Page last updated at 08:11 GMT, Wednesday, 8 April 2009 09:11 UK

Sikhs protest against knife rules

By Dil Neiyyar
BBC Asian Network

A Sikh priest displays a traditional kirpan
Devout Sikhs are required to carry a traditional knife or kirpan

Sikhs say they are not being allowed to wear a kirpan - or ceremonial knife - in public places even though the law says they can.

Some have been refused entry to amusement parks and even government buildings because of fears the blade poses a security or safety threat.

The confusion has prompted the Department of Communities and Local Government to draw up guidelines for officials and employers on the rights of Sikhs to wear the kirpan. They are expected to be published later this year.

Sukhbir Kaur, 23, a Phd student, was one of a group of six Sikhs who were refused entry to a theme park in Staffordshire because they were wearing kirpans.

"We were waiting to pay and buy our tickets and then a security guard just came over and said we weren't allowed to go in," she said.

"When we said 'why?' He goes: 'because you're carrying knives.' I just felt like that's kind of wrong."

In 1983 Gurinder Singh Mandla made history after the Law Lords backed his right to wear a turban at school.

The law is on our side, as far as the kirpan's right to be worn is concerned
Mejindarpal Kaur, United Sikhs

That ruling gave Sikhs considerable protection under British law. Twenty five years on though he says he is still facing problems practising his religion. This time it is over the kirpan.

"When you go into court you are asked what it is and you tell them it's a kirpan. On occasions I can remember at Wolverhampton Crown Court, I was then flanked by two police officers until they were able to sort out from the Lord Chancellor's Office what they should be doing about this issue," he said.

The Courts Service said Sikhs are allowed to wear the kirpan in court even though knives are banned. A spokesman said Sikhs were given special dispensation because of their religion.

The kirpan is a small ceremonial knife which usually has a 3in (7.6cm) blade. It symbolises the spiritual struggle over evil and is one of five articles of faith which baptised Sikhs are expected to wear at all times.

The five ks

They are sometimes called the five ks. The others ks are: kesh (unshorn hair), kara (steel bracelet), kanga (comb) and kacha (special underwear).

The kirpan is carried in a sheath attached to a cloth belt. It is normally worn discreetly under clothes and most people would be unaware that a person was carrying one.

Sikh campaigners like Mejindarpal Kaur of United Sikhs think the concerns over safety and security are overplayed.

"The law is on our side, as far as the kirpan's right to be worn is concerned," she said.

"We just have to convince the various authorities who have their various concerns - sometimes out of a lack of knowledge, sometimes because of disproportionate fear of fear - that the kirpan is something that a Sikh will not use offensively."



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