Written by Kamalpreet Kaur
The United Kingdom government has passed an amendment by which Sikhs in the country will be allowed to own a longer ‘kirpan (dagger)’ and use it during religious and cultural functions.
‘The Offensive Weapons Bill’ received the royal assent on Thursday.
The initial draft of the Bill had included clauses directly impacting Sikhs, including extending existing offences of possessing a bladed article or offensive weapon on school premises and banning the sale and possession of curved swords over 50 cm, both in public and private. This meant keeping a 3-foot kirpan at home could have invited a prison sentence.
Talking to The Indian Express, Birmingham, Edgbaston MP Preet Kaur Gill, who lobbied hard with other MPs to get the amendments made, said, “I am delighted that the Sikh community have the legal protections to purchase and possess the larger kirpan which most Sikh households have. The Sikh community effectively lobbied with their MPs and this victory is a collective one.”
Notably, despite the huge impact on Sikhs, these proposed changes were being introduced without any consultation with the community itself. A Sikh police officer from Leicester had alerted community leaders on the potential impact of the Bill on the Sikh community prior to the Third Reading of the Bill in the House of Commons.
“Within 48 hours, a group of cross-party MPs belonging to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on UK Sikhs tabled an amendment to change the wording in the Bill to the much wider term ‘religious reasons’,” said Dabinderjit Singh of Sikh Federation UK, who also took active part in the lobbying and consultations.
In due course, the MPs then met with Undersecretary of State Victoria Atkins to get the government to put down an amendment. Gill also met Home Secretary Sajid Javid.
The MPs convinced them of the need for a wider government amendment.
The word kirpan meaning ‘kirpa (mercy) & aan (honour)’ was included in the Explanatory Note for the first time. What has gone unnoticed is that “religious reasons” now, for the first time, have been defined in law as a “good reason” for possession and affords additional protection for the smaller kirpan.
Bhai Amrik Singh, the Chair of the Sikh Federation (UK) said, “Common sense has prevailed and what has emerged is the need for proper community consultation, a greater understanding of the kirpan and an outcome that is far more than status quo.”
“It is heartening to note that after several years of trying, at long last, the term kirpan is being accurately used by Parliamentarians, the British media and civil servants. It is a great achievement for Sikhs and the credit goes to the government and opposition,” said Gurmel Singh Kandola of Sikh Community and Youth Services.