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THE KIRPAN

Basic Beliefs


Sikhs believe in one God for all creation, a loving Creator.


Sikhism recognises all human beings as equal. The Sikh Holy Scripture recognises complete equality between women and men in all spheres of life; political, social and religious. Guru Nanak said ‘Why downgrade woman, when without woman there would be none.’ and ‘it is she who gives birth to kings’.


Sikhs believe steadfastly that all people have civil rights, including the freedom of religion. The fifth Guru was tortured to death in 1606 by the Mogul Emperor for practicing of his religion. The ninth Guru was martyred in 1675 for his stand and practice of freedom of all religions. His message to the people was ‘Fear none, frighten none; Love the Lord Mighty One.’


Sikhism is against injustice and oppression. Injustice and oppression violates God’s order. Harmony has to be maintained by His Will. As an instrument of God it is the spiritual duty and responsibility of a religious person to confront all kinds of injustice. After the martyrdom of the fifth Guru, the sixth Guru wore two kirpans, one symbolizing Piri and the other Miri; they respectively represent divinity and worldly leadership.  This meant that the Guru would defend the religious and human rights, if need be even with the sword.


Sikh Initiation


In 1699 Guru Gobind Singh the last Sikh Guru introduced an initiation (baptism in Christian terminology) ceremony, referred to as taking Amrit. Initiation is optional for a Sikh. The person having taken Amrit is referred to as an Amritdhari or a member of the Khalsa brotherhood. Guru Gobind Singh prescribed five articles of faith, commonly referred to as five K’s because they start with the letter K of the Gurmukhi script.  These five articles are:


Kesh - unshorn hair usually tied up as a knot and crowned with a turban.


Kanga - small wooden comb (placed in the hair knot under the turban)


Kara - iron bangle (worn on the wrist)


Kachhera - prescribed shorts (worn as an undergarment)


Kirpan - small sheathed sword (made of steel/ iron)


The wearing of the five K’s is mandatory for the Amritdhari Sikh. He/she is to keep them at all times. To neglect to wear one or more of the five K’s represents a serious lapse in religious practice. Even in the event of death these articles are not to be removed from the deceased person. Article XIX (e) of Sikh Code Conduct states: “the dead body should be bathed and clothed in clean clothes. While that is done, the Sikh symbols – comb, kachhera, kara, and kirpan should not be taken off.”


Along with the maintenance of five articles of faith an Amritdhari Sikh has to recite daily prayers at appropriate times of the day – morning at dawn, during the evening at sunset, and at night before retiring to bed.


A Sikh is to practice truthful living through constant meditation in praise of God, earn an honest living, give to charity and provide selfless service to humanity.


An Amritdhari Sikh is forbidden to: (i) cut his or her hair from any part of the body; (ii) engage in sexual activity with a person other than one’s spouse; (iii) use tobacco, alcohol, drugs or intoxicants, (iv) consume sacrificial meat prepared in accordance with other religious rites.


Kirpan


The word Kirpan is derived from the word ‘Kirpa’ and ‘Aan’, ‘Kirpa’ means an act of compassion or mercy; and ‘aan’ means honour. It is a ‘bringer of mercy’ symbolizing the Sikhs commitment to resist oppression and injustice.   


A Sikh having taken Amrit becomes a Sant- Sipahi - a saint soldier as initiated by Guru Gobind Singh. He has pledged to uphold principles of high moral values and social justice. The external articles are simply a reflection of his internal spiritual self.


To take away the kirpan from a Sikh is to violate his/her religious freedom.


Recognizing that wearing of a kirpan is a religious requirement, the Constitution of the Republic of India, Explanation 1 under Article 25 reads “the wearing and carrying of the kirpans shall be deemed to be included in the profession of the Sikh religion.”


According to the Sikh Code of Conduct a kirpan is worn using a strap that enables it to be suspended near one’s waist. In practice the strap holding the kirpan is worn under clothing. It is not visible. It is worn in a safe and secure manner.


The size of the kirpan can vary. It is usually small, a few inches so the person wearing it is comfortable and mobility is not restricted.

