JUSTICE COMMITTEE HATE CRIME AND PUBLIC ORDER (SCOTLAND) BILL
SUPPLEMENTARY SUBMISSION FROM NETWORK OF SIKH ORGANISATIONS
The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) is a registered charity no.1064544 that links more than 130 UK gurdwaras and other UK Sikh organisations in active cooperation to enhance the image and understanding of Sikhism in the UK.
This submission is supplementary to our original REF: J/S5/20/HC/1756 dated 17th September 2020 and our 2nd submission dated 16th November 2020 REF: J/S5/20/HC/1771, which followed the oral hearing on 10th November 2020 in which our Deputy-Director Hardeep Singh gave evidence to the Justice Committee alongside several other organisations. This 3rd submission is in response to consideration of options tabled for a new overarching free speech clause, which has been proposed by the Secretary for Justice.
1.1Previously agreed clause for protecting free speech when it comes to matters of religion and belief
We are surprised that only two of the options offered for review as a ‘catch all’ free speech provision by the Secretary for Justice, include an already agreed amendment when it comes to protecting free speech when discussing matters of religion and belief. This was approved unanimously by the committee last week and something we raised along with others in oral evidence to the Justice Committee, and in our previous written submissions. The new and controversial ‘stirring up hatred’ offences must include free speech clauses to protect speech beyond merely ‘criticism’ and ‘discussion’ of religion. The previously agreed amendment would have provided greater protection to expressions of ‘antipathy’, ‘ridicule’, ‘dislike’ or ‘insult’ of religion or belief and brought this free speech protection (in the Hate Crime and Public Order Bill) in line with an equivalent clause in section 29J of the Religious Hatred Act 2006[i] (England & Wales).
During the oral evidence session on 10th November 2020 Anthony Horan Director, Catholic Parliamentary Office of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, Neil Barber, spokesperson for Scotland, National Secular Society (NSS) , Kieran Turner, Public Policy Officer, Scotland, Evangelical Alliance, and our Deputy-Director Hardeep Singh all supported the echoing of freedom of speech provisions in English law, when it comes to religion and belief.[ii] This was later agreed as an amendment by the committee. It is frankly remarkable how this now appears to have been rescinded in two of, ‘four options for freedom of expression provision.’[iii] We are not alone in our astonishment and disappointment at this development – our allies in the Free to Disagree Campaign, the NSS have rightly described this development as ‘perplexing and farcical.’[iv]
1.2 More time is required to consider the ‘catch all’ free speech clauses
We are alarmed by the speed in which this critical part of the public consultation is now being conducted. Our Deputy-Director was a signatory to a letter calling for deferring scrutiny of the draft stirring up hatred offences proposals until after the May election.[v] This stage of the public consultation was announced on 18th February 2021, and evidence in response to the ‘catch all’ free speech provision has been given the deadline of 10:00 Monday 22nd February 2021. This is only two working days and simply not sufficient notice to provide these ‘catch all’ free speech clauses the attention they deserve. There are also questions as to why the free speech defence for religion and belief (in two of the proposed provisions) which mirrors English law, has not been expanded to other protected characteristics in which only ‘discussion or criticism’ is protected. This not only creates a clear hierarchy of free speech defences but puts those who for example, want to air strong opinions on transgender issues/women’s rights in serious difficulty if this legislation is enacted.
1.3Parliamentary scrutiny and procedure on previously agreed free speech clause for religion and belief
We would also like to understand the mechanism and process by which the previously agreed free speech clause for religion and belief, has essentially been shelved in all but two of the proposed ‘catch all’ clauses. It would indeed be helpful if an explanation is provided by the Secretary for Justice during the oral evidence session scheduled at 14:30 on 22nd February 2021.
NSO submission to APPG for the Pakistani Minorities inquiry into Abduction, Forced Conversions and Forced Marriages of Religious Minority Girls and Women in Pakistan
The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) is a registered charity no.1064544 that links more than 130 UK gurdwaras and other UK Sikh organisations in active cooperation to enhance the image and understanding of Sikhism in the UK.
For the sake of brevity and convenience, we have used headings in the APPG briefing document. We are grateful to former councillor/detective Gurpal Virdi for his input.
Human Rights Organisation/NGOs/Faith and non-faith based groups, Experts
i. Name and organisation? What is the nature of your work on the topic? Do you work with the victims and their families? How many victims or their families do you work with? What assistance do you provide?
