According to media reports, the Indian Government has decided to permit Sikh air travelers to carry the kirpan, a ceremonial knife, that a practicing Sikh is required by his religion to always carry on his person. Permitted kirpans could not be more than 9" in total length, with blades not exceeding 6" in length. The permission has been granted in accordance with the recommendations of the India National Commission of Minorities, it has been further clarified.
This edict comes at the time when a majority of air travelers are prohibited from carrying a pair of scissors, a razor, or even a tube of toothpaste. I was recently asked at an Indian airport to get rid of expensive rechargeable battery spares for my digicam that I had in my carry-on. Allowing a minority of passengers to carry a deadly knife on board, therefore, is gross discrimination, especially on state owned airlines. I wonder if the Government of India had considered the possible, unintended, consequences of its move. What about those U.S. or U.K. bound passengers from Delhi via Mumbai and London, who may have checked their baggage all the way to New York? What about the security in a transit airport, who may now single out the Sikh passengers for a much more thorough and perhaps even a strip search? I think the Indian Government would rue this poor decision before too long.
It's neither the right to bear arms, nor the sense or lack of it in the many prescriptions and proscriptions that govern air travel these days, that is in question here. What I am questioning is the wisdom of granting the right to bear a deadly weapon in an airplane a privilege, no doubt on the grounds of religious freedom. Does it not set a dangerous precedence, when India is facing serious security threats at vital installations around the country? What if Muslim women should demand the right to wear a burqua in photo id's? Less risky to sensitive installations, but more risky to the sensibilities of the clothed majority, what if the Digambara Jains were to demand the right to travel in the nude?
By the way, shouldn't the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is a Sikh, have recused himself from the cabinet meeting in which it was decided to permit kirpans on board the airplanes?