In New Zealand, it is illegal to carry a weapon in a public place and this week a Sikh man found that out when boarding a bus in Auckland while wearing a ceremonial knife.
National MP Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi wants to change the law in New Zealand so that members of his Sikh religion can carry a Kirpan on them in public. The Kirpan is an important symbol of the Sikh religion and is one of five article of faith that a devotee must wear at all times.
Essentially, Mr Bakshi wants followers of his religion to be exempted from laws designed to protect New Zealanders, and he wants greater understanding from our society towards his culture and his beliefs.
These are quite acceptable wishes and New Zealand has proven itself a country that accepts people from all over the world with many and varied beliefs and points of view.
Obviously, I am fully aware that New Zealand is not a utopia – we have crime, we have racism and we have poverty, but we are one of the most peaceful and fair countries in the world and our laws reflect a strong desire that everyone be treated equally.
I have a fairly relaxed view of Mr Bakshi’s proposed legislation. I’m sure most if not all the men affected are law-abiding citizens and the proposed bill states that the Kirpan must be blunt and quite small. If it makes some of our citizens feel they are living their lives the way their guru intended then why not.
What I do have a problem with is Mr Bakshi’s spectacular hypocrisy when it comes to human rights.
He was a very vocal opponent of marriage equality in 2013 and made inappropriate comments during the select committee hearings when the Marriage Equality Bill was going through Parliament. He voted against the bill during all of its readings in the House.
At the time he was quoted as saying:
“We understand that God made us and we are firm believers (that) marriage is between a man and woman.”
Now of course, as a citizen and a Member of Parliament he is entitled to say and vote according to his own beliefs – I’m sure none of us would deny that.
But in doing so he tried to deny me the right to marry. He has also ignored the progression of civil rights in this country that started with women winning the right to vote in the late 1800s.
We have laws that quite rightly protect Mr Bakshi from discrimination on the basis of his sex, his ethnicity and his religion. He has also been granted the right to wear his Kirpan and a turban in Parliament.
If Mr Bakshi goes into a bank, he will not be asked to remove his turban, however, if I enter one wearing a hat I will be asked to remove it, in fact, I have been asked on more than one occasion.
The laws and customs of New Zealand have changed to accommodate the culture and the religion of Mr Bakshi – and I believe that is a GOOD thing.
He deserves his rights, he deserves respect and acceptance.
But those rights are not exclusive – they are there for us all. If we want to be respected and accepted in society then we cannot deny the rights of others, after all, tolerance is a two-way street.
So I ask you, Mr Bakshi, examine your conscience and the rights and privileges you have been granted and remember that the rest of us deserve the same.