Over the last few years, the NSO has followed cases of forced conversion and written about the forced marriage and abuse of religious minority girls and women in Pakistan. This is an issue that has an impact on all non-Muslim minority girls in Pakistan – predominantly Hindu and Christian girls, but it has also impacted the minority Sikh community too. One of the most high-profile cases in recent years has been the case of Jagjit Kaur.[i] She was alleged to be kidnapped at gunpoint from her home in Nankana Sahib (Lahore), converted (given the Muslim name Ayesha) and married to a Muslim boy.[ii]
In many cases the victim’s family face legal challenges, intimidation and according to Professor Javaid Rehman from Brunel University, ‘local authorities, especially police, particularly in the Punjab province, are often accused of being complicit in these cases by failing to properly investigate reported cases or prosecute offenders’.[iii] Legal petitions filed in court from the family members of the accused boy/men, often follow a similar pattern with statements alleging the girl(s) converted and married of their free will. This makes it difficult, if not impossible for the victim families to get access to justice through the courts. Many come from poor backgrounds, and do not have the necessary resources to defend their rights.
According to the academic research on this matter, we understand that approximately 1,000 women and girls from religious minorities are abducted, forcibly converted to Islam, and then married off to their abductors every year in Pakistan.[iv] Our Director Lord Singh of Wimbledon has raised the treatment of minorities in debates in the House of Lords. In a debate on 2nd July 2019 ‘Pakistan: Aid programmes and Human Rights’ – our Director said:
‘Minorities are frequently allocated menial tasks such as the cleaning of public latrines. Homes of minorities are frequently attacked and women and girls kidnapped and converted or sold into slavery. I have at times questioned the appropriateness of Pakistan, with its ill treatment of minorities, still being a member of the Commonwealth, a club of countries with historic ties to Britain. Members are required to abide by the Commonwealth charter, with core values of opposition to, “all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds”.’[v]
ii. What, in your opinion, are the weaknesses and limitations of the existing laws?
The APPG briefing paper outlines the existing laws including the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 of Pakistan, and in Sindh – the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2014. It says, ‘In another major province, Punjab, the Punjab Marriage Restraint Act 2015 kept the legal age of marriage at 16 years. In 2018, the chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology announced that a nikah (Islamic marriage) can be performed at any age but the couple can only live together after the age of 18.’ The difficulty here is changes to Pakistan’s law designed to safeguard minors and criminalise those that marry underage boys or girls, although well-meaning conflict with some interpretations of sharia being propagated by influential preachers and Islamic organisations.
Although we submit this isn’t limited to the issue of forced marriage and conversion of minority faith girls only, it has been seen most prominently with the backlash against Pakistan’s Supreme Court decision in the Asia Bibi blasphemy case. Both Bibi and the Supreme Court justices’ received death threats because of the decision to free her.[vi] The courts make important rulings, and some influential clerics push back. The late Khadim Hussain Rizvi, leader of the hardline Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party (whose family was given condolences when he died by Imran Khan),[vii] was a pro-blasphemy law campaigner.
He can be seen in footage giving a speech in which he says keeping relationships with ‘kaffirs’ (a derogatory term), or non-Muslims should be treated like one’s relationship with a toilet.[viii] The dissemination of this kind of doctrinally motivated hatred against non-Muslims by pro-blasphemy clerics in Pakistan serves to incite hatred against non-Muslims and dehumanises them. Whilst laws designed to safeguard against child marriage are indeed a welcome step, do they make a difference in real terms with this backdrop? We believe the problem is compounded because there appears to be little done to address hate speech against non-Muslims. The propagation of this hatred sows the seeds of prejudice, and facilitates the ongoing issue of abduction, forced conversions, and forced marriages of religious minority girls/women in Pakistan.
iii. What, in your opinion, is the problem with implementation of the existing laws that should have protected the victims?
The APPG for the Pakistani minorities 2019 report Religious Minorities of Pakistan: Report of a Parliamentary visit (27 September 2018 – 3 October 2018), cites a report produced by the Commonwealth Initiative for Freedom of Religion or Belief (2018):
‘the police will often either refuse to record an [First information Report] FIR or falsify the information recorded on the FIR, thus denying the families involved the chance to take their case and complaints any further. The lack of an FIR or the misrepresentation of information means that the family are unable to seek further justice in law courts, as an FIR is the vital first stage in the Criminal Procedure Code. Police are also often lethargic in attempting to recover a girl who has been abducted, thus allowing the conversion and marriage to take place. Both the lower courts and the higher courts of Pakistan have displayed bias and a lack of adherence to proper procedures in cases that involve accusations of forced marriage and forced conversions [and in such cases] the judiciary is often subjected to external influences, such as fear of reprisal and violence from extremist elements.’[ix]
We believe this sums up the plight for minorities in Pakistani, in their inability to obtain justice through the legal system. Unless the status quo is changed both in the way the police and judiciary deal with such cases, the ill treatment of minorities will continue unabated. The flaws in the existing system, along with the bias in favour of the accused abductors, is likely to not only further embolden perpetrators, but gives them the reassurance they need that they will be granted impunity for their actions.
iv. How, in your opinion, could the Federal and Provincial Governments improve the laws to eliminate the issue of abductions, forced conversions and forced marriages?
