An Auburn, WA boy carries a knife on him at all times. No, he’s not a budding juvenile delinquent; he is a Sikh. His parents went to the administrators of Gildo Rey Elementary to explain why their son would be wearing his kirpan to school. While some on the staff were accepting and understanding, some didn’t take it well.
One volunteer said that she would not come back to the school until the boy is not allowed to bring the knife anymore. That’s not likely to happen, though. School administrators know that many Sikhs — both students and staff — have carried their kirpan to school for years without incident. In this case, the knife is worn under the boys clothing, safely sheathed.
The Assistant Superintendent of Auburn Schools, Ryan Foster, understands that this is a question of balancing safety and freedom of religion:
“The knife can’t come out. It can’t be shown around. It needs to be underneath their clothing. That allows them to express their religion without jeopardizing anyone’s feeling of safety. If there are any problems, we will take it to the family, but we don’t expect any.”
The Sikh faith has over 20 million followers, making Sikhism the fifth largest faith worldwide. Here in America, they are often mistaken for Muslims by the very ignorant. Sikhs were beaten and killed in the wake of 9/11 due to this ignorance, because Sikhs wear a turban. Muslims do not. But, hey, they are brown and a turban is sort of like a keffiyeh, right?
The kirpan is one of the “five Ks” sacred to Sikhs:
“‘Have, on your person, all the time, the five K’s: The Keshas (unshorn hair), the Kirpan (sheathed sword), the Kachhehra (drawers-like garment), the Kanga (comb), the Karha (steel bracelet).’ Rehat Maryada, Ceremony of Baptism or Initiation, Section 6, Chapter XIII, Article XXIV, paragraph p.”
The kirpan is representative of the constant struggle between good and evil, and a symbol of social justice. To suggest that it is a weapon is offensive. For an analogy, it would be like suggesting that a Christian cross is a weapon. Certainly both, taken out of context, can be deadly, yet both are only symbolic to followers. The very idea of a kirpan being used to harm another is reprehensible to a Sikh.
While it can be understood that some at Gildo Rey Elementary are somewhat leery of the idea of a child carrying a knife, it is not an excuse to take away his rights. There is ample opportunity here for the proverbial teaching moment. Anyone who remains uninformed about Sikhism and the kirpan is just being willfully ignorant, and that is their problem, not the school’s or the child’s.
Here is the report from King5 News in Seattle:
(Featured image courtesy of WikiMedia)