhs entering Italy as well as those getting photographed for ID cards. On March 15, Amritinder Singh, the coach of ace golfer Jeev Milkha Singh, was asked to remove his turban while he was about to board the flight to Sicily. That led to protests in India. The government had then taken up the matter very strongly with the Italian authorities.
During the discussions, Frattini and his officials said as a first step Sikhs would not be expected to remove their turbans in a public place, but would be given a separate room with a mirror for the purpose. Earlier this was even done in washrooms which is not acceptable to Sikhs. In an attempt to assuage sentiments, Frattini said Sikhs were a highly respected community in Italy. The Italian side said they would accord "full consideration to the respect of cultural and religious beliefs and to their safeguards when related to minority communities like Sikhs''.
Italy has the second biggest Sikh population in Europe after UK. There are more than 70,000 Sikhs living and working in Italy. There are over 20 gurdwaras across the country, the oldest in Reggio Emilia in central Italy. Sikhs in Italy are largely engaged in agriculture and dairy and animal farming.