|07 March 2005|
London—A Sikh woman who had her Kirpan confiscated by Belgian police as she was checking in to travel on the Eurostar train to London today was told that her article of faith was a prohibited weapon whereas a passenger was allowed to carry a Swiss knife.
"In Brussels your Kirpan is a prohibited weapon even if in London the law allows you to wear it in public places. We allow Eurostar passengers to carry a Swiss knife because it is made differently," said Inspector Vamspauweh who detained Mejindarpal Kaur, who was travelling from Brussels after an interfaith seminar organised by the Church of Scientology International.
"I was taken aback because I had travelled on Eurostar from London to Brussels this weekend and on several occasions to Paris when I was allowed to wear my Kirpan," said Mejindarpal Kaur.
"I explained to the Inspector that I have never and would never use my Kirpan to harm someone and hence it is not an offensive weapon," she added. A Kirpan is a scimitar, which is one of the five articles of faith that practicing Sikhs wear at all times as a commitment of their faith.
"If and when the European Constitution is adopted by the European Union will people be allowed to practise their faith uniformly throughout Europe?" asks Mejindarpal Kaur, director of UNITED SIKHS, a global human development organisation which has been in the forefront of a campaign against the ban on articles of faith in schools in France.
London Member of European Parliament Baroness Sarah Ludford said this in response to the Kirpan incident today:
"The potential conflict with essential security controls of Sikhs wearing a Kirpan is an example of the need for European-level dialogue on the various religious and cultural needs for European citizens. It is the case that the European Convention on Human Rights clause on respect for freedom of religion to which Belgium and other EU states are subject (and the similar provision in the European Constitution's Charter for Fundamental Rights) allows derogation in the interests of public safety.
But there needs to be a serious discussion about whether there are measures which could reconcile Sikh religious convictions on wearing the kirpan with a general security ban on carrying weapons."
A fortnight ago, Baroness Sarah Ludford of the Liberal Democrat party jointly tabled a cross-party declaration at the European Parliament on the Religious Rights and Freedoms in France and throughout the European Union. See:
The incident in Brussels Midi Station started when the metal detector bleeped and Mejindarpal Kaur pointed to her Kirpan and was asked to hand it over. She was then marched down to the police area with no explanation as to what was happening.
Mejindarpal Kaur asked an officer what was going on and he replied, "What do you think is going on? Is this a circus? You are walking around with a knife."
I protested that it was not a knife and that I wish to explain. The investigating inspector recorded the following statement from Mejindarpal Kaur: "Today during the luggage-check at the departure of the Eurostar train to London I was found in possession of a Kirpan. I was wearing it around my waist. This is an article of faith that I wear on me all the time. I understand that the world is gripped in fear so I have allowed the officer to take it off me. In the UK, where I live, the law allows me to wear it in public places. When I started my journey (on Eurostar) from London this time and many times before to Paris I have never been prevented from wearing my Kirpan during my journey. I therefore did not remove it and pack it in my main luggage like I do when I take an airline flight. I would like to explain to the authorities why I would like this Kirpan returned to me and why this incident should not create a bad record for me. It is ironic that I was visiting Belgium for an interfaith seminar when I explained to my colleagues from the Church of scientology what my Kirpan means and they were in admiration of my Faith. I hope one day the Belgian Parliament like the UK Parliament would allow Sikhs to wear their Kirpan in public places as an article of their faith. I have explained to the officer who takes this statement why I wear a Kirpan: that it is a commitment of my faith in the truth. The officer explained to me that according to Belgian law it was considered a forbidden weapon and that it was being confiscated."
After the Inspector made arrangements for Mejindarpal Kaur to take the next train back to London, they parted on a friendly note. The Inspector commented: "Are you saying that the Belgian parliament should allow you to wear the Kirpan but not allow others to carry knives".
"I smiled at him and I was pleased that he was no longer calling my Kirpan a knife. However, I knew that my work was cut out and that we had to work hard to have a healthy debate in the European parliament on the Right to Difference, which should support the righ to practice one's religion," said Mejindarpal Kaur referring to UNITED SIKHS' support for the MEPs declaration on the European declaration on Religious Rights and Freedoms.
To transform underprivileged and minority communities and individuals into informed and vibrant members of society through civic, educational and personal development programs, by fostering active participation in social and economic activity.
UNITED SIKHS is also an avenue for networking between like-minded organisations to establish and nurture meaningful projects and dialogues - whether social, cultural or political- to promote harmony, understanding and reciprocity in our villages, towns and cities.
UNITED SIKHS is a coalition of organisations and individuals, who share a common vision based on the belief that there is no greater endeavour than to serve, empower and uplift fellow beings. The core of our philosophy is an unwavering commitment to civic service and social progress on behalf of the common good.
Accordingly, UNITED SIKHS has sought to fulfil its mission not only by informing, educating and uplifting fellow beings but also by participating in cross-cultural and political exchanges to ensure that the promises and benefits of democracy are realized by all.
We at UNITED SIKHS believe that the development of enlightened and progressive societies can be made possible by socially conscious groups of people who make a commitment to develop and direct human potential. Our work, efforts and achievements stand as a testament to our faith in this vision.