Human rights advocacy group United Sikhs will be looking into Gatwick airport’s protocol regarding the wearing of the Sikh Kirpan following an incident earlier this month.
Many within the Sikh community were outraged to learn that Gatwick airport have not trained staff to recognise the Sikh identity. The issue came to light after Jagmeet Singh, a respected Sikh community figure and volunteer for Sikh educational charity Basics of Sikhi, was accosted at Gatwick airport whilst waiting in arrivals for his wife and child responding to complaints of a man with a “knife”.
The complaints were made in reference to Jagmeet Singh’s wearing of the kirpan. The Kirpan – a small sword – is one of five articles of faith called the punj kakkar (five Ks), which all initiated Sikhs wear. The Kirpan is legal to wear under UK law, yet the staff were completely unaware of this legal standing.
United Sikhs have previously fought many cases through the courts to for the right of Sikhs to wear the punj kakkar and will be looking into Gatwick’s protocol.
Jagmeet Singh posted about the incident, sharing a recorded conversation he had with the staff on social media. The post went viral through the Sikh community, reaching 17,000 people and receiving hundreds of comments. The post can be seen here. Having received many complaints about the incident, Gatwick airport responded to the issue with the following statement.
“Gatwick Airport recognises that the Kirpan belongs to a category of ‘ceremonial weapons and swords’ permitted to be carried in public places.
“Given recent security events however – including at airports – Gatwick remains vigilant and has measures in place to ensure all staff adopt a strong but appropriate check and challenge culture.
“Security officers screening passengers travelling on aircraft are trained in a range of appropriate procedures for handling situations when religious or cultural items are presented. In light of this incident, Gatwick will explore whether similar culturally sensitive training might be extended to staff that manage other areas of the airport.”
Jagmeet Singh said of Gatwick’s response and United Sikhs’ involvement, “I am delighted that United Sikhs are looking into the issue because I am thoroughly disappointed with Gatwick’s response.
“Following my social media post about the incident, many Sikhs have come forward to say they have had similar treatment in airports when not even travelling, some as long as 10 years ago. This shows that there have been no moves in over 10 years to recognise the right of Sikhs to wear the Kirpan. As such, I urge the Sikh community to stay on the case of Gatwick until we see some changes have been made.”