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.
Above image: Gurpreet Anand – Sikh Council UK (left) with orange turban on KTV programme ‘Sangat Di Kachehri’ – 10th Oct 2020
It has been brought to our attention that Gurpreet Anand of one of the two simultaneously existing Sikh Council UK’s, made a series of inaccurate and misleading statements about anti-Sikh hate crime on a programme called ‘Sangat Di Kachehri’ on KTV on 10th Oct 2020. The interview (which we have on file) was conducted in Punjabi by the host, and the responses were given by Mr Anand in both English and Punjabi (at times both together). For the purposes of this article we have translated his words into English.
He began by saying when he and his colleagues met the police (presumably post 9/11) to quantify how many attacks on Sikhs there had been, they were informed they cannot tell them, because the police do not count Sikh victims of hate crime. This may well have been the case, but Mr Anand does not clarify when the said meeting took place, the full details of the conversation, and who exactly provided them this information. We wrote to the Sikh Council UK to ask them for these particulars, and what Mr Anand and his colleagues had done since to make sure Sikhs were recorded appropriately. We had no response.
To set the record straight, hate crimes against Sikhs are currently recorded under both religion and race, and we successfully lobbied for the disaggregation of ‘Islamophobic hate crime’ – so that these figures are transparent to include a breakdown of all faiths and none in this category by the Home Office. The latest Home Office statistics have just been reported. The number of religious hate crimes recorded by the police in 2019/20, included 202 incidents recorded against ‘Sikh’, which is 3% of all recorded (perceived) religious hate crimes in England and Wales.[i] A 7% rise from the previous year as observed by Dr Jhutti-Johal from the University of Birmingham.[ii] Hate crimes where the victim is of a Sikh heritage can of course be recorded under different flags aside from religion, e.g. if they become victim of a homophobic attack, or if they are targeted in a racially aggravated attack.
In the interview segment, Anand suggests Sikhs are still not counted properly, and oddly appears to conflate the Sikh Federation UK’s (SFUK) census tick box debate, inferring that if there was a Sikh ‘ethnic’ tick box this would go some way in solving the Sikh hate crime problem. This is misleading and indicates a very poor understanding of hate crime, which is recorded by the police on a perception basis. How does a Sikh ‘ethnic’ tick box in the census change an individual’s perception? The answer is, it does not. Besides, Sikhs are already recorded as victims of racially or religiously motivated hate crime (or both) based on perception of the victim, or any other person. The issue he miserably fails to grasp is the solution to the problem is not in belittling others, but (i) improving religious literacy (for ‘mistaken identity’ attacks in particular) and (ii) encouraging people to report all incidents in the first instance.
We have made some guides to assist the community in this regard with a project funded by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime and facilitated by Galop. Can Mr Anand tell us what happened to the Sikh Council UK’s failed Sikh Aware (hate crime monitoring platform), and why no one has been held accountable for it? He may say this was under a previous administration, or the responsibility of the other concurrently existing Sikh Council UK. He may say this matter does not therefore concern him. We are not entirely sure which of the two coexisting Sikh Council UK’s we should talk to, nor we understand are the government.
He then goes on to make a veiled reference to us, saying these other Sikh organisations are debating whether Sikhs should be counted or not. Again, this is peculiar, and he appears to be ignorantly conflating the SFUK’s Sikh ‘ethnic’ tick box issue with perception-based hate crime reporting, when the two are separate and distinct. He says ‘we say [The Sikh Council UK he heads] we should be counted. We should know what’s happening with our ‘kaum’ and what problems there are’. Notably, the use of ‘kaum’ mirrors the language often used by the SFUK.
Anand should be aware, it was the NSO who discovered Sikhs and others are being recorded under ‘Islamophobic hate crime’ – something 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 then 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. 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.
Mr Anand boasts, ‘we are looking to get things done’, then refers to an APPG for British Sikhs Zoom meeting on anti-Sikh hate crime in which he participated. He later refers to other Sikh organisations, and asks the presenter if they are ‘democratic’ and ‘transparent’, then asking him if the NSO has ever come on his show? We asked The Sikh Council UK if Mr Anand was suggesting we are not ‘democratic’ or ‘transparent’, they did not respond. To set the record straight, we are happy to debate Mr Anand, but were not extended an invite to KTV, to have a right of reply. It’s important to note that Mr Anand’s friends, both in the SFUK and Preet Gill MP have previously ignored the offer to debate the ill-conceived Sikh ‘ethnic’ tick box with our Director, Lord Singh on more than one occasion.
