Astonishing gap in bloody Sikh story

What you think of the following Calgary Herald story will largely depend on how you answer the following two questions. First, do you know what a "kirpan" is?

Second, do you know much about the role that the "kirpan" plays in the traditions and faith of Sikh believers?

This story may provide enough information for readers who do not know the answer to that first question to make sense of the horrible event covered in this report. But there is no way in the world that it contains enough information and context to allow readers who cannot answer the second question to make sense of what happened.

Talk about not getting religion!

Now, with all of that said, here is the top of the report.

A Calgary man has been charged with murder in India after his wife was killed days after their son's wedding, according to police and media reports out of that country.

Police there say Gurdial Singh, who reportedly has lived with his wife and family in Calgary for about a year, also injured a son who tried to help his mother following a fight in a village in Punjab. The 57-year-old man and his wife, Ranjit Kaur, 55, were arguing at a home in the village of Raipur ..., police said, when Gurdial Singh used a kirpan to slit his wife's throat.

"It was suddenly, and it was over some property matters and domestic problems," Hoshiarpur police Insp. Paramjeet Singh said. ... "He ran away from the scene of the crime and he is arrested now and in police custody."

Obviously, the kirpan is a bladed weapon and the attack was shocking enough. However, it does not appear that the editors of the Herald realized the incredibly important, much more than symbolic role that this dagger plays in this unique world religion.

While any metaphor is risky in this territory, this is something like a Christian husband beating his wife to death with a large cross.

This is a complex issue, so where to start? There is much to read on the role of the kirpan in this faith (this Google search will help), but the following piece of a short online essay will help get readers up to speed:

The Kirpan (ceremonial sword) worn by followers of the Sikh religion sometimes raises questions or concerns among people who are unfamiliar with the religion or it's tenants. The Kirpan is an ingrained part of the Sikh religion and is in many ways it's religious symbolism is similar to the Cross in Christianity. Just as a Cross is worn by devout Christians, baptized Sikhs are required to wear the Kirpan. ...

The Kirpan has been an integral part of the Sikh religion since it's early inception and has a very sacred religious symbolism for Sikhs. To suggest that it is a "dagger," or a "weapon" or merely a cultural symbol is both misleading and offensive to Sikhs. To Sikhs the Kirpan is religiously symbolic of their spirituality and the constant struggle of good and morality over the forces of evil and injustice, both on a individual as well as social level. ...

It was Guru Gobind Singh, the final living Sikh prophet who formally instituted the mandatory requirement for all baptized Sikhs to wear the Kirpan at all times. He instituted the current Sikh baptism ceremony in 1699 which is referred to as the "baptism of the sword" (khanda di pahul). During the ceremony sugar crystals and water are stirred in a steel bowl with a Kirpan before the initiate drinks the mixture. During the baptism ceremony the initiate is instructed in the duties and obligations of becoming a Khalsa (one belonging to the Divine). The Khalsa is expected to live by the high moral standards of the Sikh Gurus at all times which includes such things as abstaining from smoking, drinking and other intoxicants, performing daily prayers and always maintaining the distinctive physical symbols of Sikhism on their person. The most noticeable of these being uncut hair and carrying the Kirpan.

So this was not your typical act of fatal domestic violence, was it? No, this was -- unless I am reading something wrong -- an astonishingly sacrilegious act at the level of Sikh doctrine as well as, obviously, a horrendous crime.

Could the average reader have understood this? No way. How does a newspaper correct this kind of sin of omission?

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