We believe the way to tackle this is two-prong, looking at both shifting societal attitudes, as well as training and education for officials. Firstly, there must be meaningful effort to reduce societal hatred and hostility towards non-Muslims. Second there must be training for officials to highlight their obligations when it comes to the rights of non-Muslim children.
Rather than reinventing the wheel, there have already been some meaningful recommendations put forward for the attention of the Pakistani authorities by this very APPG in their 2019 report. Some examples which would encourage better treatment of minorities in Pakistan:
ban all discriminatory employment advertisements reserving low-paid or menial
jobs for non-Muslims only and introduce financial penalties for breaching the
More broadly speaking there should be the requirement of mandatory training programmes for the police, social workers, the judiciary on the rights of children and their responsibility to safeguard those rights which are enshrined under Pakistan’s constitution and the law, moreover, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and within international human rights law.
vii. What, in your opinion, are the effects of such abductions, forced conversions and forced marriages on a) the victims and b) their families?
Although we have not conducted any direct victim assessments, it is clear the impact of these heinous crimes is severe for the victim and their families. Those who try to fight back through the legal system often face intimidation and threats. The family of Jagjit Kaur were reportedly threatened.[xiii] It is difficult for us to fathom the upheaval and chaos the families and victims go through. Tweeting about the case of Simron Kumari, Veengas a Sindh based journalist and founder of The Rise News, writes, ‘parents have been raising voice for their daughter since 2019. Now, Simron Kumari who was abducted and converted to Islam. Family seeks help but who will listen to their anguish. You cannot do justice to mothers. I request you (sic) that if you have heart then feel their sorrow.’[xiv] In the same thread she writes, ‘Unfortunately, Urdu Elite Media don’t cover Forced conversions issues as they should have covered. Majority of minor girls being abducted & converted to Islam.’[xv] According to another report, a father of two Hindu girls kidnapped in Sindh, protested outside a police station and said, ‘You can kill me. I will never tolerate this. My daughters have been abducted—I had patience.’[xvi]
ix. How can the Home Office be persuaded that the presumption in any such victims case, if applying for asylum in the UK, should be that they have been persecuted for their faith?
Country policy and information notes on Pakistan, which are published by the Home Office should be updated to include information about the persecution of minority faiths in Pakistan on the issue of abduction, forced conversions, and forced marriages. There should be an understanding of the issue at hand amongst Home Office staff, not least immigration officials – so they can make the appropriate assessments for asylum applications.
JOINT PRESS RELEASE: GLOBAL SIKH COUNCIL & NETWORK OF SIKH ORGANISATIONS UK
We are writing to express our admiration and full support for hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers and their supporters from all walks of life. Despite the winter cold, and police oppression, they have been demonstrating for the months against unjust laws that threaten their livelihoods. Their courageous stand against injustice gives hope for an end to the systematic erosion of democracy in India.
India’s abuse of human rights The farmers’ cause is just and is fully supported by leading figures in the judiciary, high-ranking civil servants, university and college lecturers, trade unionists, Indians abroad and government spokesmen in the UK and Canada. As a UK spokesman put it, ‘the right to peaceful demonstration is a basic human right’. The response of the Modi government to this basic human right has been widespread use of tear gas, water cannons, and police brutality against peaceful protesters. There is now a call for India to be expelled from the Commonwealth for its flagrant abuse of human rights.
Many will be unaware that Narendra Modi is a supporter of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a fascist group modelled on the Hitler Youth Movement. In 2002, he was Chief Minister at the time of the infamous Gujarat ‘riots’, which led to the slaughter of thousands of Muslims. For some years he was barred from entry to the USA and UK. Today, RSS thugs or ‘goons’ are collaborating with rogue Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters and are being given a free hand to beat and maim peaceful protesters including women and the elderly. The farmers’ peaceful protest has captured the world’s admiration in the way it looks to the wellbeing not only of the protesters, but also in the way food and medical assistance is offered to the attacking police.
On India’s Republic Day (26 January), India’s compliant police following orders, removed barricades and opened the large steel gates to the Red Fort to allow known BJP activists to enter as supposed farmer activists to enable the government to smear the protesters as anti-national. Brave reporters in India’s tightly controlled media, who drew attention to this absurdity or questioned government action have been harassed and arrested. Many have had their social media accounts blocked and some have disappeared without trace.
