by LORD RANBIR SINGH SURI
AS A former general secretary of the Board of British Sikhs, I have long been a proud advocate for the British Sikh community and our rights to freely practise our faith and maintain our unique identity.
The Offensive Weapons Bill has been a cause of serious concern within the British Sikh community since it was introduced by the government in June 2018. The Bill seeks to strengthen existing legislation which governs offensive weapons and focuses on corrosive
substances, knives and certain types of firearms, to help tackle the rising levels of violent crime we are seeing on our streets.
Many of us within the Sikh community felt the Bill could unfairly infringe the right of British
Sikhs to carry the kirpan, or ceremonial sword. It is worn by the majority of Sikhs and
is an ingrained part of our religious practice. In many ways the symbolism of the kirpan
can be compared to the wearing of a cross in Christianity or a Star of David in Judaism.
This religious requirement has been known to British governments and the British people since the two world wars. That is why I am delighted that the government has now accepted the Lords amendment which will protect the rights of our Sikh communities to purchase and possess a kirpan.
A further amendment was also made to the Government’s Bill in the Lords which also
protects the gifting of the kirpan to others. Without this amendment, the Bill would
have meant that Sikhs who possessed a 50cm kirpan in the home would be committing
a criminal act and subject to a year’s imprisonment.
Home Office minister Victoria Atkins has confirmed the justification for Sikhs possessing
a kirpan will be amended from covering the relatively narrow “religious ceremonies”
to encompassing all “religious reasons”.
I am very pleased that the government has listened to the concerns of the Sikh community and those raised my myself and my colleagues, meaning that this proud, centuries-old tradition will not be unintentionally criminalised.