Chicago Sikh Cabdriver Arrested in July for Carrying Religious Article; Charges Dropped in August by Christopher Becker http://chicagodispatcher.com/chicag...or-carrying-religious-article-cha-p2258-1.htm On July 11, 41-year-old Chicago-area cabdriver Harjit Singh Bajwa attempted to enter the second district municipal courthouse in Skokie to meet his attorney for a personal matter. As he passed through the court’s metal detectors, Bajwa was allegedly asked by the Illinois Marshals handling security to remove a metal bracelet and prayer beads-or his Kara and Simrany, respectively-sacred articles of Bajwa’s Sikh faith. Bajwa obliged, and re-entered the metal detector. However he had forgotten a third religious article was still on his person. Bajwa unintentionally walked through the detector still carrying his kirpan-a ceremonial dagger worn by baptized Sikhs at all times Despite Bajwa’s attempts to explain the religious significance of the kirpan (or the fact that Bajwa says his kirpan’s blade is less than 2.5 inches long and blunt), he was arrested, charged with attempting to bring a weapon into a penal institution and forced to post bail on a $500 bond. The charges were eventually dropped on August 20, thanks to the efforts of Chicago’s Sikh community (through ChicagoSikhs.com) and their outreach to the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF). “Mr. Harjit Singh Bajwa is relieved of an anxiety that came upon him because of an unwarranted stand taken by the Skokie police officer,” said Karam J. Singh, one of Bajwa’s fellow Sikh cabbies who stood by him in court. “[Bajwa] is a cabbie of good standing.” Baptized Sikhs are required by their faith to carry the kirpan on their persons at all times. The kirpan can vary in size, from a blade a few inches in length like Bajwa’s to a three-foot-long sword used in specific ceremonies. But many Sikhs in the Western world carry a small kirpan, and keep it under their clothing. Despite this deference, Sikhs often face ignorance and discrimination from people who don’t understand the religious importance of the kirpan. There have been numerous court cases, not just in the United States but throughout the world, that have declared the banning of the kirpan to be an affront to religious rights. However, problems still persist for many baptized Sikhs as the religious article is still misunderstood by much of the Western world. During the 2012 Olympics in London, ITV (a major commercial TV network in the U.K.) reported that a Sikh family was denied entry into a soccer match because the father was carrying a small kirpan under his clothes-this despite the fact that the kirpan was explicitly mentioned as an exception on the list of prohibited items from the London Olympics’ website. And according to several South Asian news outlets, Avtar Singh, a 72-year-old Sikh man in Paterson, NJ, was brutally beaten by his neighbor after he asked him to move his car. During the beating Avtar Singh alleged the man took his kirpan, tossed it to another man who removed the cover, and when police arrived they arrested Singh and charged him with possession of a weapon (his kirpan). But the most horrific recent attack against Sikhs was the Aug. 5 shooting at a gurdwara (or Sikh temple) in Oak Creek, WI, when a white supremacist opened fire and killed five people. According to reports Sadwant Singh Kaleka, the head of the gurdwara, used a kirpan to fight off the shooter. Although Kaleka was shot and killed, witnesses said his courageous act allowed dozens of women and children to escape. There is a long way to go to educate so much of this country (and beyond) about the Sikh faith, and particularly the kirpan, which has been greatly misunderstood. According to ChicagoSikhs.com, the group will be working with Rishi Agrawal, who represented Bajwa, on conducting educational seminars about the Sikhs and Sikh religious practices within different law enforcement agencies in the Chicago area. ChicagoSikhs will also reportedly seek assistance from the South Asian American Policy & Research Institute (SAAPRI), SALDEF and Sikh Coalition in this endeavor.