Britain’s first Asian judge, who is due to be knighted by the Queen, on Monday defended his right to wear the Kirpan and warned schools they could be guilty of discrimination if they ban Sikh pupils from wearing the ceremonial dagger.
Sir Mota Singh, a Kenyan-born Sikh with roots in India, made the comments following several controversial cases in Britain surrounding the wearing of ‘articles of faith’ in public places.
Many Sikhs, Muslims and Christians have been angered after schools, employers and politicians objected to them wearing religious clothing and symbols — including crosses, Karas, Kirpans, turbans and veils — outside their homes.
But Mr. Mota Singh, who caused a media stir by wearing a white turban to court when he first appeared as a judge in 1982, said baptised Sikhs had a right to wear Kirpans.
“I see no objection to a young Sikh girl or boy, who’s been baptised, being allowed to wear their Kirpan if that’s what they want to do,” Mr. Singh told the BBC.
However, the controversy over the right to wear the Kirpan also comes amid growing concern over knife-crime, with a 2008 survey estimating that 400 knife-crimes are committed in England and Wales every week.
“I can see that it is a matter of concern,” Mr. Singh said, “but there has been no case of a Sikh that I know of using his Kirpan as a weapon to cause injury. It is meant to be used as a defensive weapon.”
“I wear my Kirpan and I’ve always worn it for the last 35 to 40 years, even when I was sitting in court or visiting public buildings, including Buckingham Palace,” said Mr. Singh, who is due to be formally knighted by Queen Elizabeth II at an investiture ceremony in her palace this year.
“The fact that I’m a Sikh matters more to me than anything else,” he said.
“If, for instance, when I was appointed the suggestion had been made that I could not appear [in court] unless I wore a wig and discarded my turban, I would have refused.”
Several cases in Britain in recent years have pitted individuals subscribing to faiths against authorities at schools and workplaces.
The parents of a 14-year-old boy in north London pulled out their son from his school last year after he was told he could not wear a Kirpan to school for health and safety reasons.
A Sikh police officer won a discrimination case in Manchester after being told to remove his turban during riot training.
And a 14-year-old Sikh girl, who had been told to stay away from her school in Wales because she had violated its ‘no jewellery’ rule by wearing a Kara, won a High Court case overturning the ban.