On Monday, waving placards declaring the "Turban is the pride of Sikhs" and "Restore Sikh dignity", the boys, with brightly coloured turbans, and girls marched through the capital's streets to the French embassy where they presented a petition.

 

Manjit Singh, a senior Sikh religious leader who led the children's march, said: "This march does not just challenge a law but the Western way of thinking."

 

The children presented the petition to the embassy and urged the French government to "accommodate the tapestry of diversity within it", Singh said.

 

"We don't have this (turban ban) problem in Germany, Britain, Canada or the US or anywhere in the world - it's only in France."

 

Secularity law

 

France's "secularity" law, which came into effect in 2004, outlaws "conspicuous" religious attire such as Muslim headscarves and Sikh turbans in state schools.

 

The protest came as Jacques Chirac, the French president who is on the second day of a three-day visit, was meeting in the Indian capital Manmohan Singh, India's prime minister, who is himself a Sikh.

Chirac (L) met Singh on Monday

Also on Monday, the Sikhs issued an appeal, published on the front page of the Indian Express newspaper, to Chirac to end the turban ban.

 

A letter signed by six Sikh leaders said: "We make a humble appeal to you that in order to safeguard Sikh tenets, the French government may in time with their culture and commitment to cultural freedom, permit Sikhs ... to wear scarves and turbans over their unshorn hair."

 

The Sikh religion forbids male followers from cutting their hair, which is kept neat by wearing a turban.

 

Though the French law does not single out any faith, many among France's five-million-strong Muslim community believe the government was targeting the hijab worn by teenage girls.

 

France's Sikh population is estimated at 6000, of which about 300 Sikh boys attend French state schools. Several boys have been expelled for refusing to remove their turbans.