The farming laws India’s farmers have long been exploited by greedy middlemen. The Modi government saw this an opportunity to ‘reorganise’ farming. These laws blatantly allow billionaire businessmen who are also party supporters to control the supply and distribution of agricultural produce throughout the country in a way that would leave farmers virtual serfs on their own land.
• The laws were rushed through Parliament with no time given for proper scrutiny or debate. • They laws are clearly unconstitutional. The Constitution states that agriculture is a devolved responsibility of individual States, not the central government. • The laws have been condemned as unconstitutional by senior members of the judiciary. • The laws abolish the minimum support price given to farmers. • The laws allow for no right of appeal. • Two close billionaire friends of Modi, with a pre-knowledge of the government’s intentions, brought huge sites in Punjab to build giant silos for the long-term storage of grain allowing for price rigging and manipulation. • Today, in Modi’s India, 1% of India’s population owns nearly half the country’s wealth.
Erosion of democracy in Modi’s India We are deeply concerned by the government’s dismissive attitude to the requirements of its secular constitution and the human rights of its people. The Citizens Amendment Act, in its appeal to majority bigotry, deprived more than a million Muslims of their citizenship with Home Minister Amit Shah referring to Muslim refugees as ‘termites’. This was followed by the repeal of Article 370 placing Kashmir under military rule.
The highly respected human rights organisation Amnesty International has been expelled from India to prevent it reporting on the growing abuse of human rights. Amnesty commented, ‘It is a dismal day when a country of India’s stature, a rising global power and a member of the UN Human Rights Council, with a constitution which commits to human rights and whose national human rights movements have influenced the world, so brazenly seeks to silence those who pursue accountability and justice’.
Urgent action required India’s farmers’ brave stand against injustice is fast becoming a people’s movement for the restoration of democracy and human rights in India. We pledge them our full support. Those of us living abroad have a particular responsibility to support a movement that has at least 67 lives lost already through cold weather and lack of medical supplies.
While calling on governments around the world to condemn India’s repressive behaviour, we urge Mr Modi to commence urgent talks with farmer’s leaders to meet their genuine concerns.
Lord Singh of Wimbledon CBE, Member of House of Lords UK Parliament – Director, Network of Sikh Organisations (UK)
Lady Singh, Kanwaljit Kaur, President Global Sikh Council
As UK faith representatives, we support the persistent efforts of Home Secretary Priti Patel who has in the face of some considerable opposition decided to release the government report on, ‘Group based child sexual exploitation characteristics of offending.’[i] The Home Office report talks of ‘othering’ of victims by perpetrators, but remarkably failed to address one of the more obvious motivations behind street based sexual grooming gangs in the UK – that is culture linked to religion.
We believe the evidence overwhelmingly points to an inconvenient truth that non-Muslim girls (this includes Sikh, Hindu, and Christian heritage girls) have been systematically targeted in Britain, and this aspect of ‘othering’ is culturally motivated hatred. We implore the Home Secretary to have the courage to explore this element, which is critical in understanding the motivations behind street based sexual grooming gangs like those convicted in Rochdale, Rotherham, Telford and Oxford. It is important that we listen to the voice of Muslim leaders like Baroness Warsi, who bravely said, ‘a small minority’ of Pakistani men see white girls as ‘fair game’.[ii]
Victims and others concerned are increasingly speaking out. A Rotherham survivor said she was called a ‘white slag’[iii], and in evidence given to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is quoted to have said perpetrators viewed, ‘kaffir girls as worthless’.[iv] (‘Kaffir’ is a derogatory term for non-Muslims). Judge Gerald Clifton who sentenced men in Rochdale in 2012, made a similar observation in sentencing remarks. He said the men had targeted their victims because they were not part of the offenders’ ‘community or religion.’[v]
Since the 1980s British Sikh and Hindu communities have suffered at the hands of Pakistani grooming gangs.[vi],[vii] A television report on BBC1’s Inside Out programme in 2013 explored this issue – in particular, the targeting of Sikh girls.[viii] In the same year there was a conviction of men with mainly Muslim names in a case in Leicester, in which a Sikh girl was being abused above a restaurant called the Moghul Durbar.[ix],[x]
The establishment’s perceived obfuscation on the issue of race and religion, has created an opportunity for Britain’s far right activists to have a stake in this debate,[xi] in which they unfairly blame Muslims in general. They also blame others from the sub-continent for the behaviour of a minority of Muslims who use a misunderstanding of Islamic teachings to justify the negative treatment of women of other faiths and cultures.
We believe moderate voices in all communities have a duty to promote an open and honest dialogue about the racial and religious drivers behind these crimes, which will help strengthen the image and standing of the majority of British Pakistani Muslim men, who are law abiding citizens.
The Home Office must prioritise this in any subsequent research into the characteristics of those convicted in high profile sexual grooming gang cases, while showing support and understanding to those survivors who are brave enough to speak out about it.
