Sikh Student Banned From Amtrak Bus Over Kirpan

UC Davis student Harsimran Singh shows off the sash holding his kirpan, a Sikh religious item, in front of the Amtrak station Monday afternoon in downtown Davis. Singh was prevented from boarding an Amtrak bus while wearing the kirpan. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

DAVIS, California—As he has for the past two years, UC Davis student Harsimran Singh arrived at the local Amtrak station early Saturday morning to take a bus to Sacramento, where he would then board a train to visit his family in Selma, south of Fresno.

Like always, Singh traveled with the five mandatory articles of his Sikh faith, including a kirpan, a symbol of a Sikh’s commitment to protect the weak and promote justice that is typically worn inside a sash. Singh wore his sash over his shirt and underneath his jacket.

“I had no inkling to the situation being any different from before,” said Singh, 20, a junior studying managerial economics at UCD. But as the time came to board the bus for its 5:55 a.m. departure, the bus driver was nowhere in sight.

Eventually, Singh spotted the driver across the street from the Second Street bus stop, shortly before two Davis police cruisers rolled up. Police records show officers received a call at 5:47 a.m. reporting a “subject with a knife trying to get on the bus — driver requests he be checked before letting him on the bus.”

The two officers spoke with the driver before walking over to Singh. One pulled out his flashlight and shone it in Singh’s direction.

“Do you have a dagger on you?” the officer asked, according to Singh, who said he replied by explaining the kirpan’s religious meaning and that his faith prohibits him from removing it from his body.

Singh also said when he put his hand on the nine-inch-long sword to show it to the officer, he was instructed to “put your hands away from the weapon.”

The officers then informed him he would be unable to board the bus without first removing the kirpan and placing it in a checked piece of luggage, said Singh, who noted he’s traveled on Amtrak buses and trains without a problem for the past two years.

“I was stupefied,” said Singh, who canceled his travel plans. “I’m not going to compromise my faith just to make the bus driver happy.”

Davis police Lt. Glenn Glasgow referred questions about the incident to Amtrak, which issued the request for Singh to stow his kirpan.

Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham confirmed that the bus driver called police upon seeing the unconcealed kirpan, and that he indicated he would transport Singh if he placed the item in his backpack and stored it in the bus’ baggage compartment.

“The passenger refused to do so and was denied boarding as a result,” Graham said, adding that Amtrak personnel have encountered similar situations in the past and are given discretion on how to handle them.

“Preferred bus policy is that weapon or weapon-like objects are secured in the baggage bin,” Graham said. “Ultimately the driver, like the train conductor, is responsible for the safety of his passengers.”

Amrita Singh, a spokeswoman for the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund in Washington D.C., said the Sikh community is no stranger to encounters with law-enforcement regarding kirpans. In some cases, she said, Sikhs have been arrested and charged with carrying a concealed weapon.

Often, she said, the situation is diffused by a representative of SALDEF or other Sikh organization reaching out to offer education about the kirpan’s meaning and importance, and she noted that may be the appropriate course of action in this case as well.

“There are still public accommodation laws,” Amrita Singh said. “If the bus company’s policy does not allow for a kirpan, maybe that’s something they could think about.”

As for Harsimran Singh, the UCD student said he will think twice about traveling by Amtrak in the future. But he also hopes that by speaking out, he will foster a greater understanding of his faith, and bring attention to what he believes to be an increasing mistreatment of Sikhs in the United States.

“Anybody is a potential threat,” he said. “What makes me a potential threat, just because I’m practicing my religion?”

Originally published by, commentary by Editors.

Lauren Keene, Davis Enterprise can be reached at


  1. Lauren:
    Please clarify and answer the following:
    1. Please state how many times Kirpan has protected the weak and promoted justice in 2013?
    2. What is the size of Kirpan stated as symbol and under what authority?
    3. Do you know who is Sikh as per our Final and living Guru Ji?
    4. What are responsibilities of Amritdhari Singh with five mandatory articles of his/her Sikh faith?
    5. How many or what percentage Amritdharis are involve in crimes?

    Media and journalists are spreading false and fraudulent information and creating misunderstanding among general population with little or no knowledge.

  2. well, with all the mayhem going on these days, i would not want to ride in a vehicle with someone carrying a knife. the law says put it into baggage storage. so do it or get another form of transportation. maybe he is not a threat, but some unstable person could confiscate his knife and use it on the passengers. if you cannot carry a knife on an airplane, why on a bus??laws were not followed when he carried it before, that does not make it ok to do so now or in the future. follow usa laws or go home to your own country. assimilate into the country in which you are living.

    • R.J please kindly explain to me how giving up ones religious freedom, or the right to bear arms helps people to ” assimilate into the country in which you are living”. I was born in America as were my parents and there parents, while I find illegal immigration distasteful. I do not think that he came here illegally I have read the constitution and I believe that we should follow it, would you deprive this young man of his religious freedom in opposition to the constitutions.or do you pick and choose to follow our founding fathers on a whim, our nation has a noble founding document which embraces freedom. May God bless you and your family, please kindly accept my well wishes. I choose freedom over oppression. while I may not agree with your statements I would defend your right to make them.

  3. Assimilate? As in the right to carry arms or in the way the founding fathers assimulated into the sioux or apache way of life. How about the right to practice faith without state intervention? All of us are invidividuals and share some beliefs and views as those around us, all beliefs are not shared however but ultimately we should respect those rights. See humanity as one.

  4. I do not believe anyone should have to assimilate into American society but finding a respectful compromise for when in public. Would a small kirpan work, much like a pendant? I am not well read on the Sikh religion but is the size important or would a representation be acceptable? From what I have read the kirpan is a symbol representing a duty to protect people, fight for justice, and act with virtue.

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