Devout Sikhs carry a short dagger, known as a kirpan, which is regarded as an important part of the faith. The blades are often left blunt, but can be razor sharp.
They are not intended to be used as weapons and religious leaders insist that they should be allowed in all public places, including schools and now prisons in Scotland.
Manjit Singh GK, president of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee, was in Edinburgh last week to discuss the issue with Mr MacAskill.
He welcomed a “positive” reaction from the Cabinet He welcomed a “positive” reaction from the Cabinet Secretary, who told them that it should be possible to relax the rules, although the final decision belongs to the Scottish Prison Service (SPS).
The minister also promised to discuss the matter with his Cabinet colleagues and possibly introduce it to Holyrood for further debate.
Mr Singh said: “Sikhs are wonderful people who have worked hard not only to do good for themselves but also to contribute a great deal to improve the economy of the United Kingdom. They wear their symbol of faith only as a mark of respect to their religion.”
Although there are only around a dozen Sikhs in Scottish jails, Mr Singh said the kirpan ban has been raised several times by prisoners who felt that they were being unfairly treated.
He added: “In one case a woman who had spent nearly 12 years in prison was not allowed to meet a Sikh priest just because he refused to take off his kirpan before going inside the jail.
“In such cases, sometimes the members undergoing a jail sentence do need the services of a Sikh priest to get solace out of the trauma they have been experiencing after the sentence.”
Last night, the SPS confirmed that a relaxation of the blanket ban on knives in Scottish jails was on the cards.
A spokesman said: “Our chaplain advisers have been in discussions over creating some kind of memorandum of understanding about visiting Sikh chaplaincy volunteers but there is no immediate intention to sign that off.
“We do our utmost to respect the individuals in custody and allow them to practice their faith as best as they can within the confines of the prison environment.”
A similar exception already exists south of the Border, where some prisons employ Sikh chaplains who are allowed to carry the kirpan. However, with a number of tough measures underway to reduce knife crime in Scotland, critics said the decision would send out entirely the wrong message to criminals.
“Prisons are places of high security, which is why we have to be very strict about what gets in. The visitors are only without these items for a short period of time.
“That is the way it has to be, and they will have to decide if they are going to leave the item at home, or go without visiting prisons.”
Knife campaigner John Muir, who launched a crusade on soft-touch justice in Scotland after his son was murdered in Greenock, said he had nothing against kirpans in principle.
But Mr Muir added: “I think anywhere else than a prison, I’d have no objection to the kirpan, but we have to be realistic here. It is not the right place for any type of knife, blunt or otherwise.”
Kirpans are one of the five articles of faith worn at all times by devout Sikhs, along with the kanga (a small wooden comb worn in hair); the kara (an iron bracelet worn on the right wrist); kachera (cotton shorts which must be washed every day); and the kesh, or hair, which must be covered by a turban.
Originally Published By: The Express