Sikh faith finds understanding

01:43, Jan 31 2009
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION: Jasmit Singh leads a Sikh lifestyle.

Jasmit Singh’s religion means he must wear five articles of faith, including a sheathed dagger.

Luckily his school is understanding.

The New Zealand-born Pakuranga College student is a practising Sikh.

Sikhs believe in one supreme being, which has no gender.

To become a Sikh, the 16-year-old had to undergo the amrit-initiation ceremony, which he did when he was 10.

They must wrap their unshorn hair and a comb in a turban, wear an iron bangle for a constant reminder to do good and knee-length breeches to encompass living under strict discipline of self-control, and to carry a dagger to signify commitment to always stand up for the cause of justice.


Sikh Council of New Zealand chairman Verpal Singh says the problem with the kirpan is that it gives the impression it is a weapon, "but it is not, it won’t cause any harm. It is a two-inch blunt dagger."

Jasmit says his school accepts the need for Sikhs to wear their five articles of faith.

Some schools insist on enforcing a rule that comes directly in conflict with the Sikh practices, says Mr Singh.

"The usual problem is forcing children to wear a cap, or asking children to take off their head garment.

"We have judgements of courts in Canada, the UK, the United States and other countries available which uphold our right to wear the five articles of faith on our body at all times," he says.

To neglect to wear one or more of the five items represents a serious lapse in the Sikh religion.

Jasmit began wearing his five articles of faith last December.

"The first time I wore a turban I was kind of nervous. I thought I’d be asked a lot of questions, but people were really understanding," he says.

As part of the practice, cutting your hair or shaving is forbidden because it is a gift from God, "mine comes down to my waist," Jasmit says.

Both his parents and his sister wear turbans.

"Our forefathers preferred to die rather than cut their hair or remove their turban. A Sikh with unshorn hair appearing without their turban in public is akin to an average person appearing in public in their under garments," Mr Singh says.

"New Zealand society has been very accepting of our unique appearance and very accommodating of our specific needs. Some sporadic instances are unavoidable," he says.

Pakuranga College associate principal Richard Dykes says while they have a uniform, they expect students to wear it to a high standard.

"We do allow for religious and cultural significants, for instance, greenstones and crosses.

"We have a huge variety of ethnicity, so we take it case by case," says Mr Dykes.

"Wearing a Gothic t-shirt is not a religion, it is a choice and that coincides with gangs. We have to draw the line," he says.

Education Ministry spokesman Iain Butler says school uniform policies are expected to focus on health and safety concerns.

He says students, parents and the school have the right to come to an agreement over religious and cultural emblems being worn at school.

There are about 10,000 Sikhs in New Zealand.

Most of the world’s population of more than 25 million Sikhs live in the Punjab state of India.

Eastern Courier