Religious Jewellery

Another chapter has been added to the saga of religious clothing after Sakira Watkins-Singh was supported by a High Court Judge and allowed to wear the Kara at school after previously being excluded. I’m not sure exactly where I stand on this one. My bigoted dad said “if they can’t dress like the people in this country, they can go back to where they came from”. He got a bit stuck when I told him she was Welsh…

Anyway, although I support religious freedom and freedom of expression, I must admit I was a little frustrated when the judge claimed that the Kara (a bangle worn by all baptised Sikhs) was not a piece of jewellery, but a sign of faith. To me this was just ignoring what’s right in front of them and over-symbolising the item. It may be a sign of faith metaphorically but physically it is a piece of jewellery. Pieces of jewellery are not allowed, so that’s that. If the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster decided that a symbol of their faith was to have bolognese sauce spread across their faces at all times, it wouldn’t be tolerated. If another faith decided that they had to wear giant sombreros, it wouldn’t be tolerated.

Then I was reminded that the Kara is one of the Five K’s. From my limited knowledge of Sikhism I remembered that the 5 K’s are obligatory for Sikhs, which makes it considerably different to the wearing of a crucifix for Christians, for example, which isn’t at all necessary. So in that sense, I see where the judge is coming from. It’s not just taking off a piece of jewellery; in a way, taking it off would be denying their faith, which I wouldn’t endorse.

However, after the Crackergate story, it would be hypocritical of me to respect one crackpot story about Sikhs not being Sikhs if they don’t wear a metal bangle, but not another crackpot story about a cracker turning into a piece of flesh. Surely there are times when a Sikh would take it off, such as when they’re having an MRI? One woman likened taking off the Kara to taking off her arm, which I thought was a bit extreme.

Then another hazy memory from my knowledge of Sikhism came to the fore. Sikhs are also required to wear a Kirpan, a short curved blade, so that they can defend themselves and the weak. We wouldn’t tolerate someone taking a blade into school, no matter how important it was to someone’s faith. The Kara is no different. It’s a piece of jewellery which cannot be worn. End of.

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12 Responses to Religious Jewellery

  1. Bobby says:

    I agree, with you completely. Anyone could claim to be a Sikh and carry such a weapon around. In the UK, I believe Sikhs are allowed to carry a blunted Kirpan in public. The Sikh faith is mostly about Khalsa, its essentially a military order. Founded by the tenth Guru Sikh. The symbol of Sikhism is swords.

  2. grammarking says:

    Well that’s not really the impression I wanted to give, that I think the Sikh faith is dangerous. In reality the only Sikhs I know are very peaceful people. My post was more an objection to exceptions to the rules made for religious people.

    In addition, however, I would say that Sikhs are not supposed to cut their hair either, and it was obvious that this girl had. She’s something of a hypocrite IMO.

  3. PhantomSteve says:

    Just read this when looking for something… a couple of points:

    Firstly, I agree that all the Sikhs I have known/taught have been peaceful people on the whole – the faith is not dangerous!

    Secondly, most Sikhs in the UK will carry/wear a symbolic kirpan (sword) -often a small one, which is not sharp. The kirpan is not for violence! Kirpan comes from the word “KIRPA” and “AAN”…. Kirpa means an act of kindness or a favour; “aan” means honour, respect, and self-respect. It is an instrument which adds to self-respect and self-defence. Thus for Sikhs, Kirpan is the symbol of power and freedom of spirit. All baptised Sikhs should wear a short form of Kirpan (approx. 6″ to 9″ long) on their body. The blade should be made of iron.

    Thirdly, you are quite correct that a Sikh should not cut their hair (Kesh, another of the 5 Ks). A Sikh never cuts or trims any hair, to indicate the perfection of God’s creation. The comb keeps the hair tidy, a symbol of not just accepting what God has given, but also an injunction to maintain it with grace.

    Finally, for a true Sikh, the 5 Ks are a mandatory requirement of their faith – as you said, it’s not like wearing a crucifx… in Christianity’s case, there is no instruction in Holy Scripture mandating the wearing of the crucifix.

