Paris: The Sikh community in France is gearing up to vote against far-right populist Marine Le Pen of the National Front when the country goes to polls on Sunday, May 7; no surprise considering Le Pen’s comments on minorities in general, and Sikhs in particular.
Le Pen in an interview last month had said no religious symbols would be allowed in public if she came to power including Muslim headscarves, Sikh turbans and Jewish kippas. On the Sikh community, she further said, “We don’t have a lot of Sikhs in France. We’ve got some. But we don’t really hear much from them or about them which is good news.”
There are about 30,000 Sikhs in France, and they comprise more than half of the Indian origin population of the country.
“The choice is very simple, I don’t think anyone would vote for Le Pen,” said Nina Chandok, 35, a lawyer based in Paris, who will be voting for the centrist Emmanuel Macron, who is favoured to win. “First, she doesn’t seem to even realise there is a Sikh community in France. Then, she is really against any minority. We know her, we know her family, we know their beliefs.”
Jean-Marie, the former National Front leader and Le Pen’s father, was fined for denying the Holocaust and was previously expelled from the party by his daughter. Last month, Le Pen herself questioned France’s role in the Holocaust.
There are six gurudwaras in France, five of which are around Paris, and community leaders have been urging people to go out and vote. Though the Representative Council of Sikhs in France, the main body for the community, does not counsel people on how to vote, there is little doubt about who the community will favour.
“For us, it is evident who we should support,” said Ranjit Singh, 30, the director of public affairs for the council. “Her statement [about the Sikh community] was shocking and unacceptable and against the French constitution.”
Shortly after the remarks, the council put out a statement in April. “Indeed, these remarks not only stigmatise the French Sikh community but also fuel the hatred and mistrust against them leading to the daily discriminations they face,” it said. “We remind Madame Le Pen that French Sikh community members do not have to “hide”, they are and remain French citizens in their own right.”
Macron, whose party En Marche was founded just a year ago, is seen as a centrist, pro-Europe, pro-business leader. Not everyone has been pleased with the choice of the two remaining candidates who made it through to the run-off following the first round of voting on April 23. “I am not particularly for Macron’s politics but I don’t have a choice,” said Talwinder Kaur, 26, who lives in a suburb of Paris. “It is like having to choose between two diseases.”
Macron is heavily favoured to win, according to polls, but in case Le Pen does come to power, Ranjit was clear on the way forward. “We will take legal action to safeguard our rights,” Ranjit said. “We are hopeful that judicial power will be able to restrain the president.”
The council was in touch with candidates from each of the major parties – except Le Pen’s – before the first round to apprise them of the problems faced by the community.
“Macron has a deeper vision of the world,” said Kashmir Singh, 57, who runs a restaurant. Though he cannot vote, his son will be voting for Macron. “We hope he wins, he should win.”
Though it is clear that Sikhs will be voting against Le Pen, and though many are likely to vote for Macron, there will likely be some who cast ‘vote blanc’: or submit ballots without marking a candidate’s name.
France’s secularist approach, which believes in the strict separation of religion and state, has often been vexing for the Sikh. Men were previously forbidden from wearing the turban in identification documents although the UN ruled in their favour in 2012.