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Wearing a Kirpan

Wearing the ‘Kirpan’ is an essential part of the Sikh Code of Conduct.

Sikh Community around the world is facing the challenge from the Governments of their respective home countries to allow them to wear ‘Kirpan’. In Australia the case is no different. The Sikhs in Australia (individually as well as through various Sikh organisations) have taken a range of steps to inform the Government (at all levels, Local/Council, State as well as the Federal), Departments (such as Customs, Police, Roads etc) as well as the wider Australian Community about significance of ‘Kirpan’ for a Sikh.

What is a Kirpan?

  • A kirpan is a mandatory Sikh article of faith. It is carried by Amritdhari (initiated) Sikhs at all times. The word “kirpan” comes from two Punjabi words: ‘Kirpa’ means an act of kindness, a favor; and ‘Aan’ means honor and self- respect.
  • A kirpan resembles a knife or sword. There is no prescribed length or sharpness for a Kirpan in Sikhism; they are determined by the individual religious convictions of the wearer. Kirpans are typically sheathed and worn with a gatra (a strap) underneath clothing.
  • The kirpan obligates a Sikh to the ideals of generosity, compassion and service to humanity. It acts as a reminder to its bearer of a Sikh’s solemn duty to protect the weak and promote justice for all.
  • The kirpan also plays an important role in Sikh practices. Kirpans are used prominently in ceremonies marking major life events, including religious initiation (amrit sanchar), marriage (Anand Karaj), and death (Antim sanskar). In congregational settings, a kirpan is touched to parshad (blessed sweet pudding) to indicate the grace of the Guru and then distributed for consumption.

Legality

In May 2021, the state of New South Wales imposed a ban on bringing any knives, including kirpans, onto school grounds after a 14-year-old boy allegedly stabbed a 16-year-old boy with his kirpan in a school in Sydney’s north-west on 6 May. After members of Sydney’s Sikh community spoke out and defended their children’s rights to bring religious items to school, the state’s Department of Education reversed this decision in August 2021 and implemented new guidelines around the bringing of kirpans with the following conditions:

  • Kirpans must be smaller than 8.5 cm (3.3 in) in length and must have no sharp points or edges
  • Kirpans must only be worn under clothing
  • Kirpans must be removed during sports

In August 2023, the state of Queensland repealed a previous ban on bringing knives to schools and other public places after Australian Sikh Kamaljit Kaur Athwal took the Queensland state government to court in 2022. The Supreme Court of Queensland found that the ban, which was stated in section 55 of the Weapons Act 1990 (Qld), contravened the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth).