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After the veil in UK, it’s the kirpan in Denmark

The ruling is the latest in a line of bans on the wearing of overt religious symbols in Europe.

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LONDON: Sikhs in Denmark can no longer carry a kirpan in public. The eastern high court has upheld a ruling by a Copenhagen court last year, which convicted Ripudaman Singh, an Indian, for violating Danish arms law that prohibits carrying knives longer than 7cm.

Singh, a 31-year-old scientist visiting the US embassy in Copenhagen in 2004, handed in his kirpan while going through a security check. Instead of allowing him into the embassy, the authorities called police. Singh was arrested and the case went to court.

The court said that though Singh wore the blunt knife as a religious symbol, it violated a ban on carrying knives except for carrying out a trade, hunting, fishing, or other recreational activities.

But the court ruled that Singh would not have to pay the 3,000 kroner fine ordered by the lower court last year.

The ruling is the latest in a line of bans on the wearing of overt religious symbols in Europe, signalling a more conservative shift to the freedom of religion and expression. France has already banned the wearing of headscarves by Muslim women in government service.

In Britain too, there has been a heated debate in recent days on the wearing of niqab by Muslim women who cover their face. The debate was sparked when schoolteacher Ashiah Azmi was suspended for wearing a niqab to work. Azmi took the school to a tribunal for discriminating against her, but the tribunal upheld the decision.

Former foreign minister Jack Straw and other UK ministers waded into the debate arguing that the niqab separates the wearer from society and makes integration difficult.

While the debate was raging, British Airways sent one of its employees home for wearing a necklace bearing a cross. BA argued that it went against its uniform rules, but it was seen by many as discriminating against Christians, particularly when BA’s Sikh employees were allowed to wear a bangle and turban and Muslims, to wear headscarves.

“Carrying of kirpan is a basic tenet of Sikhism,” said Singh’s father Gurcharan Singh Lamba, who lives in Punjab. The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee viewed the Danish court ruling with concern and said it would take up the issue with the central government.

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