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Cultural Ignorance Explains Why A Mace Is OK But A Kirpan Isn't

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
February 17, 2011

Cultural ignorance explains why a mace is OK but a Kirpan isn't
By MANJIT SINGH, Freelance - February 17, 2011

<script type="text/javascript"> function resizeImage() { var imgBox = document.getElementById('imageBox'); var photo = document.getElementById('storyphoto'); if (imgBox != null & photo != null) { if(photo.width >= 460) { imgBox.className = 'imagesize460'; } else { if(photo.width >= 300) { imgBox.className = 'imagesize310'; } else { imgBox.className = 'imageboxpadding'; } imgBox.style.width = photo.width + 'px'; } } } function getStoryFontSize() { var storyfontsize = getCookie('storyfontsize'); // use cookied value, if present if (storyfontsize != null) { setClass('story_content',storyfontsize); } else // default it to para14 if no cookie { setClass('story_content','para14'); } } function getCookie( check_name ) { // split this cookie up into name/value pairs var a_all_cookies = document.cookie.split( ';' ); var a_temp_cookie = ''; var cookie_name = ''; var cookie_value = ''; var b_cookie_found = false; // set boolean t/f default f for ( i = 0; i < a_all_cookies.length; i++ ) { // split apart each name=value pair a_temp_cookie = a_all_cookies<i>.split( '=' ); // and trim left/right whitespace while we're at it cookie_name = a_temp_cookie[0].replace(/^\s+|\s+$/g, ''); // if the extracted name matches passed check_name if ( cookie_name == check_name ) { b_cookie_found = true; // we need to handle case where cookie has no value but exists (no = sign, that is): if ( a_temp_cookie.length > 1 ) { cookie_value = unescape( a_temp_cookie[1].replace(/^\s+|\s+$/g, '') ); } // note that in cases where cookie is initialized but no value, null is returned return cookie_value; break; } a_temp_cookie = null; cookie_name = ''; } if ( !b_cookie_found ) { return null; } } </script>In Quebec, the new buzzword is interculturalism, meaning facilitating the settlement of new immigrants.

The Quebec government has declared that interculturalism has four key elements: "Quebec is an open society, a democratic society, a society of French language and a pluralist society."

The decision of the National Assembly not to allow entry to kirpan-wearing baptized Sikhs negates three of the four elements of interculturalism.

If one were to randomly select 10 members of the National Assembly and ask them to explain the significance of a kirpan for a baptized Sikh, the probability is extremely high that not one would be able to provide a coherent answer. The members of the National Assembly do not know anything about Sikh tenets. Yet they chose to pass a resolution that affects the freedom of religion of Sikhs that is guaranteed by the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The National Assembly's action has exposed the double standard being practised in Quebec: it is claimed on paper that Quebec is an open, democratic and pluralist society, but its actions are anything but democratic and pluralistic.

Had the National Assembly invited the Sikh representatives to explain the significance of the kirpan, it would have met the basic test of being open and democratic. Even if the eventual decision was still not to allow the kirpan, at least a consultation would have had taken place.

The kirpan played a pivotal spiritual role in the psychological transformation of the Sikh people during their struggle with the Moguls who ruled the Indian subcontinent from 1525 to 1800. The clash with the Moguls came about because the Moguls wanted to impose their religion on India. Sikhs resisted this. Eventually the Sikhs prevailed, upholding their rights to freedom of religion and conscience.

The kirpan is one of the five articles of faith in the Sikh religion that a baptized person, male or female, must carry on his/her person at all times. Asking a baptized Sikh to part with a kirpan is asking him or her to renounce the vows that were accepted by the initiate at the baptism ceremony.

The kirpan reminds a Sikh of his or her duty to act in an upright manner, to help the needy and the persecuted. For a Sikh, the kirpan stands for self-esteem, righteousness and readiness for duty and sacrifice. Having a kirpan on his or her person gives a baptized Sikh the spiritual strength and the inner resolve to stand firm on his or her vows to render service to society.

With the introduction of due process and rule of law in India in the second half of the 19th century, the Sikh community started to look at the kirpan in spiritual terms exclusively, as opposed to the previously held view of it being a weapon as well as a spiritual artifact. It is similar to the idea of treating a mace, which is a deadly weapon from medieval Europe, as a symbol of state authority. Currently, the mace lies on a table in front of the speaker in the National Assembly. A mace is a weapon, but through consensus it is now looked upon as a symbol of state authority. The House of Commons in Ottawa also uses a mace as the symbol of state authority. There too it lies on a table in front of the speaker.

Why is it so difficult for the Quebec government to accept that a kirpan is not a weapon but a source of spiritual inspiration? Is it that as new immigrants to the province, the Sihks' word is not to be given the same weight as that enjoyed by the rest?

There are strict regulations governing the use of a kirpan. In March 1922, new instructions were issued by the highest religious authorities in Amritsar, Punjab, stating that a kirpan may be unsheathed and drawn out only for performing religious rites and leading a religious march in which five designated baptized members of the community are to walk in front of the carriage that has the Sikh scripture. Unsheathing a kirpan under any other circumstances is considered sacrilegious and is punishable under religious law. This edict is followed by the community without reservation. The record of the last 115 years of the Sikh community's presence in Canada attests to this.

Members of the political class in Quebec need to educate themselves about new cultures that are coming to the province. As decision-makers, they should learn about the new communities so that they can make more informed decisions and make interculturalism a credible idea.

Manjit Singh is director of the chaplaincy service and lecturer in Sikh studies at the Faculty of Religious Studies at McGill University.

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

Source: http://www.montrealgazette.com/life/Cultural+ignorance+explains+mace+kirpan/4298702/story.html


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