By Asia Samachar | AUSTRALIA |
New South Wales has banned wearing of kirpan by students in the Australian state following a recent incident where a Sikh student was injured in what was seen as a schoolyard stabbing.
State education minister Sarah Mitchell told local media that the state will close a “loophole” in the current legislation that allows students to carry religious knives at NSW schools, which would impact some Sikh students.
In the interim, she has been reported to have said that a ban would be imposed effective 19 May until legislative changes can be passed.
The alleged stabbing incident that took place at Glenwood High School in Sydney’s west apparently followed a lunch time argument on May 6. A 14-year-old Sikh student, who is believed to have been bullied at school, was alleged to have used his kirpan in an incident that allegedly resulted in injury to another student.
In an immediate statement, advocacy group United Sikhs said it ‘deeply’ regreted the decision taken by the NSW education minister to ban the kirpan, a Sikh article of faith, in schools, without consulting the Sikh community.
“The Kirpan is worn in schools around the world without incident. There must be lessons learnt from the recent school incident in NSW. But the incident cannot make us take regressive steps against religious freedom,” said United Sikhs international legal director Mejindarpal Kaur.
NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Monday she was “taken aback” to learn students could take knives to school.
“Students shouldn’t be allowed to take knives to school under any circumstances and I think it doesn’t pass the commonsense test,” she was quoted in The Sydney Morning Herald.
The May 6 incident resulted in a 14-year-old boy being charged with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. He will face court in July and is on bail. The school has been talking to Sikh representatives to work out how students can observe their faith while ensuring the safety of the school community, the report added.
Australian Sikh Association chairman Ravinderjit Singh told the newspaper that he had been involved in the discussions with the principal, but was not told about a plan to review the exemption until he heard it on the news on Monday.
“I think it is a knee-jerk response,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald. “We do not wear the kirpan as a weapon.
“It is a big responsibility given to kids when they partake in a baptism. We talk to them about the importance of items and how the kirpan should be worn and used. It is not projected as a weapon – that is not what it is meant to be used for.”
He said students could use many other objects as weapons. “A compass in a school bag, a fork or a knife … Banning this would not help anything other than cause more issues in the community. It is a very unfortunate incident and we feel for the boy who has injured.”
United Sikhs, a United Nations associated advocacy and humanitarian relief NGO, has said it will work with the NSW Sikh community, including the Australian Sikh Association that serves the Gurdwara Sahib Glenwood with the largest Sikh congregation in Australia, to ensure the kirpan is allowed back in NSW schools.
“The government should have consulted the Sikh community appropriately before making a decision to ban the Kirpan, an article of faith that has been worn by initiated Sikhs for more than 300 years. It is believed that the Education Minister Sarah Mitchell MLC had an online meeting with 2 members of the Sikh community when they were informed about the ban. There had been no prior discussion with the Sikh community before the decision to ban the kirpan was taken.
“Thr Kirpan is not a knife or a dagger, its an article of faith with deep meaning and purpose. We regret that two youths today are at the centre of the New South Wales government’s decision to ban the Kirpan in schools,” she added.
Kirpaan & Offensive Weapons Bill in Parliament (Asia Samachar, 8 Dec 2018)