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US, Sikhs to bridge culture-security gap

A Sikh legal group and the US Homeland Security Dept have devised a poster meant to help screeners through community interactions.

india Updated: Nov 22, 2006 14:28 IST

In an effort to bridge the culture-security gap, a Sikh legal group and the US Homeland Security Department have devised a poster meant to help screeners through their interactions with the community.

The poster, which will be distributed to federal agencies across the country, shows photos of different kirpans, a ceremonial dagger that the Sikhs are required to always wear by their religion, reports said.

The centuries-old requirement has collided with beefed-up, post 9/11 rules that no longer allow people to leave legal weapons and other banned items with security guards working in such buildings as courthouses and federal offices.

In two-dozen cases in the last two years, Sikhs have been arrested, threatened with arrest or harassed in disputes with guards over the ceremonial kirpan, according to the Sikh American Legal Defence and Education Fund.

The poster shows kirpans ranging from a symbolic necklace some women wear to the more common three-to six-inch daggers as well as full swords. Sikhs often wear them under their clothing, bound to them by a cloth body holster.

The kirpan, one of five items Sikhs are required to wear, is meant as a reminder of the duty to uphold justice. The others are reminders of other things: the kesh, or Sikhs' uncut hair, to live as god created you; kanga, a wooden comb, to remain neat; kara, a bracelet, to do good deeds; and kachera, or large underwear, to remain chaste and faithful sexually.

"These articles are a constant reminder to me of what my duties are," said Manjit Singh, co-founder and chairman of the legal fund.

Although Sikhs still can't take the wooden or steel-handled knives - which sometimes have blunted tips - into government buildings, the poster tells security workers how to navigate the situation.

"Respectfully ask if a Sikh is carrying a kirpan. If so, request to inspect the kirpan," the poster reads. "If a kirpan must be confiscated, explain the reason(s) and handle the kirpan with respect and care."

Sikhs are accustomed to packing their kirpan in their luggage when they fly.

Screeners also went through a similar education campaign after Sep 11 about the turbans Sikh men are required to wear. Turbans are often made of 20 feet of fabric and taking them off and putting them on are elaborate processes.

"For Sikh Americans, this is a huge and significant accomplishment," Singh said of the poster, which tells screeners to "show respect to all variations of faith".

First Published: Nov 22, 2006 14:28 IST