UK Sikhs are deeply disappointed by the UK government’s attitude to Sikh human rights. While the present government cannot in any way be held responsible for support given by a predecessor government of 30 years ago, the present government’s statement that the assistance then given was ‘only minimal’, was deeply hurtful to Sikhs, and insensitive to others concerned with human rights.
The same seeming indifference to Sikh human rights was also evident in the House of Lords during questions on the UK government’s advocacy of a UN led investigation into human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. Director NSO, Lord Singh asked Baroness Warsi, the Senior Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, if the UK government would consider supporting a similar investigation into the highly organised mass killing of thousands of Sikhs in 1984.
Lord Singh cited evidence from the American Embassy in New Delhi that the number of Sikhs killed in just three days in 1984 exceeded the total number of victims of General Pinochet’s cruel and arbitrary seventeen year rule in Chile.
Baroness Warsi declined to answer the question, saying instead, that she had spent ‘an hour and a half’ in a meeting with the Sikh community.
Following discussions in the NSO and with other Sikh organisations, Lord Singh was asked to pursue the point and ask the UK government to show the same degree of commitment in addressing Sikh human rights, as they were showing in addressing human rights abuses against the Tamil population of Sri Lanka.
Lord Singh accordingly put a written question to Baroness Warsi, again raising the apparent lack of even-handedness. Baroness Warsi again gave a response which totally ignored the question. Lord Singh complained to House of Lords officials who agreed that his question had not been answered, and the Minister was formally requested to respond to Lord Singh’s original question.
During Questions on 26th March Adam Holloway MP asked the Prime Minister what more could be done to justice for the appalling events at Amritsar thirty years ago.
In his reply the Prime Minister acknowledged the continuing hurt to the Sikh community and described the events of 1984 as ‘a stain on the post-independence history of India’. He continued: ‘we cannot interfere in the Indian justice system, nor should we’.
As British citizens, we are entitled to a clear answer to the question put by Lord Singh, ‘why is it fine for our government to concern itself with human rights abuse in Sri Lanka but wrong for similar concern to be shown to Sikhs in India?’ Are Sikhs lesser human beings?
The Prime Minister concluded his reply with an all too familiar patronising comment: ‘The most important thing we can do in this country is celebrate the immense contribution that British Sikhs make to our country………’
The contribution detailed by the Prime Minister failed to mention the most important contribution Sikhs to society, whether here or in India. That is, in the spirit of our Gurus’ teachings, a total commitment to human rights, not only of Sikhs, but of all peoples everywhere. The true message of Baisakhi is that we should always be ready to stand up and be counted in our concern for the human rights of all people whatever the cost. It is a commitment that cost our 9th Guru, Guru Teg Bahadur his life defending the right of Hindus to worship in the manner of their choice against Mughal persecution. It is the same commitment that led to the 1984 genocide against Sikhs for their earlier opposition to the three year dictatorship of Mrs Gandhi.
We believe that it will be a betrayal of still grieving families in India, for UK Sikhs to participate in a UK government celebration that not only ignores their trauma and suffering, but also ignores the underlying commitment to human rights central to the festival of Baisakhi.
We urge all Sikhs to boycott the Downing Street function as a charade that ignores the very meaning of Baisakhi.