North London, UK: A 14-year-old Sikh boy was told by his North London school that he would no longer be allowed to wear his Kirpan because it posed a health and safety risk.
On the first day of school last month, J Singh (minor and hence not named) attempted to attend classes at The Compton School, but was escorted out after he told his teachers that he was wearing his Kirpan – a sheathed scimitar, one of the five kakaar (articles of faith) an initiated Sikh must wear at all times.
An award winning student, Singh had been out of school for four weeks when he got admission in a private school after his family took a loan to pay his £6,000-a-year fees.
Barnet Council’s Director of Children’s Services, Robert McCulloch-Graham and the Council’s legal advisor, Lanna Childs, met United Sikhs legal director, Mejindarpal Kaur and J Singh’s family. Lanna Childs insisted that J Singh was not ‘excluded’ from school as he could return if he removed his Kirpan.
Mc Culloch said that since J Singh was not excluded there was no duty for the Council to find him an alternative school, even though he was of compulsory education age.
“Why is a Sikh student being asked to choose between his education and his faith?” Mejindarpal Kaur asked McCulloch, to which he replied, that the school governors had agreed that J Singh could wear a two-inch ‘kirpan’ from tip of handle to blade, which is welded shut in its sheath.
“We had informed the school that the two-inch alternative is a replica and not a Kirpan, hence not acceptable to J Singh or the community,” Mejindarpal Kaur informed Mc Culloch.
Rob Marris, MP and John Mcdonnell, chair for All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Sikhs, wrote to Ed Balls MP about the issue.
In reply, Diana Johnson, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools, stated that the non-statutory guidance to schools on the wearing of Kirpan explains that schools should be fully aware of the religious observances of Sikhs and the need to deal with this issue sensitively.
“We expect disputes. to be resolved locally. The Department (of Children Schools and Families) does not usually intervene. If challenged, it would ultimately be for the courts to decide if the school is justified in restricting the wearing of the Kirpan in this case,” Johnson said.