My Lords, I begin by saying that I agree with Amendment 70. The amendment seeks to protect the tradition of the kirpan and those who possess it. It permits individuals to possess the kirpan for, “religious, ceremonial, sporting or historical reasons”.
There is disquiet among those in the Sikh community, who feel that their right to possess a kirpan is being threatened, and they need assurances to be able to do so. There needs to be a comprehensive solution which is acceptable to the Sikh community.
I was born and brought up in east Africa, where there were people of different religions and racial backgrounds. I learned to speak several languages and developed an understanding and respect for all religions. I am actively involved in promoting harmony and peace between various racial and religious groups. Although I am a Muslim, I am a patron of non-Muslim associations, including the Sikh Forum and the British Sikh Association. I am also the chairman of Guru Nanak Worldwide, which promotes the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of the Sikh religion.
I have a strong connection with the Sikhs and have visited their temples, which are called gurdwaras, on numerous occasions. I have studied Sikhism and have written a book on the life and times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. In this book, I have included some principles of the Sikh religion and also mentioned the teachings of the 10 Sikh gurus. The 10th and last human guru was Guru Gobind Singh Ji, who transformed the Sikh faith. In 1699, he created the Khalsa, a community of the faithful who wore visible symbols of his faith and trained as warriors. Today, the Khalsa community comprises a significant proportion of the Sikh community. As has been mentioned, Guru Gobind Singh Ji also proclaimed five kakars, which were kacha, karha, kesh, kanga and kirpan.
Sikhs are proud of the five Ks and therefore comply with what has been proclaimed. The kirpan represents the values of the Sikh faith and is an essential article of faith for the Khalsa Sikhs. The kirpan is curved, contained in a sheath. It is often made of steel or iron and can be of varying sizes. It is normally worn in a strap, which is called a gatra. In the Sikh community, the kirpan is used for ceremonial and cultural practices such as during weddings and processions. It is also used in martial arts and can be given as a gift. In fact, I was presented with a kirpan in Amritsar when I visited the Golden Temple. My family’s connection with Amritsar goes back nearly 200 years, so I was privileged to be presented with a kirpan, among other items, in the Golden Temple.?
The UK as a whole has a long history with the Sikhs, stemming from colonial India and the World Wars. We recently celebrated the centenary of the Armistice ending the First World War, and I have spoken in your Lordships’ House on the contribution of the soldiers from the sub-continent of India. India raised an army of over 1 million soldiers, 20% of whom were Sikhs. We owe gratitude to the Sikhs for the sacrifices they have made to preserve our way of life. This amendment is an opportunity to provide a specific defence for those who possess—I emphasise “possess”, as they do not necessarily wear it—the kirpan.
I cannot recall any occasion where a Sikh possessing the kirpan has used it as an offensive weapon and caused physical harm to anyone. This afternoon, in fact, I spoke to an ex-commander of the Metropolitan Police who verified what I say; it has not been used as an offensive weapon by the Sikhs. I therefore feel that a kirpan should not be deemed an offensive weapon and provision must be made for that in this legislation. As has been mentioned, the Sikhs are law-abiding people. The kirpan needs to be exempted from the relevant sections of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.
I have had representations from various Sikhs in the past few days—not members of the association but ordinary Sikhs—asking me to speak on this subject. They feel very strongly about it. What is being asked for is reasonable. As I said, there is great disquiet among Sikhs that this is happening. I therefore suggest to my noble friend that she enter dialogue and not close the door. That would be greatly appreciated by the community—I do not necessarily mean the association; the noble Lord, Lord Singh, has already alluded to that. Let us have a discussion with the community to see whether an amicable settlement can be reached that is acceptable to it. I speak as a Muslim and not as a Sikh.
I hear the concerns of several noble Lords. I reassure them again that we will enter the conversation with a very open mind.