An Italian Supreme Court ruling banning a Sikh from wearing the Kirpan has been met with widespread condemnation by the Sikh diaspora.
The ruling from Rome was made on May 15 after a migrant Sikh man was arrested and subsequently fined for leaving his home in Goito, northern Italy, wearing the Kirpan, which was described by media outlets as “a knife measuring nearly 20cm”. The man, who is yet to be named, was appealing against the fine on religious grounds. The ruling is believed to apply solely to the wearing of this type of Kirpan, with smaller sizes believed to be acceptable. Sikh rights advocacy organisations are looking for official confirmation of this.
The Kirpan – a small sword – is one of five articles of faith called the punj kakkar (five Ks), which all Amritdhari (initiated) Sikhs wear. The Kirpan is legal to wear under UK law. See more on UK law and the Kirpan here, via The Sikh Helpline.
Mejindarpal Kaur, International Legal Director of Human Rights advocacy organisation UNITED SIKHS, has helped fight for the religious rights of Sikhs across the world. She said of the case, “It’s regrettable that the Italian Supreme Court judgment is based on the view that immigrants should live in ‘Rome as Romans do’. Religious freedom is global and goes across borders. UNITED SIKHS believes that this case should be referred to the UN Human Rights Committee, as we successfully did for our clients who were affected by the French turban ban”.
UNITED SIKHS are looking into the situation and hope to provide clarity on what this means for Amritdhari Sikhs in Italy. Many feel European countries that impose such laws on Sikhs are forcing them into becoming refugees for the right of religious freedom.
The court ruling stated that although “the multi-ethnic society is a necessity, public safety is an asset to be protected”. A BBC article on the story claimed the ruling “said that migrants who choose to live in Italy must respect Italian laws prohibiting the carrying of weapons even though many Sikhs regard ceremonial knives as sacred.”
The same BBC article also described Sikhs that wear the Kirpan as “orthodox”. This is a term used to describe levels of practice within the Abrahamic faith, and one which many Sikh educators feel is both misplaced and inappropriate in describing the Khalsa. We thank BBC journalist Paul Kirby for working with us to correct this mistake.
It is believed, although not yet certified, that the ban only refers to the length of the blade of the Kirpan, and not the Kirpan itself. The Sikh Press Association can confirm that Sikh organisations are looking to take on the Italian Supreme Court Kirpan ban and we will share any more news on the issue as soon as possible.