Lord Singh of Wimbledon CBE, Director – Network of Sikh Organisations
Anil Bhanot OBE, Interfaith Director – Hindu Council UK
Rajnish Kashyap MCICM, General Secretary – Hindu Council UK
Arun Thakur, President – National Council of Hindu Temples UK
We at the Network of Sikh Organisations UK offer the Sikh community warmest greetings on the auspicious occasion of the birthday of Guru Gobind Singh ji, the tenth Guru of the Sikhs.
Guru Gobind Singh’s life was one of an unwavering commitment to uplifting ideals; a life dedicated to the pursuit of social and political justice, freedom of belief, and the equality of all human beings, including importantly, the dignity and complete equality of women. The message of his life and teachings carry invaluable guidance for all humanity and are of particular relevance to a world gripped with fear and uncertainty during the raging COVID-19 pandemic.
At such times it is easy to ignore the needs of others. The Guru in applauding Bhai Kanhaiya for looking to the enemy wounded in battle, reminded us of our responsibility even in the most difficult of circumstances, to always look to the needs of others. It’s a message taken up by Sikhs throughout the world with the media recognising the huge contribution of Sikhs in helping those suffering in various parts of world. This includes feeding hungry lorry drivers stranded in Dover, and giving food, medicine and clothing to farmers shivering in the winter cold of Delhi in a mass protest against new agricultural laws which risk depriving them of their livelihoods.
Today, we remember how Guru Gobind Singh in his quest for truth and justice lost his mother and four sons but never became despondent, nor gave up. He however gave us the important Sikh teaching of ‘Chardi Kala’, or eternal optimism.
Today it is important that we reflect on the Guru’s life and teachings. They can carry us to a better future.
The Home Office’s research paper into ‘Group-based Child Sexual Exploitation Characteristics of Offending’ was published earlier this week, but it fails to acknowledge one of the well evidenced motivations behind grooming gangs like those in Rochdale and Rotherham – the religion and culture of the perpetrators.
The report talks of ‘othering’ of victims to justify abuse but fails to accept this also involves ‘othering’ of non-Muslim girls who are considered fair game and worthless. Their abuse is justified by the perpetrators because they are considered inferior. This religion-linked justification empowers the perpetrators who feel they have impunity, whilst sustaining the persecution of the victims. The Home Office’s failure to acknowledge this important driver is most peculiar, given it is clear from the testament of victims (in places like Rotherham), and in the conclusions of the judge in Rochdale, who said the perpetrators targeted their victims because they were outside of their community and religion. In failing to consider this important aspect, the victims have been failed yet again.
For years we’ve highlighted that it’s not only white girls who’ve been targeted by predominantly Pakistani heritage Muslim gangs in street-based sex grooming – it is something that has been an issue for Sikh and Hindu communities for decades, and one that has regrettably triggered vigilante responses by young Sikh men, some of whom have been sent to prison as a result.
Whilst we acknowledge perpetrators come from various ethnic backgrounds, the high-profile cases like Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford and Telford (to name a few) have involved mainly Pakistani heritage Muslim men and showed a now well-established pattern of criminality which has blighted our country over the last few decades. We understand that it has been difficult to obtain meaningful data on ethnicity of perpetrators, and this has limited the inquiry’s exploration into characteristics of offenders. In fact, in the report’s foreword, Home Secretary Priti Patel writes, ‘Some studies have indicated an over-representation of Asian and Black offenders. However, it is difficult to draw conclusions about the ethnicity of offenders as existing research is limited and data collection is poor.’
We want to reiterate our position on the vague word ‘Asian’ (which has been used in the report several times), which is offensive to Sikhs and Hindus. This issue has at least now been recognised by the Editors’ Codebook – guidelines which accompany the Editors’ Code of Practice, which are rules the reporting print media has to follow, and is regulated by The Independent Press Standards Organisation.
It’s time for the Home Office to accept religiosity is one of the drivers behind high-profile sex grooming gangs. If they choose to turn a blind eye, they not only do a disservice to the victims, but fail to build on perpetrator profiles, which will no doubt assist law enforcement agencies now and in the years to come.
Over the last few years, we’ve been lobbying for change in the Editors’ Code of Practice which sets out the rules that newspapers and magazines regulated by The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) have agreed to follow. Our issue has been in relation to the print media’s regular and misleading use of the vague word ‘Asian’ to describe those convicted in grooming gang cases in towns like Rotherham, Rochdale, Telford, and Oxford. The perpetrators in such cases have been almost always men of Pakistani Muslim heritage.
