A Sikh college student named Harsimran Singh in California was denied access to an Amtrak bus due to wearing his kirpan, or religious sword, that Sikhs wear as a symbol to protect the weak and promote justice. The Sikh faith requires the “Five Ks” which include Kesh, Kangha, Kara, Kachera, and Kirpan, are five articles worn for the Sikh to show his or her faith. Kesh is uncut hair, which is kept wrapped in a turban. A Kangha is a small wooden comb that is used twice a day to comb clean the hair of tangles. A Kara is an iron bangle that symbolizes life as never ending and a symbol connecting the Sikh to the community by the bangle being a link in the Sikh change. A Kachera is a piece of clothing that is similar to a pair of boxers, or shorts, and symbolizes self-respect and control over lust. Finally, the Kirpan is a short dagger that is supposed to be kept on the person at all times and is not allowed to be used unless in self-defense of one’s self or another.
The Kirpan being held by Harsimran was over his shirt but under his jacket. The bus driver noticed it and told Harsimran that he would need to remove it and put it in his bag, which would have to be put in the luggage compartment in order to ride the bus. The bus driver then called the police, who told Harsimran the same thing causing Harsimran to not ride the bus due to refusing to compromise his religious beliefs. Harsimran tried to show the police the Kesh while trying to explain what it was and was told to keep his hands away from the “weapon.” Harsimran claimed he was very confused by what was happening not because of what was being said but because he had ridden the same bus, along with Amtrak trains, before with no problems. The company claimed that the driver is responsible for the safety of all its passengers and therefore made the correct decision to not allow the “weapon” to be on person while Harsimran was riding.
I do not agree with the driver’s decision, especially if Harsimran explained to him what the Kesh was and the religious importance and rules regarding it. I thought it was extremely insensitive for the driver to disregard what Harsimran said and call the police. I also found the police response unfair due to their lack of listening to Harsimran’s explanation of religious meaning behind the Kesh. On top of the insensitivity shown in this case, it is hard to believe that the bus driver had not heard about the Sikh faith when there have been several attacks on Sikh’s due to the turbans they wear and people being ignorant and mistaking them not only for Muslims but accusing them of being terrorists. I cannot believe that Amtrak would be able to do anything but inform their drivers to be aware that a Sikh passenger may be carrying a Kesh and that this should be permitted due to religious reasons not only behind the Kesh but also how it is handled.
What do you think about how he was treated by both the driver and the police?