With two young kids at home, it isn't often that Manjot Singh and his wife get a night to themselves. When an evening opened up earlier this month, the couple took the opportunity to take in a showing of Man of Steel at an AMC movie theater in the San Francisco suburb of Emeryville.
However, instead of comic book escapism, Singh's evening was ruined by what he called a "racist and discriminatory act."
Singh and his wife bought their tickets, found their seats and, before the film started, Singh got up to get something to drink from the concession stand. By the time Singh had made his purchase and started on his way back to the theater, he was stopped by theater security guards who insisted that he was in violation of AMC's zero-tolerance policy on weapons.
At issue was Singh's kirpan, a ceremonial sword carried by many baptized Sikhs as an article of faith. For devout Sikhs like Singh, the kirpan is a sacred symbol of one's duty to always stand against injustice that should be worn at all times. As Singh insisted to theater security, he felt no more comfortable removing the sword than he would have felt taking off an arm or leg.
Singh's wife, who had by this time come out from the theater, was also carrying her kirpan and was similarly asked to leave. While the couple were given full refunds, the humiliation they felt still stings.
"People were staring at us, looking at us like we were terrorists," he recalled.
AMC issued a statement in response:
Our 'no weapons' policy prohibits guests from carrying weapons of any kind into our theaters. This national policy is for the safety and security of our guests and staff. The person in question was approached when our security team noticed the guest was wearing an approximately 5-1/2 inch unsheathed knife, in clear violation of our rules. We stand by our policy, as this matter is about the weapon alone and not at all about religious freedoms. The safety and security of all our guests and associates is our duty and responsibility, and we take it very seriously.
Singh said this incident was not the first time he had been inconvenienced by his refusal to take off his kirpan. He has been denied entry to court houses, barred from serving on juries and stopped at post offices. He takes it off to ride on airplanes, temporarily replacing it with a small representation, but says it is rarely an issue in his daily routine. He said he has taken it everywhere from his job to college classrooms to amusement parks without incident.
Sikh civil rights advocacy group United Sikhs, which is representing Singh, is hosting a petition on its website pushing AMC to abandon its anti-kirpan policy.
"This continuous attack on religious freedom must be stopped," said United Sikhs Advocacy Director Manvinder Singh in a statement. He added that his organization is "prepared to take all necessary measures to protect Mr. Singh's religious rights..[which are] guaranteed by the First Amendment."
The conflict between observant Sikhs unwilling to compromise on their religious beliefs and an American society increasingly conserved with security has increased in recent years.
However, Sikh groups recently reached a compromise with the Department of Homeland Security at airports by displaying a series of posters specifically aimed at guiding airport security through handling the inspection of kirpans.
The Times of India reports:
In the last two years, Sikhs have been arrested, threatened with arrest or harassed in disputes with guards over kirpan. The poster tells security workers how to navigate the situation: "Respectfully ask if a Sikh is carrying a kirpan. If so, request to inspect the kirpan," it reads.
"If a kirpan must be confiscated, explain the reason(s) and handle the kirpan with respect and care." For Sikh Americans, this is a huge and significant accomplishment," Manjit Singh, co-founder and chairman of Legal Fund, told Post. The poster also tells screeners to "show respect to all variations of faith."
Mata Nanaki (1464-1518)
The First Sikh Born in Chahal village (now Lahore, Pakistan), Mata Nanaki loved and nurtured her younger brother Nanak. In 1469, Nanak experienced a divine vision as a young man and became the first Guru or "teacher" of what is now the Sikh faith. Mata Nanaki was the first to follow him and should be celebrated as the first Sikh, which literally means "disciple" or "seeker of truth."
Mata Khivi (1506-1582)
The First to Serve Langar Mata Khivi followed Guru Nanak and prepared food for all who came to hear the Guru's spiritual discourse. When her husband became the second Sikh guru, Guru Angad, she presided over <em>langar</em>, a free and open kitchen, serving food to rich and poor of all castes and backgrounds. Today, every Sikh <em>gurdwara</em> in the world serves <em>langar</em> to the community.
