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'No compromise': NSW, Sikh community agree on draft rules for wearing kirpan in schools

A stock photo of the Sikh 'kirpan'. Source: Getty Images/Jason Hetherington

The New South Wales government and the Sikh community have agreed on draft guidelines that may allow students to carry 'kirpans' to the state’s schools for religious purposes. The broader community’s feedback to finalise these proposals has been invited by 25 June.

The New South Wales government has invited feedback from the broader community by 25 June on the proposed guidelines before revoking its temporary ban on carrying the kirpan to schools.

Representatives of the New South Wales Sikh community say that they have “not compromised” on the length and structure of the kirpan (a ceremonial knife worn by baptised Sikhs on their person) during their consultations with the state government. 


Highlights:

  • NSW government and local Sikh community negotiate guidelines on kirpans in schools
  • Feedback from NSW residents invited by June 25
  • Kirpans were temporarily banned in NSW schools after an alleged stabbing incident in May

The issue came to light last month when New South Wales education minister Sarah Mitchell had announced a ban on school children carrying them to schools in the wake of a recent incident in which a baptised Sikh student of a Sydney school had allegedly used his kirpan to stab another student during a fight.

It had then left many members of the community unhappy. The New South Wales government then engaged in consultations with members of the Sikh community to arrive at a solution.

These guidelines stipulate the kirpan’s blade be 8.5 cm or less in length, and when combined with the handle, its total length should not exceed 16.5 cm.

The blade should be blunt and secured with a chain. It should be soldered closed at the links restricting the blade from being removed or sewn into a fabric loop to the kirpan’s belt, the government’s proposal states.

Other guidelines state that the kirpan must be concealed from view, removed and safely stored, secured against the body when undertaking physical activity such as sport. 

Sydney Vaisakhi
Members of the Sikh community celebrating Vaisakhi in April 2018 in Sydney.
ASA/SBS Punjabi

The student wearing it must comply with these guidelines and verify when reasonably asked by the school. 

The ban announced in May had angered some members of the Sikh community, which had then said the state government should have consulted them before making the announcement.

Members of the community also raised questions about the state’s freedom of religion protections. They said the kirpan is one of the five articles of the Sikh faith, and baptised Sikhs must carry them on their person all the time. 

“In accordance with the Summary Offences Act 1988 (NSW), there has to date been a legal exemption for knives carried for religious purposes, including a Kirpan as carried by baptised Sikh students,” the New South Wales government noted in its proposal.

Sydney's Glenwood Gurudwara Sahib
Sydney's Glenwood Gurudwara Sahib.
Supplied by Jatinder Singh/ASA

Ravinderjit Singh, the chairperson of the Australian Sikh Association (ASA), said the proposed guidelines are the results of their hard negotiations with the state government.

He added that after the ban in May, a 10-member NSW Gurudwara Working Group, which also includes gurudwara representatives from regional New South Wales, was formed.

The group, said Mr Singh, held wider consultations with the Sikh community and religious organisations in Australia and other countries including the supreme Sikh authority on temporal issues, Sri Akal Takhat Sahib at Amritsar.

“We also studied the models in the US, the UK and Canada on carrying kirpans to schools and also the system followed by NSW Corrective Services. Our proposal to the New South Wales government was based on these consultations,” Mr Singh told SBS Hindi.

“Most Amritdhari (baptised) Sikhs carry the 16.5 cm (with handle) kirpan, and this is the most practical and easily-available size. The government started negotiations on the size of the blade to be 6 cm. But we told them if the size is reduced, it will lose its significance,” Mr Singh elaborated.

NSW Government
The NSW government and the Sikh community have developed a solution for students that meets the needs of their their faith while adhering to safety policies.
Supplied by NSW Government

Mr Singh said baptised Sikhs have always had the choice to keep the blade of their kirpan sharp or blunt.

“If the blade is blunt, then it will not cause serious injury, especially at schools. So, it demonstrates and addresses the safety requirement of the New South Wales government and the majority of the Sikh community is agreeable to this,” he added.

New guidelines stipulate the kirpan’s blade be 8.5 cm or less in length, and when combined with the handle, its total length should not exceed 16.5 cm.
New guidelines stipulate the kirpan’s blade be 8.5 cm or less in length, and when combined with the handle, its total length should not exceed 16.5 cm.
Supplied by Jatinder Singh/ASA

The ASA said they are not open to any further changes. 

A spokesperson of the state’s Department of Education told SBS Hindi that they have worked closely with community representatives and other government agencies to develop this solution.

"We believe that the draft requirements for carrying Kirpans at school, as set out on the consultation page, will provide for the safe carrying of knives worn for a religious purpose," the spokesperson said in a statement.

"We are interested to hear the views of the broader community on this issue, which is why the consultation page has been set up. Once we have considered the consultation feedback, we will be in a position to advise whether the temporary ban will be lifted and when that will occur.

"Our strict policy that no weapons will be allowed at school will continue to be in force," the spokesperson asserted.

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