Exemptions

There are Controls of Weapons Acts in various States of Australia, prohibiting the carrying of a knife or dagger. An Exemption is included where such an article is carried for religious purposes or is part of a religious dress code. Please note that Sikhs prefer kirpan should not be referred to as a knife or dagger It is an item of religious significance.  

We provide some examples of exemptions that exist in Austrlain States

Victoria

The Control of Weapons Act was passed in 1990. In response to the concerns expressed by the Sikh Community, the Minister for Police and Emergency Services issued a Media Release, in May 1990, stating:

‘The Victorian Government is committed to upholding the rights of its ethnic and religious minorities to practice their own cultures and religious observances.

The legislation does not discriminate against people who have good and lawful reasons for using knives. The concept of lawful excuse remains, so that people with legitimate uses for knives in public places are not disadvantaged.

Clearly Sikhs who carry kirpans as part of their traditional culture and religion have undoubted legitimate and lawful excuse. They will not be prevented from doing so”.

Subsequently with the Control of Weapons (Amendment) Regulations 2003, which commenced operations on July 1 2004, the Sikh Community was granted an exemption by Order in Council General Exemption under Section 8B for possessing using or carrying a sword for the purpose of the performance of duties associated with religious observance.

However this has been recently amended to make it specific. Therefore as of 9th of July 2009 “A Sikh whose religious practices require the carrying and possession of a kirpan (a specific type of sword) is permitted to possess, use or carry a kirpan for the purpose of the performance of duties associated with religious observance.”



Victoria-Government-Gazette-G28-9July-2009.pdf

Entry to Parliament Victoria

Procedures have now been approved to allow Amritdhari Sikhs to enter the Parliament of Victoria while wearing the Kirpan. This was achieved though a consultative process of all stakeholders. It is a practical solution and acknowledges the significance of the Kirpan to Sikhs

2009 05 04 - Kirpan (Exemption Procedure).pdf

New South Wales

Under the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Police and Public Safety) Act 1998,   section 11 C (6) (c) (vii) there is an exemption for religious articles:

(6) Without limitation, it is a reasonable excuse for purposes of this section for a person to have custody of a knife, if

(c) the custody is reasonably necessary in all the circumstances for any of the following:  (ii) genuine religious purpose.

NSW Summary Offences Act  .BMP

South Australia

As per Variation of Summary Offences (Dangerous Articles and Prohibited Weapons) Regulatuions 2000 Sikhs are permitted to have a kirpaan by an Order made by the Governor Clause 16 of the Order reads:

A member of the Sikh religion is exempt from the offences of possession and use of a knife under section 15(1c) (b) of the Act to the extent that the member possesses, wears or carries the knife for the purpose of complying with the requirements of the Sikh religion.

SA-Kirpaan.pdf

To assist Sikhs in avoiding embarrassing questions, from employers, security officers at public venues and other places Victoria Police has issued an authoritative card explaining the five K’s and the law pertaining to the Kirpan.

SUMMARY

Sikhism was founded in the fifteenth century by Guru Nanak. It is a monotheistic faith. It does not recognise racial, class or caste distinctions. It also recognizes gender equality. An important underlying concept of the faith is Miri and Piri which stands for a balance between spiritual and the temporal. This was signified by the two kirpans that were put on by the sixth Guru in 1606. Since then the sword or kirpan has been an important article of the faith. The tenth Guru made it mandatory for those being initiated (taking amrit) who are to take on the role of a saint soldier.

Amritdhari Sikhs follow a strict code of discipline of truthful living. They  worship the eternal Lord, earn an honest living, share their earnings, and serve humanity, maintain moral behaviour, and have a responsibility and a duty to stand up for justice.

A kirpan is a mandatory article of faith for an Amritdhari Sikh. It is one of five articles of faith.  It is worn at all times. It is held in a strap at one’s waist under the garments where it is safe and secure.

Article 25 of the Indian Constitution recognizes the significance of the kirpan for the Sikh faith. Exemptions for wearing the kirpan are included in various states of Australia. In Victoria there is an exemption by Order in Council published in the Government Gazette dated 9th July 2009.


Click here to download a document "Police and Kirpans- The Religious Knife"