    Regards,
    Steve

  4. simran26 says:

    i am a sikh and i agree with what phantomsteve said.
    i would just like to point out that nowadyas alot of kirpans have the straps sown shut or are just altogather welded shut. In this century help is just a phone call away and a person does not need to be armed at all times of the day and night in most parts of the world. that however does not reduce the amount of sanctity and importance placed on the kirpan and the other 4 k’s. refering to them as simple addornment or jewlery with low enough religious importance to a sikh, as to have them taken of casually, would offend any sikh. i suppose that whatever religion you folow does not have an object or concept like this one and you cannot possibly comprehend its importance.

  5. grammarking says:

    Well I think it’s a bit arrogant to say I can’t comprehend its importance (for the record I follow no religion), but you kind of miss my point.

    I don’t deny that any Sikh would be offended by me referring to the 5 K’s as adornments or jewellery. What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t bow down to religious sensibilities just because religion has had a long history of privilege and people are accustomed to having their ludicrous ideas respected.

    I might take a belief that Jews are the scurge of society very seriously and personally. Maybe I would be offended if you said this isn’t true. Would that mean you’d have to ‘respect’ that belief (which is no less ludicrous than the belief that taking off a metal band means you’re not a Sikh)? Would you be forced to allow me to act on these beliefs, for fear of offending me? Of course not! It’s only because religion has held such a privileged position for so long that we’d worry at all about offending people’s religious sensibilities.

    About the kirpan. If it’s blunted or welded shut or sewn shut, what’s the point in having it? Surely then it becomes merely a symbol (as phantomsteve referred to it)?

    The rules said no jewellery. This should apply to everyone. There shouldn’t be exceptions for people just because of what they believe. If I wanted to wear a Che Guevara necklace and said it was very important to me, to remind me that the spirit of the revolution lives on in me, they wouldn’t make an exception for me.

  6. Sonum Sidhu says:

    I am a sikh girl as well. and while i don’t follow all of the five K’s, I would refuse just as vigorously as Sakira if anyone were to ask me to remove my kara. It is not jewellery. please understand this. as much as it look like it is to a non-Sikh person, it is not adornment. I choose to wear the kara and not the rest of the K’s because I have a more modern lifestyle, but the kara is a more convenient way to still pledge your allegiance to the faith. It allows for one to still show our identity and our faith. Your father is not the only bigoted person on this planet. many people can’t understand our religion or just flat out refuse to. it is so frustrating to have to keep defending ourselves when all we are doing is following our religion. Its just a metal bangle to most people, but its so much more to sikhs.

  7. grammarking says:

    It’s amazing this post still gets so many hits and comments after such a long time, and that people still think I don’t understand the symbolic significance placed on this metal bangle by Sikhs. It’s irrelevant, see my last comment.

    You’re not defending yourselves, you are pushing yourselves onto society. Don’t get me wrong, I think out of the religious people that are doing it, Sikhs do it less than most, but you are not being oppressed or attacked if you are merely expected to follow the same rules as everyone else. If the rules say no jewellery, that means no jewellery. If you refuse to follow the rules, that’s you pushing yourself on society, not vice versa.

    Why can you not still pledge allegiance to the faith without the Kara? It doesn’t do anything.

  8. simran26 says:

    i’m not arguing about whether we are pushing our selves onto society or not. i am not suggesting that every one make a special acception just becuz we beleive in something different.
    all i am saying is that u do not understand its significance to us. we where the five k’s because our guru ji commanded us to. they are our identity and our uniform. it is what sets us apart. if me wearing these items breaks someones rule or offends someone, im sorry but i will take the consequenses rather than take them of.
    but dont get me worng im not trying to be a martyr or anything, all i am saying is that this IS the way we pledge alligence to our faith and it does do something. it represents our commitment and our identity.
    i apologze for asuming u following a religion, that was arrogant of me. be i do still believe that u do not understand how important the 5 k’s are to a sikh.
    of course the levels of commitment do vary and one sikh may take it of as another may not.
    in the end it comes down to personal preference and the willingness for a person to change their lifestyle in order live without offending or “forceing” themself on society.
    i am not willing and will not remove my 5 k’s. if that breaks a rule i will take the consequences and not whine about it.
    if no one broke rules our world wud be a utopia and obviously its not.

