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Sukhmeet Singh: Australian Sikhs Disappointed With New NSW Kirpan Policy And Compromise
The policy “definitely creates a new problem [as it] sets a really bad precedent [for] Sikhs across the world”.
August 16, 2021 | 4 min. read | Original Reporting
On August 6, the NSW Department of Education handed down their latest policy directives, lifting the ban on Kirpans in schools.
The ban had been introduced after a Kirpan was used by a Sikh student at Glenwood High School, allegedly in response to repeated incidents of bullying.
While Sikh students are now free to carry a Kirpan on their person while attending school, the NSW Government has introduced a variety of constraints on the type of Kirpan that is allowed.
Per the Minister for Education, Sarah Mitchell’s media release, A Kirpan is allowed on school premises if:
The miniature Kirpan is of a small size, i.e. 8.5cm or smaller with no sharp edges or points;
worn under clothes and secured so it cannot be used;
must be removed and safely stored, or secured against the body, when undertaking physical activity such as sport; and
when reasonably asked by the school the student must verify that these guidelines are being complied with, any safety concerns will be discussed with the student and their parents or carers.
According to the release, the NSW Government “worked closely with community representatives, including from the Australian Sikh Association and the NSW Gurdwara Group, as well as Multicultural NSW and other government agencies, to develop these new guidelines.”
Representatives from the Australian Sikh Association articulated that they did not see these new guidelines as a “win” for the community, but were thankful to the NSW Government for the compromise. Further adding that they “take this opportunity to thank the Sikh community, various departments and all those who have been instrumental in providing their commitment and contribution to arrive at a workable solution for the removal of this ban”
However, such sentiments are not shared by all members of the local Sikh Sangat.
Baaz spoke with Inderprit Singh, a recent law graduate who has worked extensively within the NSW Sikh youth community, about his reactions to the recent policy directives and how they may affect the local community.
In response to the latest policy, Singh expressed his dissatisfaction with the policy, stating that “it was too restrictive” and didn’t align with the community's views. The local Sangat were in consensus that “there should be no changes to the (original) Kirpan policy”.
Furthering that this new policy “could set a very negative precedent that could hurt us in the future” as the potential remains for the Government to “impose [this policy] on the wider Sikh community in NSW”. He adds that “We need to be better at educating” on what the Kirpan is, but “they, [the NSW Government], need to be better at listening to what we are telling them about Sikhi”.
Singh also goes on to discuss the role of community leaders and how they “were not the best representatives that we could have had”.
He acknowledges that while this new compromise “puts us on the back foot for any future negotiations”, the Sangat needs to collectivize and continue to “push against restrictions” that aim to moderate Sikhi.
To further our understanding of this new policy and its potential ramifications for the global Sikh community, Baaz also sat down with Balpreet Singh, Legal Counsel for the World Sikh Organisation.
He shares that this is a “really flawed Kirpan policy” and some of the restrictions have “fundamentally altered the Kirpan”, which is simply “unacceptable”.
“What they’ve allowed is some sort of replica of the Kirpan, a mutated version of it”. They have added elements to the policy such as stating that “the kirpan should have no sharp edges of points”.
“A kirpan with no sharp edges or points is not a Kirpan anymore”, he adds.
Balpreet Singh suggests that the policy “definitely creates a new problem [as it] sets a really bad precedent [for] Sikhs across the world”. He argues that governments around the world may point to the policy in NSW, and look to it as a benchmark for the Kirpan policies to be introduced in their own countries.
Balpreet Singh also goes on to explain that this new policy “fundamentally affects the way [students] can practice their faith”.
Adding that “as a community, it's humiliating that the government is dictating what a Kirpan should be like”.
He strongly reiterates that “if any Sikh group approves of, or endorses this policy, [then] that is very deeply disturbing. There should be a clear message that the Sikh community does not accept this, [the new policy] is not okay and we reject this policy”.
Also offering some insights into the latest policy is Samir Banga, an executive solicitor who had also been involved in the consultation process. Banga urged caution for the Sangat stating that at this point “it is just a press release” and no “legislation or guidelines” have been published.
Banga adds that certain elements of the policy, that were discussed during the consultation process, have not been mentioned in the press release “which has kept things very unclear”.
Sukhmeet Grewal hails from Melbourne, Australia, and is currently studying to obtain his Masters in Culture and the Creative Industries. He is also the co-founder of “We Sikh Justice”, a Sikh youth collective based in Melbourne focused on education, advocacy, and sewa. You can find him on Twitter at @Sukhmeet_Grewal.
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