Monday, October 21, 2013

He's Walking

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?

11 comments:

SC said...

I think the driver was correct in telling Singh that he needed to put the Kirpan in his bag in order to ride the bus. The Kirpan is a weapon, and allowing him to carry the Kirpan on a moving vehicle is dangerous to the other riders. I think it is a little strange that the driver called the police, as the post does not mention any questionable behavior from Singh. Other than that, I think both the driver and the police handled the situation in a perfectly acceptable manner

SC said...

I think the driver was correct in telling Singh that he needed to put the Kirpan in his bag in order to ride the bus. The Kirpan is a weapon, and allowing him to carry the Kirpan on a moving vehicle is dangerous to the other riders. I think it is a little strange that the driver called the police, as the post does not mention any questionable behavior from Singh. Other than that, I think both the driver and the police handled the situation in a perfectly acceptable manner

Maddie C. said...

In this case, I am torn between the two sides. I think that Singh should be able to express his religion and hold the religious symbols that he finds important to his Sikh faith. But on the other hand, I can understand the bus driver’s concern for the overall safety of the people on the bus. I do think the bus driver did rush to call the police instead of confronting Singh first. I want to be sensitive to Singh’s right to exercise his religion, but I don’t know if there would be an overruling compelling state interest to ban him from carrying it on the bus in order to promote safe traveling. In the end, I think I would lean a little more to Singh’s side, though, and defend his right to the exercise of his religion. He has carried the sword before on the bus with no problems. It is a symbol of his faith and he should be able to travel with this company without discrimination.

Cori T said...

I understand that wearing a kirpan is part of the Sikh faith, but I think the bus driver is justified in denying him entry. While Harsimran might only use the kirpan as a symbol of his faith and for self-defense, the weapon could still become dangerous on the bus should anyone try to take it from him. I do understand his confusion, however, since he had previously been on the bus and other trains before with the weapon.

Dylan Smith said...

Firstly, is there a law against carrying this type of sword with a person at all times? Judging from the picture above, the sword doesn't look too threatening and I would be inclined to say there is not a law against carrying such a weapon. I completely disagree with the bus driver here. He has no right to strip this man of his religious freedoms. If a white male, dressed respectably, were to try and ride the bus with a similar weapon I'm sure the driver wouldn't have had a problem with it. I realize that fear contributed to the bus drivers decisions here but that is no excuse for the treatment that ensued. The bus driver is majorly at fault here as well as the police. I would have expected much more from the officers who are supposed to protect the freedoms we have under the constitution.

Dan W said...

We as Americans tend to fear those who are different from us, which seems to be the case for the bus driver in this situation. I find the bus driver's insensitivity to be the main cause for trouble in this situation, not Singh carrying a sword. I believe that the Free Exercise Clause protects his right to carry the sword wherever he may choose, though clearly he would be subject to the same laws should he decide to use the sword in a violent way. I, like most Americans, have a difficult time understanding the need for the sword to be carried, but his sincerity is certainly evident.

Mike Spear said...

I feel that the driver most likely over reacted. I have to side with Mr. Wiegel and argue that Americans do tend to over react when we are faced with strange occurrences. I have a hard time believing that I would receive the same scrutiny for carrying the Kirpan. On the other hand, I am not up to speed with public transportation laws. If there is a law prohibiting sharp objects on buses than the offices of public transportation should be legally required to have a religion clause that would protect the free exercise of individuals who are required to cary Kirpans and other religious items.

Yessica M said...

I agree with Dan and Mike that the over reaction and insensitivity of the bus driver is the main cause of this situation. Singh had used Amtrak many times before and it was never an issue so the fact that it seems to be a problem now can only lead to the driver's "concern." If Singh did have the intention of harming others with this miniature sword, I believe he would've already struck at least someone by now. Obviously, this is not the case. I also can't help but think that Singh was racially profiled as being a 'terrorist'. His faith requires him to have this sword on him as protection so there should be some religion regulation for transportation law. I think Singh should be allowed to travel with his sword.

Yessica M said...

I agree with Dan and Mike that the over reaction and insensitivity of the bus driver is the main cause of this situation. Singh had used Amtrak many times before and it was never an issue so the fact that it seems to be a problem now can only lead to the driver's "concern." If Singh did have the intention of harming others with this miniature sword, I believe he would've already struck at least someone by now. Obviously, this is not the case. I also can't help but think that Singh was racially profiled as being a 'terrorist'. His faith requires him to have this sword on him as protection so there should be some religion regulation for transportation law. I think Singh should be allowed to travel with his sword.

Terry B said...

I would have to agree with the bus driver on this one. At the end of the day the bus driver responsibility is to keep those people on the bus safe from any harm. I'm pretty sure there is a rule of caring weapons on an Amtrak train to help prevent from accidents and keep people safe. I think the bus driver did the right thing to accommodate to Kirpan by telling him he could put it with his belongings underneath the bus due to safety reasons. I believe the bus driver and police officer was not acting on his religion but more for safety issues of others.Anything could of happen on that bus.

Maggie S. said...

I think while it is the bus driver's duty to keep everyone on the bus safe, Singh also has a right to free exercise which protects him in this case. Most anything could be used as a weapon (razor blade), and some things that look like weapons (like the Kirpan) might never be used to harm another person. People have the right to bear arms, and I think Singh has the right to carry his Kirpan.