Sikhs can now carry kirpans on Indian airports: What the rule says, and what’s the status across the world


Aviation security regulator Bureau of Civil Aviation Security {BCAS} has in a new order permitted Sikh aviation sector employees to wear kirpan within the airport premises.

Representational image. PTI

Aviation security regulator Bureau of Civil Aviation Security {BCAS} has in a new order permitted Sikh aviation sector employees to carry the kirpan within airport premises. The latest order has come after an earlier 4 March order by the Ministry of Civil Aviation {MoCA} was met with severe criticism from Sikh body Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee {SGPC}.

While allowing Sikh passengers to carry the kirpan of 9-inch total length in domestic flights, the earlier order had disallowed Sikh aviation sector employees from wearing a kirpan.

In the 4 March order, the BCAS said, “Kirpan may be carried only by a Sikh passenger, on his person, provided the length of the blade does not exceed six inches and the total length does not exceed nine inches”.

“This exception shall be for Sikh passengers only as stated above. And, no stakeholder or its employee at airport (including Sikh) and working in any terminal, domestic or international, shall be allowed to carry Kirpan on person,” it added.

Let’s take a look at what is the new order, why kirpan is considered sacred in Sikhism and any other countries that have made regulations regarding the Sikh kirpan:

What is the new order

The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) has modified its recent order, which restricted Sikh employees at the airports from wearing kirpan.

The agency issued a corrigendum to the 4 March order, in which it said, “Kirpan may be carried by a Sikh passenger provided the length of its blade does not exceed 15.24 cms (6 inches) and the total length of the kirpan does not exceed 22.86 cms (9 inches). It is allowed while travelling by air on Indian aircraft within India (domestic routes of fully domestic flights only).”

It drops the earlier clause that prohibited Sikh employees from wearing a kirpan.

BJP leader Manjinder Singh Sirsa tweeted while thanking Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia for taking “swift action”.

Why is kirpan important in Sikhism

In 1699, Guru Gobind Singh commanded all Khalsa sikhs to wear five Ks at all times: Kirpan (a small curved sword of any size, shape or metal), Kesh (uncut long hair), Kangha (small comb), Kara (a metal bracelet), and Kachera (a white undergarment).

The five articles of faith collectively project the Khalsa devotee’s commitment to the Sikh way of life.

Any slight against any of the five articles is considered offensive in Sikhism as these are not considered as mere objects but part of a Sikh’s religious identity.

What laws do other countries have about kirpan

Carrying of kirpan on domestic as well as international flights has been a point of debate across several countries. While some like the US, the UK, Sweden, Scotland and Denmark strictly deny Sikhs from carrying a kirpan onboard a flight, countries with a significant Sikh population, including New Zealand and Canada allow the religious article to be carried on person.

In Canada, kirpans are allowed in almost all public places. From November 2017, Transport Canada has updated its Prohibited Items list to allow Sikhs to carry kirpans smaller than 6 cm on all domestic and international flights except to the US.

Similarly, in New Zealand, if the kirpan’s blade is less than 6 cm it can go as carry-on. Anything larger than 6 cm will have to go into the checked luggage.

Other ‘harmless’ items not allowed on flights

Just like the kirpan, which is a symbol and not a weapon, there are other items that may seem harmless but are not allowed on flights.

Liquids, including water and aerated drinks, are not allowed if it is more than 100ml.

Coconuts cannot be taken in the carry-on luggage. It would be allowed in small pieces. However, dry coconut or copra is also not allowed.

Oily foods and tems, including pickles, and ghee are not allowed in the airplane cabin. Raw foods like rice and pulses cannot be carried on a person, but fruits and vegetables are allowed.

With inputs from agencies

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