Ottawa (June 19, 2021): The World Sikh Organization of Canada calls on Australian Sikhs to reject the kirpan policy proposed by the NSW Department of Education. The policy would require that kirpans be “blunt” and secured by a soldered chain that restricts the removal of the kirpan, amongst other restrictions.
While there had been a legal exemption for Sikh students and school staff in NSW to wear the kirpan until recently, following a recent incident, a blanket ban had been imposed. On May 19, 2021, the WSO wrote to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Education Minister Sarah Mitchell, providing information on the Canadian experience with respect to the accommodation of the kirpan and calling for an immediate end to the ban.
The proposed policy was posted online yesterday and is open for public comment until June 25th. The policy imposes unacceptable modifications to the kirpan that change the very nature of this sacred Sikh article of faith.
Notably, the kirpan has been accommodated in Canadian schools for decades without such unreasonable modifications and restrictions.
WSO President Tejinder Singh Sidhu said in a statement today,
“The proposed NSW school kirpan policy is an unreasonable and unacceptable infringement on the rights of Sikh students and school staff. The NSW Department of Education is choosing to punish the entire Sikh community based on a single unfortunate incident. There have been several incidents involving the misuse of scissors in recent years at NSW schools; however, no attempt has been made to ban the use of scissors in schools.
The proposed policy is more restrictive than any kirpan policy we are aware of and requires that the kirpan be fundamentally altered.
The requirement that the kirpan be secured with a chain that is “soldered closed” or that the kirpan be “sewn into a sturdy fabric loop” proposes fundamental changes to the nature of the kirpan. The requirement that the kirpan be ‘blunt’ is also confusing and vague. It is not clear how the bluntness of the kirpan will be measured and by whom, particularly where the kirpan is to be soldered into its sheath and rendered immovable, according to the policy.
The underlying problem with the policy is that it assumes the kirpan to be a weapon or a mere ‘knife’ and refuses to recognize it as an article of faith.
Canadian schools have accommodated the kirpan by requiring that the kirpan be worn restrained in a fabric belt and underneath the clothing. The policy has been successfully implemented for decades. We would encourage the NSW Department of Education to replicate this policy and respect the religious and human rights of the Sikh community.
In Canada, Sikhs have worked towards the accommodation of the kirpan in public spaces such as schools, courtrooms and hospitals. While agreements have included limits on size or required that the kirpan be worn underneath the clothes, no attempt to alter or regulate the shape or attributes of the kirpan has ever been accepted by Sikhs. Though the process has taken years, the kirpan is now widely accepted and accommodated in Canada. We would encourage the Australian Sikh community to reject any policy that requires the kirpan to be changed in the way proposed by the NSW Department of Education."
The WSO is a non-profit organization with a mandate to promote and protect the interests of Canadian Sikhs, as well as to promote and advocate for the protection of human rights for all individuals.