The kirpan and the Pope

It’s tough to be an observant Sikh these days. If your turban isn’t butting against the law, your kirpanKirpan
(ceremonial dagger) is. You can’t take it into the courthouse, you can’t take it onto the plane with you, and you certainly can’t take it within nine yards of the Pope.

WASHINGTON —  Sikh
representatives will not participate in an interfaith meeting with Pope
Benedict XVI during his U.S. visit next month because the Secret
Service won’t allow them to wear a ceremonial dagger that members of
the Eastern religion must carry.

Sikhs
had been invited to join other religious leaders for a 45-minute
meeting with Benedict on April 17 in Washington to express a shared
commitment to peace. But the Secret Service would not allow the Sikhs
to carry a kirpaan, which resembles a small sword or dagger.

The
kirpaan "represents the Sikh commitment to resist oppression and
injustice" and is to be carried "only in a defensive posture and never
to initiate confrontation," according to the World Sikh Council-America
Region.   
 
 

"We have to respect the sanctity of the
kirpaan, especially in such interreligious gatherings," Anahat Kaur,
secretary general of the Sikh Council, said in a statement. "We cannot
undermine the rights and freedoms of religion in the name of security." [Link]

It’s a shame that they’re being kept from the Pope over an object that, according to Stephen Jenuth, president of the Alberta Civil Liberties Association, "really has no
utility as a weapon
." Sikhs usually keep the kirpan in a sheath under their clothes, so all the Secret Service needs to do is send the Sikh representatives a note: "We understand your concerns and we’ve decided to allow you to wear your kirpans into the meeting with the Pope, as long as you agree to keep your hands in the namaste position at all times."

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If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through Amazon.com and McNallyRobinson.com You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.

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