  9. Alex Pryce says:

    Simran

    Mike is well aware of the symbolic importance that Sikhs may put on the 5 Ks. However, the point he is making is that rules should be abided by and just because YOU think it is symbolically important does not give you the right to waive the rules.

    Do you abide by all of the 5 Ks? Have you ever cut your hair and do you carry the dagger at all times, and do you wear shorts to bed? (I forget the “K” word for shorts).

    I assume you abide by every one of the five. If you do, fair enough but it still doesn’t give you the right to special treatment based on religious faith. And if you don’ follow all five Ks then stop beign a hypocrite and take off the braclet.

  10. Human says:

    Cool article, but the Sikh kara doesn’t fall into the category of ‘religious jewelry’ but is something worn by an individual for reasons **rather more solemn** than trivial beautification as implied by the word ‘jewelry’. Is the individual a ‘hypocrite’ in a hypothetical average Sikh’s eyes for having cut their hair, or eaten some beef or whatever? That’s a ludicrous question. It’s not for us to say that Sikhs ‘need’ to wear or do certain things in order to qualify to wear a kara. Or whether they are a good or a bad Sikh, Muslim or Christian and then on that basis decide if they ‘deserve’ to follow some particular observance for claimed religious reasons. It’s enough that an individual believes that wearing something like a kara is required by their religion. Then as a society we can respect their choice or we can start to get pointlessly picky.

    You say that if one ‘K’ is worn, there must be other artefacts worn at the same time, or uncut hair? Oh yeah? What is your source for ‘5 Ks’? A website? Or how about if I say that there is such an entity called tribal Sikhism which differs from institutional Sikhism, in which the only requirement is to wear a kara? At the end of the day it’s better to just let someone wear a steel band around their arm than to nitpick about the whys and wherefores.

    • grammarking says:

      It’s a long time since I wrote this so I had to go back and read it again. My main point was not to nitpick about why people wear the Kara or observe the other 5 K’s (although I realise I did do that towards the end), rather that the significance placed on the Kara is irrelevant, the fact that it is not mere adornment is irrelevant. It is a metal bangle which in material terms is a piece of jewellery. If the rules say no jewellery, that means no kara. For the record, my knowledge of the 5 K’s comes from a religious studies class.

      That said, I agree with the sentiment of your last line. I don’t think this is a big issue, other religious privileges are much more pertinent for me. However the solution to this problem isn’t to just let someone wear a metal bangle on the basis of their religion, the solution is to change the dress code so that anyone can wear jewellery (or anyone can wear jewellery that isn’t deemed too showy). My own (Catholic) school was much worse, we weren’t allowed any jewellery at all except for a crucifix, never mind any other religious symbol. For me, discriminating against people on the basis of their religion or lack of religion is wrong, that’s why the rules should be the same for everyone, whether we’re talking about a dress code, laws about humane slaughter of animals, bus passes for school children, or terrorism legislation.

      • Human says:

        OK cool, thanks for sharing your thoughts again. Kara or rather ka.da is the Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi word for bangle, and a bangle is definitively a piece of jewelry. However the sikh kara wasn’t always referred to as such – it was called ‘wrist weapon’ and is without doubt a traditional Indian weapon long predating both ‘khalsa’ Sikhism (beard, turban and other stuff) and the advent of the original Sikh founder, Nanak. Indian women often wear karas (meaning bangles) made of gold or silver – these are purely decorative adornment and have no religious connotations and are not weapons. The 5 Ks thing is a red herring as it appears to be referred to only in the original poetic works of Bhai Nand Lal (or at least, is traditionally attributed to this person, who was never a religious authority). It only became a widespread thing in the mid 19th century, and is not an authentic Sikh practice. The evidence points to the fact that hair, a knife (not a ‘kirpan’) and pants were the original Sikh accoutrements. This list does not include ‘kara’ and there’s no reason why it should. So what we’re dealing with here is essentially a group of ethnic Britons choosing to define their own religious practice by wearing a kara and saying they’re Sikh, and that’s where the real controversy lies. I see it as being about autonomy of the individual, and supporting all such weirdness in my view can only help to bring down the tyranny of organised religions including institutional Sikhism.

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