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Nod to kirpans in school sparks debate

A multicultural commission said that Sikh school kids have the right to carry the dagger that is among the five items of their faith.

india Updated: Jun 11, 2007 15:13 IST

A multicultural commission's view that Sikh schoolchildren have the right to carry the kirpan - the dagger that is among the five items of faith that Sikhs are supposed to wear - has sparked off an intense debate in the Australian state of Victoria.

Responding to demands from some Sikh families that their children be allowed to wear the kirpan to school, the Victorian Multicultural Commission's said the students should have the right to do so.

The kirpan, up to 15 cm long, is one of the five items of faith that represents the ideals of Sikhism.

"The dagger is an important article of faith. Some children wear them safely under clothes," commission chairperson George Lekakis said.

Lekakis said safety issues could be addressed in consultation with the community, Herald Sun reported.

But the president of the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals, Brian Burgess, said the kirpan could be used as a weapon.

"I would not support this in any way, shape or form," he said. "It's not appropriate that something that can be used as a weapon is brought into school.

But Victorian Sikh Association president Kerpal Singh Marne said the kirpan was one of five articles of faith baptised Sikhs were to carry at all times.

It was not considered a weapon, he said, describing it as a blunt version of a scout knife.

Sikh Interfaith Council of Victoria president Gurdarshan Singh Gill said a minority of Sikh children were baptised and carried the kirpan for religious, not violent, reasons.

"He or she is taught to respect people of all faiths, therefore there is no reason for any concern," he said.

A Victorian department of education spokesperson said wearing a kirpan had not been an issue of concern, but compromises could be made.

"In some instances, the kirpan can be represented in an alternative way -- as a miniature pendant," she said.

Last month, a prominent Sikh association in neighbouring New Zealand had told a parliamentary committee hearing submissions on the country's new aviation security legislation bill that it fears its community members could be targeted if changes are made to New Zealand's security legislation.

The association argued that aviation security staff needed to be educated about the Sikh religion so they understood that the kirpan was a religious symbol, not a weapon.

Earlier this year, concerns were raised about airport security after a group of Sikh priests were allowed to board an Air New Zealand flight carrying kirpans.

First Published: Jun 11, 2007 15:03 IST