We are pleased to say we have succeeded. The latest edition of the Editors’ Codebook (the handbook which accompanies the code) has made a recommendation under the ‘accuracy section’ which reads, ‘Editors may be well advised to approach crimes committed by people identified as members of religious or racial communities with caution – and to be aware that their reporting may, in turn, prompt concern in other communities.’ It goes on, ‘British Sikh and Hindu groups have objected to the use of the word ‘Asian’ to describe those convicted in sexual grooming gang cases. While accurate, it is better to avoid such general descriptions but this may not always be possible,’[i] Although this is a non-binding recommendation – editors will have to pay attention to it when reporting such matters from January 1st, 2021.
Our long running campaign emerged in 2012, when we issued a joint statement the Hindu community to complain about the term, which was reported by the BBC.[ii] The following year we coordinated a petition on the matter following comments from the then MP for Rochdale Simon Danczuk. The petition was reported in The Times.[iii] In 2015 we coordinated a letter published in The Times ‘Sexual grooming and the culture of denial’, which not just challenged the vague term ‘Asian’ but also highlighted that both Sikh and Hindu communities have themselves suffered at the hands of grooming gangs. In 2017, our Director Lord Singh came to the defence of Sarah Champion, the MP for Rotherham who was forced to quit the front bench after pointing out that many perpetrators of sex crimes involving street-grooming were of Pakistani origin, his intervention was supported by Hindu and Christian organisations and was reported in The Times.[iv]
In 2018, we filed a complaint with IPSO for an article in the British tabloid the Mirror that used the term ‘Asian’ six times when describing what the paper termed ‘Britain’s ‘worst ever’ child grooming scandal’, in which approximately 1,000 girls were sexually groomed.[v] At the time we wrote, ‘To put it frankly, the word ‘Asian’ gives the false impression gangs of Indian, Thai, Japanese, or Korean men are rampaging across Britain sexually abusing underage white girls on an industrial scale. Is that fair?’ The complaint was not upheld because IPSO said ‘Asian’ was accurate, nonetheless our complaint triggered complaints from the Hindu and Christian Pakistani community. At this point we knew change was urgently needed.
From around 2018 we raised the issue with IPSO and subsequently produced a Journalists’ guide to Sikhism[vi] (hosted by IPSO on their website which highlighted our concerns on the matter in one section). Our Director Lord Singh of Wimbledon also met the then IPSO Chair Sir Alan Moses, and we subsequently filed a submission (April 2020) to The 2020 Editors’ Code of Practice review in which we specially asked for an acknowledgment of the Sikh and Hindu concerns in editorial guidelines when it comes to the reporting of grooming gangs. We have consistently written about the issue in the media and our efforts with support from our allies have come to fruition.
We’d like to thank the following organisations and individuals for their support over the years. The Hindu Council UK, The Hindu Forum of Britain and in particular Anil Bhanot, Ashish Joshi, Mohan Singh, Trupti Patel and Satish K Sharma. They have all played an important role in making this change happen and have celebrated this success with us. We are grateful for their commitment. Remarkably, in contrast there has been a deafening silence from organisations who purport to represent Sikh interests, who have been distracted with nonsensical ideas like ‘ethnic’ tick boxes, and others who are involved in the interfaith industry, or want to cosy up to civil servants and give the impression they are somehow ‘community leaders’.
Now we have this important recommendation in place which goes as far as asking editors to ‘avoid’ using ‘Asian’, the work is not over. We must now hold journalists, editors, and publications to account when they insist on reporting on grooming gangs as they have previously done so. The good news is we can now point to The Editors’ Codebook in our correspondence which provides a compelling reason to ditch the fudge ‘Asian’.
Gurpurb vadhiya on this anniversary of the birth of Guru Nanak the founder of Sikhism.
At the time of Guru Nanak’s birth, religions both in the West and East were engulfed in bitter rivalry with each claiming a monopoly of truth and a special relationship with God. In his very first sermon Guru Nanak taught:
Na koi Hindu, na koi Mussalman
That is, in God’s eyes there is neither Hindu nor Muslim. That God is not interested in our different religious labels but in what we do to make the world a better place.
Guru Nanak taught that to move in this direction, we must be committed to freedom of belief and respect for those of different faiths, the equality of every human being, gender equality and a life committed to the service of others. Guru Nanak’s uplifting teachings were not only for the people of Punjab or India, but for the whole world.
Today with a virulent COVID-19 pandemic engulfing the world, and with democracy and human rights under assault in many countries, we need to reflect on the Guru’s positive guidance for a fairer and more peaceful world.
This year’s commemoration comes at a difficult time for Sikhs in India with the Modi government’s discriminatory action against farmers in Punjab in an attempt to destroy their livelihood by reducing prices paid for crops to facilitate land take over by big business. Sikhs abroad have a particular responsibility to speak for those who cannot speak in India.
