India to raise French turban ban during De Villepin's visit

India will take up a likely French government ban on the wearing of turbans at state schools during the French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin's visit to India later this week, a report said.

France's lower house of parliament was late Tuesday expected to adopt a controversial bill that would ban Muslim headscarves and other religious ornamentation in state schools despite opposition from minorities and international rights groups.

The Times of India said the government would try to explain to De Villepin when he arrived here on Thursday that the turban simply could not be equated with other religious symbols like Muslim headscarves or Christian crosses.

"The turban issue, we have told the French government, has to be handled with great sensitivity," a senior foreign ministry official told the newspaper.

Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna told AFP that "a range of bilateral issues" would be discussed during De Villepin's two-day visit starting Thursday.

"But I just would not like to hazard a guess on whether this issue will be taken up," he added.

India's top Sikh political party, the Shiromani Akali Dal, last month presented a petition to the French ambassador to India, Dominique Gerard, making a plea that the ban not apply to Sikhs.

Sikhism, founded in the late 15th century, requires men to wear turbans and forbids followers from cutting their hair.

French President Jacques Chirac on December 17 came out in favour of a ban on the Islamic headscarf and other "conspicuous" religious symbols in state schools.

He wants the rules written into law by the start of the next academic year.

The decision, intended to reflect France's strict separation of religion and state, has set off a storm of protest by Muslims around the world.