Most shamefully of all Mr Anand failed to mention that in November 2008, the NSO organised the screening of the UK premier of Valarie Kaur’s film Divided We FallAmericans in the Aftermath in Central Gurdwara (Khalsa Jatha) London with a Q&A afterwards, with one Mr Anand. He can be seen giving an interview following the screening here.[iii]
We asked the Sikh Council UK to comment on why Mr Anand did not mention this given it was germane to the interview segment related to anti-Sikh hate crime, but they did not get back to us.
Last month we reported that we had produced hate crime guide to help signpost members of the Sikh community to organisations who can support them, as well as encouraging victims to report incidents to the police. We additionally produced a second guide designed to support organisations supporting Sikh victims.
The guides have been complied as part of a project, Together Against Hate, co-ordinated by the UK’s only specialist LGBT+ anti-violence charity Galop. The project has been funded by The Mayor’s Office for Policing And Crime (MOPAC).
Following a number of requests from gurdwaras and consultation with members of the community we have now translated the guides into Punjabi as well. We believe this step will ensure the important message of reporting incidents to the police and knowing where to get help and advice, will reach a much wider audience.
The Punjabi guide for individuals can be downloaded here:
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.
What is good about the proposed legislation?
To start on a positive note – the blasphemy law will be repealed. This is something that has not been used in Scotland for over 175 years. The second thing which is noteworthy is age will become a protected characteristic under these proposals – this in our view is indeed a positive step. The Bill will thus extend protective characteristics to the following:
Age, Disability, Race, colour, nationality (including citizenship), or ethnic or national origins, Religion, Sexual orientation, Transgender identity, Variations in sex characteristics.
Could this Bill censor debate on matters of public interest?
We believe the answer to this is yes. The offences relating to ‘stirring up hatred’[i] in the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill are a real cause for concern and have serious consequences on being able to speak freely on matters of public interest – be it the ongoing debate around ‘transgender identity’, or matters of religious extremism, in particular in relation to the debate around Islam, and support for violent jihad by some in the Muslim community.
The Bill aims introduces these new offences related to ‘stirring up hatred’ in respect of the characteristics of age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity, and variations in sex characteristics. It is the vague elements of this Bill which are dangerous because they are open to wide interpretation and are highly subjective. Most controversially, a person will not even have to show intent to ‘stir up hatred’. It will be enough that his behaviour or communications are considered ‘threatening’ or ‘abusive’ and that a court deems it ‘likely that hatred will be stirred up’.[ii] This could result in a seven-year prison stretch. We believe this is repressive and insidious, and not befitting of a Western democratic nation. In its current form the Bill would make Scotland one of the most hostile places for free speech in Europe.
Additionally, the Bill also introduces offences of ‘possession of inflammatory material’,[iii] and the same issues apply here around subjectivity with the drafting of the legislation. We understand the only difference being the threshold for the conduct is that the material is ‘threatening, abusive or insulting’.
Self-censorship or prison
We believe these proposals could lead to an environment of self-censorship, or worst still a seven-year prison stretch for those who choose to express strong and legitimate opinions on controversial, but important issues. Offence archaeologists could wade through historical social media postings to garner evidence which may infringe the proposed legislation – this would amplify the curtailment of free and open discussion and have a chilling effect. It has been suggested the introduction of this legislation could result in the likes of J K Rowling facing proceedings for her position on transgenderism.[iv] This is because her views (which she has every right to freely express) could be viewed as ‘threatening’ and ‘abusive’ by transgender campaigners and therefore subject to a criminal complaint. The legislation would also have consequences for investigative journalists, historians and commentators who express criticism of Islam, expose Islamic extremism, or discuss the behaviour of Muslim extremists. For a start, the republication of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, would almost certainly be viewed as ‘inflammatory’ under the offence of ‘possession of inflammatory material’.[v]
Moreover, activists or groups who want to shut down opponents could easily interpret criticism of ideology or doctrine as an attack on their community. We have already seen an indication of what this might look like, with the publication of the APPG on British Muslim’s Islamophobia Defined report, which sought to secure a legally binding definition of ‘Islamophobia’. The APPG report asserts:
‘the recourse to the notion of free speech and a supposed right to criticise Islam results in nothing more than another subtle form of anti-Muslim racism whereby the criticism humiliates, marginalises, and stigmatises Muslims’.[vi]
The Scottish government and the Minister behind this Bill, Humza Yousaf, gives reassurances the Bill will not hamper free speech. However, if the same convoluted APPG reasoning is extended to this legislation, then it is indeed a slippery slope, which could incentivise various groups to weaponize the vague ‘threatening’ and ‘abusive’ (and ‘insulting’ for ‘possession of inflammatory material’) elements of this legislation to silence, persecute, or worst still attempt to imprison critics, by dragging them through the criminal courts for expressing legitimate opinions.