Sikh teachings on tolerance and respect for others are a powerful antidote to narrow-minded intolerance, today, we should pledge ourselves to living and promoting Sikh values in ourselves, our children and in wider society. The best way we can celebrate the birth of Guru Nanak is to follow his uplifting guidance in working for a fairer and more peaceful world.
Waheguru ji ka Khalsa Waheguru ji ki Fateh.
Lord Indarjit Singh of Wimbledon, Director – Network of Sikh Organisations
Today we are commemorating the martyrdom of the 9th Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur who on this day in 1675, courageously gave his life defending the right of freedom of belief of those of a different faith to his own.
The Mughal ruler Aurangzeb, in his determination to extend Islam to the whole sub-continent, was forcibly converting large numbers of Hindus in Kashmir. In desperation the Hindu leaders asked Guru Tegh Bahadur to intercede on their behalf. They said, we know that you and earlier Sikh Gurus have always stood up for the rights of all people, will you appeal to the Mughal Emperor to stop this forced conversion?
The Guru knew that such an appeal would almost certainly cost him his life. But true to Sikh teachings on freedom of belief he set off for Delhi. The Emperor refused to change his policy and instead offered rich gifts to the Guru to convert to Islam. When Guru Tegh Bahadur refused, his close disciples were martyred, and he was publicly beheaded in the centre of Delhi. His crime, defending the right to freedom of belief of those of a different religion to his own. In his writings his son Gobind Rai (aged 9 at the time of the martyrdom), later to become known as Guru Gobind Singh wrote, ‘he laid down his head but not his principles.’
The universal right to freedom of belief is emphasised in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, written in the aftermath of the Second World War. Article 18 reads, ‘everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.’[i] We all applaud its lofty sentiments, but all too often put these important principles below trade and economic interest.
Guru Tegh Bahadur set the bar high when on a cold winter’s day, he gave his life in the defence of human rights and gave stark reality to Voltaire’s words: ‘I disapprove of what you, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’
Unbelievably, the BBC tried to prevent the story of the Guru Tegh Bahadur’s supreme sacrifice being broadcast two years ago, in an extraordinary fit of political correctness. Thousands of Sikhs and people of other faiths wrote to the BBC in protest, and the incident made it on the front page of The Times along with an Editorial which asked the then Director General to reconsider the ‘shabby treatment’ of our Director – his fellow peer.[ii] Sadly, the usually vocal Sikh Federation UK were totally silent; not a peep. Their unhealthy obsession with narrow exclusive identity politics, has blinded them to the universality of Sikh teachings on the need to stand up for others.
On this anniversary of Guru Tegh Bahadur’s courageous martyrdom, we are reminded that we still have much to do to understand and live true to our Gurus’ powerful teachings – they are teachings for not only Sikhs, but for the whole of humanity.
At the AGM of the APPG for British Sikhs earlier this year, Chair Preet Gill MP, announced that the group would be looking to address the issue of hate crime against Sikhs. It was agreed that APPG would work with the NSO, given we had already done much work in this field.
We wrote to Preet Gill on 12th October 2020 to remind her of her commitment to work with us and shared information about the progress we’ve made on hate crime. The commitment to build on what already exists for the benefit of the UK Sikh community was regrettably (but unsurprisingly) ignored. The APPG, which primarily involves the Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) and its affiliates like The Sikh Network (and one of the two co-existing Sikh Council UK’s) are ignoring what has previously been achieved, to suggest that they are pioneers in the fight against hate crime.
Their statements not only show a lack of understanding of the nature of hate crime, but more seriously, an appalling ignorance of basic Sikh teachings. Moreover, the definition that they have proposed for ‘consultation’ is not only ambiguous, it absurdly does not include the post 9/11 backlash faced by Sikhs across the West in so called ‘mistaken identity’ or ‘Islamophobic’ attacks.
The reason we are not surprised by the behaviour of the APPG, lies in their limited contact with the wider Sikh community. The Chair of the APPG works closely with Dabinderjit Singh as an advisor. He also happens to be ‘principal advisor’ to the SFUK. The Chair and a member of her family are prominent in a group called The Sikh Network which is also linked to the SFUK. Some ‘team’ members of one of the coexisting Sikh Council UK’s – another group linked to SFUK, and favoured by the APPG also happen to be members of The Sikh Network ‘team’.
There are some question marks about the mathematics being used by the APPG in recent reports on hate crime. We are not too sure how they’ve come to suggest hate crime against Sikhs has increased 70% year on year.[i]
We’ve looked at the Home Office figures being referenced in media reports. They show the number and proportion of religious hate crimes recorded by the police by the perceived targeted religion for, 2019/20 and 2018/19.
