Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sikh teenager wins right to wear religious bangle to school

Full marks to British tolerance

A Sikh teenager has won the right to wear a religious bangle to school. It's a victory for open-mindedness and common sense

The Sikh schoolgirl Sarika Watkins-Singh's victory at the high court to wear her "kara", the steel bangle worn by Sikhs, is a reflection of British tolerance and a common-sense approach to different cultural communities when compared to the more fundamentalist approach of countries such as France. Twenty-first century France still cannot come to grips with a turban-wearing schoolchild. But it is sad that Sarika had to go to the court at all. As her solicitor said, each generation seems to have to go through the same struggles.

All the articles and practices of Sikhs signify the various concepts of Sikh philosophy. The articles were enjoined to the Sikhs by the gurus, particularly the 10th and last of the gurus some 300 years ago. The Sikhs have dutifully maintained them.

No simple explanations were offered at the time when these articles were first bestowed. The Sikhs were told they would begin to understand the manifestations of the complexities of Sikh philosophy in everyday life by maintaining them.

A common reason given for the kara is that it reminds a Sikh of commitments to ethical values such as the need to respect the dignity of others, not to commit bad acts, uphold human rights and so on.
The kara is usually worn on the arm most used by the individual, ie the left wrist for lefthanded people.

Another explanation has been that the kara, made of traditional steel, was a clever way of ensuring iron absorption through the skin. Iron deficiency anaemia was common due to poor diets. No empirical evidence exists to verify its value in maintaining iron concentrations in the body.

An important aspect of the kara is that it signifies and makes one understand the cyclical and complex approach of the Sikh worldview. Sikh philosophy like some other Indic systems, take a fundamentally different position to the linearity of time and space of Abrahamic creeds. There is no beginning and end of existence.

According to Sikh worldview everything that takes form comes to an end but reforms in other ways. Thus even universes come and go, galaxies coexist in different time spans, time is cyclical and even space loses dimensions to collapse into "nothing". And new universes begin, new worlds begin as new time spans and space dimensions start. Holding this complex view and understanding its significance to our everyday approach to life is extremely difficult.

The kara helps us to understand that our life and even the lifespan of nations, ideas, communities, the earth and so on is transitory.
A Sikh should remain engaged but not fanatically absorbed at the exclusion of contemplating the wider eternal drama. The two are intertwined. But the trick is to remain fully engaged in life, and yet work one's self out of the cycles towards the eternal reality which is neither born nor destroyed, not seen nor felt, has no form and is not limited by space or time. The kara, a simple bracelet to many, a source of iron to some, a way of stopping bad deeds and shaping good citizens to others also signifies a very different and complex philosophical approach to everyday life. It is rooted in temporality yet attached to a deeper truth.

The judgment will reiterate the different and pragmatic nature of British law compared to the continental system. Sikhs and hopefully other communities will be able to maintain their cultural, ethnic and religious articles where they do not affect security or hygiene or public order, without sanction from the secular fanatics.
Full marks to British tolerance and a sensible judge.

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