UK: Within the media we are often bombarded with ‘Rise in knife crime’ headlines and presented with tragic cases of brutal stabbings. There are some people today who often refer to the Kirpan, a religious article of faith worn by baptised (Amritdhari) Sikhs, as a knife. Considering my prior statement, I feel this is not only a false reference but also a dangerous one as it can create huge negative connotations. An ignorant few would question the Kirpan’s existence today for this reason and recently, even the Kirpan’s size has been questioned.
Last month, Sikh24.com published an article regarding the Head of the British Sikh Association’s ‘Kirpan attack’. The article alleged that the Chairman of the Association, Dr. Rami Ranger, had called for a ban of the Kirpan. Sikh24.com then corrected their article, confirming that Dr. Ranger was calling for a reduction in its size and not a ban, as had previously been falsely stated. The website, along with some others, also printed an email sent from Dr. Ranger to the President of the SGPC (Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee) calling for this reduction which created a debate over the validity of the Kirpan today. Within the email, Dr. Ranger specifically highlighted how ‘it is also a fact that many terrorists resemble us in their appearance, so why give a chance to anyone who may easily mistake us as one of them.’ I do not feel that Sikhs should have to adapt to modernity, specifically the current climate of fear against ‘foreign terrorists’ within the UK. This misconception undermines the UK’s appreciation and understanding for religion today.
Lord Sebastian Coe wrote a letter to the Sikh Federation earlier this year confirming that Kirpans were allowed to be carried when attending the Olympic Games. In the letter, the Chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games wrote ‘The Sikh community has played a major role from the outset of the bid to host the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games here in London.’ When there is clearly such acceptance and understanding of the Sikh community and their faith, why would Sikhs today have to adapt to modernity? There isn’t a reason. As a young Sikh woman, I do not agree with the banning of the Kirpan or even a reduction in any way. I appreciate what it means to practicing Sikhs to carry the Kirpan as it is one of the five Ks – the five physical articles of faith worn by baptised (Amritdhari) Sikhs. I wanted to discuss this further with Dr. Ranger in reference to the comments he had made however, he did not wish to answer any of my questions and only tried to steer me away from writing about the topic. I appreciate that he may not have wanted to answer my questions considering the backlash he received following his call for a Kirpan reduction. Sikh24.com reported on an apparent outrage among the Sikh community following Dr. Ranger’s request. One Sikh24.com representative, Rav Singh, believes Sikhs are completely integrated and play an active role within British society today. He said: “I think Sikhs are adapted to the modern world like any other community.” This is a statement I can appreciate.
I feel it is frustrating when words or actions occur that aggravate such peace.
According to the Criminal Justice Act 1988, carrying the Kirpan is legal within the UK. This does not include misuse and if it does, it is not a Kirpan that is being carried by the perpetrator. This fact should not be viewed as a loophole in the law for perpetrators to justify their criminal actions when carrying a weapon. Kirpans should never fall into the same category as a weapon. Such associations blur the meaning of the ceremonial dagger as well as the meaning of the religious item. The history behind the Kirpan is extremely powerful. Considering we live in a time where the meaning of both culture and religion can often become so diluted, I feel the Kirpan is more valid than ever and it is an honour that it can live on with pride by those who carry it. The Kirpan’s meaning translates as the ‘hand of kindness and mercy’ – this speaks for itself.
I believe there is no reason to question the existence of the Kirpan or its size. I may be a third generation British Sikh yet I remain insightful and yes, when I wear my Kara (a steel bangle) which is another physical symbol of faith worn by Sikhs, I wear it with pride. Finally, while I am not a baptised (Amritdhari) Sikh and do not wear a Kirpan, I want to firmly know that if I, or one day even my children, ever choose to take this path they could do so with society’s understanding and respect.