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Tue, Feb 09, 2010 9:11:09

Secularism and Sikh Ceremonial Daggers

I Know, I Can’t Claim to Judge the Judge

Submission by Balbir Singh Sooch, Advocate, Ludhiana

The Kirpan is a ceremonial sword or dagger that must be worn by all baptised Sikhs (Khalsa)   after a mandatory religious commandment given by Guru Gobind Singh (the tenth Guru of Sikhs) in AD 1699.

The kirpan has both a physical function, as a defensive weapon, as well as a symbolic function. Physically it is an instrument of "Ahimsa" or non-violence. The principle of ahimsa is to actively prevent violence, not to simply stand by idly whilst violence is being done.

To that end, the kirpan is a tool to be used to prevent violence from being done to a defenseless person when all other means to do so have failed. Symbolically, the kirpan represents the power of truth to cut through untruth. It is the cutting edge of the enlightened mind.

The issue of Turban can also be mentioned here only for reference as it is also a significant part to the Kirpan (Dagger) and the other ceremonial articles of faith for Sikhs like kara, kesh (uncut hair), kanga (a wooden comb used for keeping hair in place under the turban) and kachera (specially designed cotton underwear). Earlier, the Sikh Vichar Manch suppoted right to Turban for Sikhs and stated as under:

“The following are excerpts from a statement by the French President Nicolas Sarkozy speaking at the UN General Assembly in New York on September 25, 2007, worth quoted and also circulated:

“Attachment to one’s faith, to one’s language and culture, and to one’s way of life, thought and belief – all this is natural, legitimate and profoundly human…To deny that is to sow the seeds of humiliation. A ‘clash of civilisations’ will not be averted by forcing everyone to think and believe alike; cultural and religious diversity must be accepted everywhere and by all.” 

All understand that head covering with a ‘Turban’ is very significant and respectful for human beings historically and it is special for Sikhs religiously as per their religious ethics and morals. As earlier supported and said by the Sikh Vichar Manch that Turban stands for Equality, Liberty, & Justice and the time may come that all human beings shall feel honored to make it a compulsory part of their dress like Sikhs.

The Sikh Vichar Manch strongly protests against the offensive and objectionable action of government of France for prohibiting headgear i.e. Turban to Sikh school children and hope for the best that better sense shall prevail without any need of further drawing the kind attention of international community for justice to Sikhs in the matter.”

When in California, an assemblyman Warren Furutani introduced legislation that would require police officers to receive instruction about the Sikh faith, whose members carry blades as part of their religion; I submitted my comment for consideration in the larger interest of Sikh Community regarding the possible language of the legislation for consensus:

“The legislation was necessary so that the Sikh community should not live in fear of arrest by law enforcement for carrying the kirpan, which is an integral part of dress and or otherwise for the Sikh practitioners religiously.

And, the legislation would require police officers to receive instruction about the Sikh faith to prevent instances of ignorance-based harassment, or at the very least provide a legal basis for holding police officers accountable to culturally appropriate standards of enforcement for the diverse communities in which they work, when the Sikhs as ‘practitioners’ of their faith truly’ carry blade i.e. Kirpan as part of five articles of ‘specific size’.

The Sikhs as ‘practitioners’ mean who practise in the sense; ‘Truly’ means who believe strictly in carrying it as part of five articles of ‘specific size’ allowed; In case, the internationally recognized ‘Sikh coalition’ or Sikh Committee (s) as may be specified in the legislation certifies so, keeping in mind the safety and security, to such Sikh practitioners as beneficiaries under the legislation, then, there should not be any hitch in reviewing it (bill) and the gaining political traction in the upcoming legislative session, so far, I understand.”

In view of the discussion above and the statement by the French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the arguments for and against the secular acceptance of Kirpan can be advanced.

The only question and the problem to be considered are of awareness and the maturity of a person, child or any individual exerting his right(s) on the ground of the secular acceptance of the attachment to one’s faith, to one’s language and culture, and to one’s way of life, thought and belief – all this is natural, legitimate and profoundly human…as said. The issue of Kirpan was also covered in it.

Should the fulfillment of attachment not subject compulsory to the awareness or consciousness and the maturity of a person, child or any individual to possess the attachment claimed so?

“I can see that it is a matter of concern”, “but there has been no case of a Sikh that I know of using his Kirpan as a weapon to cause injury. It is meant to be used as a defensive weapon” Sir Mota Singh said.

Here, commenting about Mr. Mota Singh’s views, would be considered like judging a Judge on my part in reference to his observation above. Whereas, to me,  the fulfillment of attachment, it may be regarding any right on the ground of the secular acceptance includes Kirpan, should be subject to the awareness and the maturity of a person, child or any individual to possess the same while exerting his rights on the ground?

Once allowing Sikhs to wear kirpan at Olympic venues*, “The new guidelines provide ‘reasonable accommodation’ for religious freedoms as defined by Canadian laws and values, while clearly identifying the conditions under which the kirpan may be worn,” also be looked into for the right decision. Because, as far I know, I can’t claim to judge the Judge.

See for detail about Kirpan:

 “The new guidelines provide ‘reasonable accommodation’ 

*Sikh spectators wearing a kirpan must inform security personnel prior to being screened at venues, and must meet the following stipulations:

1.         All articles of faith must be worn

2.         The maximum TOTAL length of the kirpan, including the sheath may not exceed 7.5 inches with a blade of not more than four inches and a handle of two inches or less.

3.         The kirpan must be worn in keeping with Sikh traditions including being secured into its sheath, attached to a fabric belt and worn across the torso.

4.         The kirpan must be worn under clothing and not easily accessible.

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Copyright © Balbir Singh Sooch, Chief and Spokesperson, Sikh Vichar Manch, Ludhana, Punjab (India)