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Sikh American Student at University of North Carolina Wrongfully Handcuffed for Carrying Kirpan

Sikh American Student at University of North Carolina Wrongfully Handcuffed for Carrying Kirpan

  • The university has issued an apology and committed to ensuring that this kind of incident doesn’t happen again.

A Sikh American student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte was wrongfully handcuffed last week for carrying a kit-an which was mistaken for a knife. The kirpan is a curved, single-edged dagger or knife, and is one of the five articles of faith that Sikhs must wear on them. The incident came to light after the student posted a video of the Sept. 22 incident on Twitter. It has since gone viral. The student hasn’t been publicly identified. 

The 44-second video shows the young man sitting in the student union when a campus police officer responded to the scene after getting a 911 call reporting that there was someone there with a knife. The cop can be seen approaching him and trying to take the kirpan away from him. “You want me to take the whole thing off?” the student asks the officer, who then orders the man to stand up and restrains his hands behind his back with handcuffs. “I wasn’t going to post this, but I don’t think I will receive any support from @unccharlotte,” the student later wrote in the post accompanying the video. “I was told someone called 911 and reported me, and I got cuffed for ‘resisting’ because I refused to let the officer take my kirpan out of the miyaan.”

In an update, the student said he got his kit-an back. “Update for the masses: I received my kirpan back thank you all for the continuous support,” he wrote.

The university issued an apology for the incident and committed to ensuring that this kind of incident doesn’t happen again. Chancellor Sharon L. Gaber confirmed that the object in the student’s possession was found to be a kirpan, adding that the handcuffs were removed from the student after the kirpan was retrieved. 

“State law and University policy prohibit the possession of a knife or other edged instruments on campus, but we will use this as a learning opportunity by engaging in constructive dialogue with Sikh students and employees,” she wrote. “Together, we are confident we can find reasonable measures and educational opportunities that both protect the safety of our campus and the religious practices of our community members.” Noting that the diversity on campus “makes us a better, richer, more successful community,” she said every student must feel “welcomed, supported and safe. We apologize that this is not what this young man felt in our union yesterday. We are committed to ensuring it doesn’t happen again.”

Several Sikh organizations slammed the incident. “This is a grotesque breach of religious freedom and highly irregular given the Kirpaan’s (sic) legal standing in many states which are home to the Sikh community,” the California Sikh Youth Alliance tweeted. 

The Sikh Coalition also took to Twitter. Acknowledging the incident, it said the video was “disturbing.” The non-profit has been in contact with the youth and offered him resources,” the tweet added.

See Also

The Global Sikh Council tweeted concern about the Sept. 22 incident.

In an op-ed in The Charlotte Observer, Dr. Suneet Kaur of Charlotte, a board member of the Sikh Coalition, reflected on a recent incident, noting that it reminded him of how misunderstood the community is. While he is “foremost grateful” that the student is safe, and “gratified” to see UNC’s apology, he is also “concerned” by the situation. “Perhaps more than anything else, the incident serves to show how more than 100 years after arriving in the United States and becoming a part of communities across the nation, Sikhs are still widely misunderstood — to our detriment,” he wrote. “At the end of the day, as a Sikh in North Carolina, I want the same things any member of our state does: awareness of my traditions, safety for my community, and respect for myself. I’m hopeful that this difficult moment is a step towards the kinds of conversations that will continue to further all of those essential — and near-universal — goals.”

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