Mai Bhago (Late 1600s - Early 1700s)
The Fearless Warrior-Saint Born in Jhabal village (now Amritsar, Punjab in India), Mai Bhago grew up in a time when the 10th guru, Guru Gobind Singh, fought to defend Sikhs against Mughal forces and hill chiefs. During a great siege in 1705, Mai Bhago rallied 40 deserters and led them into battle herself, sword in hand. They died fighting and became known as the Chali Mukte, the Forty Liberated Ones. Afterward, Mai Bhago became the Guru's bodyguard, donning a turban and cross-dressing in male warrior attire. Today, she is revered as a saint.
Rani Sada Kaur (1762-1832)
The First Woman Commander-in-Chief Rani Sada Kaur became a young widow when her husband was killed in a battle among Punjabi chiefdoms. She used the moment to transform herself into a woman-warrior, donning a high turban and weaponry. She commanded battles and laid the foundation for the Sikh empire, which spanned the Punjab from 1799 to 1849. She closely advised her son-in-law as he became the first Maharaja of the new empire, Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
Maharani Jind Kaur (1817-1863)
The First Female Freedom Fighter Married to Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Jind Kaur was Maharani of the Sikh empire -- and the first female freedom fighter in the struggle to oust the British from India. After Ranjit Singh's death, the British annexed the Punjab through bribery and battle. Rani Jinda Kaur's revolutionary speeches and writings rattled the British who imprisoned her in Punjab, Nepal, Calcutta and finally, England, where she died in 1863 at the age of 46. She is credited for sowing the seeds of India's struggle for independence.
Amrita Pritam (1919 - 2005)
The Great Poetess The leading 20th century poet of the Punjabi language, Amrita Pritam is considered the Sikh community's unsung heroine. She is the first prominent woman Punjabi poet, novelist, and essayist, equally loved on both sides of the India-Pakistan border. With a career spanning six decades, Amrita Pritam produced more than 100 books. She represents the rise of Sikh women in the humanities -- writers, artists, filmmakers, and scholars.
Dr. Inderjit Kaur (1942 - )
The Fierce Social Worker A doctor by training, Inderjit Kaur is the President of the <em>Pingalwara</em> Charitable Society in Amritsar, Punjab in India -- a famous home open to the poor, handicapped, diseased, and mentally ill. Since 1992, she has carried the legacy of its founder Bhagat Puran Singh with her own bold leadership. She stands in for countless Sikh women -- doctors, nurses, health-care advocates, volunteers -- who care for the sick and poor.
Prakash Kaur (1951 - )
The Champion for Girls In a state infamous for female infanticide, Prakash Kaur runs a house in Jalandhar, Punjab for 60 abandoned girls. She was abandoned herself -- found a few hours old in a drain. Since 1993, she has rescued and raised unwanted and unclaimed newborn girls. She represents the many Sikh women fighting for women and girls against abandonment, domestic violence, sexual assault, and forced marriage.
Amrit Singh (1969 - )
The Civil Rights Lawyer A formidable civil rights lawyer, Amrit Singh was one of the fiercest U.S. critics of the torture and abuse of prisoners under the Bush Administration. As an ACLU attorney, she litigated cases on torture, indefinite detention, and post-9/11 discrimination. She now serves at the Open Society Justice Initiative. Her father is the 13th and current Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh. Amrit Singh represents a new generation of Sikh women lawyers, wielding the law as sword and shield in the battlefield.
Dr. Anarkali Kaur Honaryar (1984 - )
The Senator Arnkali Kaur is a human rights advocate and Senator in Afghanistan. As one of 3,000 Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan, she fights for the civil rights of minorities and women. When the Taliban was overthrown in 2001, she joined the Grand Council, Loya Jirga, to elect the interim government, and then helped draft the country's new constitution. She serves as the first non-Muslim woman member in the lower house of parliament. In 2009, at 25 years old, she was voted "Person of the Year" by Radio Free Europe's Afghan chapter, becoming a household name in Kabul. A modern-day "Mai Bhago," Arnakali Kaur represents the rise of brave modern-day Sikh women warriors.