Thursday, August 10, 2006

Harvard returns Sikh students 'kirpan'

Harvard returns Sikh students 'kirpan'

Navi Johal

Harvard University has returned a Sikh student's kirpan (sword) as a result of the Sikh Coalition's intervention.

The student, Navdeep Singh, had voluntarily given his kirpan to a university administrator who requested that the administration be able to keep it while the university determined whether he would able to wear it on campus.

The student's kirpan was returned to him within hours after the Sikh Coalition's intervention.

Navdeep Singh, a Harvard Summer School student, contacted the coalition on July 6 because an assistant dean requested that he provide Harvard documentation on the religious nature of his kirpan and any legal authority supporting his right to carry it.

The coalition's legal director provided Singh with the coalition’s now standard twenty-eight page compilation of legal argument and precedent on the kirpan and the right to carry it. Navdeep in turn submitted the coalition's document to his assistant dean.

On July 11, the dean of the Harvard Summer School summoned Navdeep to a 9am meeting the next morning. That morning, the dean told Singh that university officials had not yet decided whether he would be allowed to carry his kirpan while attending the summer school.

He asked that Navdeep give his kirpan to him while university officials made their determination over the next two days. Singh complied with the request and parted with his kirpan.

Upset, Singh called the coalition to request additional assistance. The coalition's legal director immediately placed calls to the dean of the Summer School and Harvard's Pluralism Project during the late morning of July 12. Staff at the Pluralism Project were able to pass along the coalition's concerns to administration officials.

At approximately 3pm that afternoon dean Christopher Queen, lecturer on the Study of Religion and Dean of Students for Continuing Education in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, called the coalition's legal director to let him know that Singh's kirpan would be returned to him that day and that he would be allowed to wear his kirpan during his summer courses at Harvard.

Dean Queen was kind and apologetic in explaining that university officials needed time to understand Singh's kirpan and the reasons he carries it.

Singh's parents received a call from university officials to explain their action. He now proudly carries his kirpan as a summer school student at Harvard.

The coalition would like to thank Harvard's Pluralism Project, dean Queen, and the Harvard administration for its prompt attention to its concerns.

The kirpan is an article of faith that was revealed to the last Sikh prophet, Guru Gobind Singh, and made mandatory by him for all initiated Sikhs on March 29, 1699.


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