Protecting the Kirpan

Sikh Khandar

A bill has passed the California legislature that would protect the religious freedom of the Sikh community.

AB 504 would require the state Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training to develop and distribute training materials for law enforcement agencies on how to “recognize and interact with persons carrying a kirpan.”

The kirpan is a small blade resembling a sword that is one of the five special items carried by Sikhs who are initiated into the Khalsa order (Khalsa means “pure”). The other items are Kesh (uncut hair and beard, usually worn under a turban); Kanga (a wooden comb); Kara (an iron bracelet, reminding the Sikh of his link to the Guru); and Kachera (special cotton underwear, a reminder of the virtue of chastity).

The kirpan is not intended to be a weapon, but a reminder of the obligation of the Sikh to defend the weak. Unfortunately, some law enforcement officers have mistaken it for a weapon and arrested an individual carrying it. Similarly, Sikhs have frequently been the targets of both verbal and physical assault because their assailants assumed that anyone wearing a turban must be an Arab. A Sikh man, Balbir Singh Sodhi, was shot in Mesa Arizona on September 11th, 2001 by a man who bragged that he was going to “kill the ragheads responsible for September 11.” And in 2006 in Santa Clara, Iqbal Singh, 66, was stabbed by a neighbor who “wanted to kill a Taliban.”

AB 504 provides an important resource for local law enforcement officers to carry out their duties while protecting the religious freedom and civil rights of Sikhs in our communities.

The bill has been sent to Governor Schwartzenegger for signature. Contact the Governor’s office and communicate your support for the bill.

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