For the most recent year the figure for ‘Sikh’ is 202 and for the previous it is 188. That is an increase of 14 incidents from 2018/19. 14/188 multiplied by 100 = 7.4%
We asked Preet Gill how the APPG came to the 70% figure and she responded:
‘Please can you confirm who this email is written by, and signed off by. Please provide name and details.’
Why ignore basic Sikh teachings?
The groups involved are ignoring the basic Sikh teaching of sarbat da bhalla in in seeking to establish a legal definition of hate crime against Sikhs. Sikh teachings require us to look at the wider picture. Rather than looking inward, the NSO has protested the government’s bias approach in this area in solidarity with other faiths who’ve been marginalised, as well as those of no faith. There should be a level playing field for everyone.
Our Director referred to this in the Lords, in a discussion on Islamophobia, when Baroness Warsi was pressing the government to accept a controversial definition of ‘Islamophobia’ that has the potential to stifle discussion of issues like Muslim grooming gangs, Islamic extremism and aspects of history, like Mughal persecution of minorities. This includes the martyrdom of our Gurus. With former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, sitting next to him, and Baroness Warsi in the row in front. Lord Singh said:
My Lords, emotive definitions such as Islamophobia are simply constraints on freedom of speech. A phobia is a fear, and the best way to combat irrational fear or prejudice suffered by all religions and beliefs is through healthy, open discussion. Will the Minister endorse the commitment given last week by Heather Wheeler, Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, to protect all religions and beliefs without fear or favour?
The Minister fully agreed as did the rest of the House in loud appreciative ‘hear hears’.
This timely intervention supported the legitimate free speech concerns raised by several prominent individuals and a number of organisations (including the NSO) resulted in Baroness Warsi’s failure in her attempt to impose a divisive definition on the House. The government rejected it. Now the APPG for British Sikhs and their followers want to ignore the thrust of our Gurus’ teachings and go down the same path. In urging the APPG to be consistent with Sikh teachings and work with others with experience in the field, we are highlighting some of the progress made by the NSO.
It was the NSO who found that crimes against Sikhs and others are being recorded under ‘Islamophobic hate crime’ in London – research appreciated by Christians, Hindus, Atheists and others.
It was the NSO that pushed back against ‘Action Against Hate’ (2016) for marginalising the non-Abrahamic faith communities in favour of Abrahamic faiths.
It was the NSO that influenced (through giving oral and written evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee) policy when the government made a commitment to support Hindus and Sikhs in reporting hate crime.
The NSO pushed back against a controversial ‘Islamophobia’ definition which would have risked censorship of important chapters in Sikh history – like the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur.
It was the NSO that has worked alongside Galop over the summer and collaborated with other organisations, the police and policy makers in #TogetherAgainstHate2020. We could go on.
A Sikh perspective on hate crime
We should be true to our Gurus’ teachings in all we do as Sikhs. This requires us to look beyond concern for ourselves, to sarbat da bhalla, in this case to all who suffer from so-called ‘hate crime’.
The important point from Lord Singh’s contribution was that fear and prejudice, sometimes seen as hatred, arises from ignorance. It is therefore important to work actively to remove widespread ignorance of Sikhism and Sikh teachings. This is important because of the ongoing conflation of Sikh identity with that of images of Islamic extremists – be it Bin Laden, ISIS or the Taliban. If the APPG still want to go down the legally recognised definition route, then it’s frankly absurd not to include the post 9/11 element.
Our Guru’s taught us a distinct and enlightened way of life which we must put to the fore in turning ignorance and prejudice into respect and appreciation. While we should be resolute in reporting and tackling unacceptable hate crime, we have much to do in educating the wider community about who we are. Our Guru given values are a powerful vehicle for turning latent prejudice to appreciation and communal harmony.
Reports indicate the APPG are requesting the government, ‘financially supports the work of the Sikh Network and Sikh Council to track hate crimes against their community with start-up grants and annual funding for the next three to five years.’[ii] We think there may well be a conflict of interest here, given some individuals involved in the organisations for which funding has been requested, have links (including familial) with the APPG chair.
We asked Preet Gill to respond to this point. She said:
‘Please can you confirm who this email is written by, and signed off by. Please provide name and details.’
We will be highlighting our concerns about this with relevant government departments.
Now the SFUK who have used the APPG as a vehicle to promote their partisan agenda have failed in their ill-conceived Sikh ethnic tick box campaign, they will be desperate to regain credibility with the broader Sikh community, and the government in other areas. The APPG for British Sikhs may well choose not to work with us, nor learn from the progress and recognition we’ve achieved on hate crime. If so, this only continues to emphasize a non-inclusive, narrow, and limited way of working. The fact that our Director was elected as treasurer for the APPG simply adds insult to injury.