Following significant opposition to these proposals, we are pleased to hear Mr Yousaf is considering withdrawing clauses which will chill free speech, and agree unequivocally with the Scottish Police Federation who say the Bill could absurdly leave officers in a position where they have to determine what passes as free speech, or not.
They say: ‘concern the Bill seeks to criminalise the mere likelihood of ‘stirring up hatred’ by creating an offence of threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour, such offence to include both speech and conduct. This complicates the law and is in our opinion, too vague to be implemented’.[vii]
We note that people involved in the acting and legal industry in Scotland are equally concerned for the implications on free speech, and have asked the Scottish government for clarity on the massive ‘grey area’ for what exactly is ‘likely’ to stir up hatred as part of an acting performance.[viii] As it stands, if the Bill is passed an actor could be prosecuted for playing a character with bigoted views, because language in a script can fall foul of ‘likely to stir up hatred’, as charges could be brought regardless of intent.
How the proposed legislation will impact freedom of belief
All faiths have the right to express their beliefs, but this extends to the right of faith groups to hold critical views of the practices of others, without censure or the threat of prosecution.
According to the Rehat Maryada, or Sikh code of conduct, halal, and any other ritually slaughtered meat (like kosher) is strictly forbidden. The method of slaughter is considered inhumane (especially non-stun slaughter) but Sikhs also take the view that it is superstitious to believe reciting prayers whilst sacrificing an animal will serve to make it acceptable for consumption in the eyes of a lifegiving, nurturing and benevolent Creator. Many Sikhs are thus strict vegetarians, but those who consume meat are encouraged to eat an animal killed instantaneously with one blow – a method referred to as jhatka. If this legislation is passed then you can see how it could elicit complaints about criticism of such religious practices as ‘Islamophobia’, which in turn could be seen sufficient to meet the litmus of ‘stirring up hatred’, with no need for intent. The same would apply to criticism within Sikh teachings against any form of idol worship – which could elicit complaint from Hindus who adhere to this practice.
Both Sikhs and Hindus may well find themselves in a quandary when it comes to recounting parts of their history, especially persecution under Muslim rulers (The Mughals) in medieval India. Every year, Sikhs commemorate the martyrdom anniversary of two Gurus (Shaheedi Gurpurabs) Guru Arjan and Guru Tegh Bahadur, and countless others who were executed on the order of Mughal Emperors. An indication of where this could all lead has been previously provided with the APPG on British Muslims report Islamophobia Defined, where: ‘claims of Muslims spreading Islam by the sword or subjugating minority groups under their rule’[ix] may be ‘Islamophobic’. Alongside prominent historian Tom Holland,[x] we warned these proposals could censor discussion of historical facts, such as the gruesome aspects of the Mughal and Ottoman Empires or the Moor conquests, not to mention the crimes of modern-day ISIS. We fear this Bill will have a similar impact on British Sikhs, and gurdwaras who often adorn their walls with images of our hallowed martyrs or shaheeds.
Depictions of our history could be viewed as ‘abusive’ and ‘threatening’ or ‘inflammatory’ by those with a grievance and absurdly criminalised. Charges could be brought regardless of intent – in this case simply marking our history and honouring our shaheeds. Last year there was an attempt by the BBC to censor our Director, Lord Singh of Wimbledon for merely mentioning the martyrdom of our ninth Guru[xi] – Guru Tegh Bahadur who gave his life standing up for the freedom of belief of Hindus, who were being forcefully converted to Islam.
We believe if this Bill passes then it could give a free pass to those who want to censor inconvenient chapters in history and curtail the freedom of religious belief of faiths (other than their own), which would result in pitting one religious group against another.
Core teachings of Abrahamic traditions which promote supremacy of their prophets over others, and the notion they are the only path to God, could be in difficulty. In John 14, Jesus said to His disciples, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.’
For vexatious complainants, this passage alone from the Bible could be viewed as ‘insulting’ and ‘inflammatory’ to their belief in another religious tradition.
In a submission to the Scottish government in opposition to this Bill, The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland write:
‘My main concern in this is the preaching of the Gospel, which involves declaring the truth in spiritual matters. There are such things as right and wrong in human life, and it is the duty of Christian ministers to explain these things. Among the many things that are wrong – such as lying, stealing, murder, adultery, abortion (in most cases), pride, and hatred of our fellow-men – are sodomy and false religion (such as Islam).’[xii]
The contents of this part of their submission could be viewed as ‘insulting’ to Muslims in itself.
They go onto say: ‘This bill would make the persecution of Scottish Christians for maintaining the truths of Christianity much more likely. Anyone who hears a Christian say something that he does not like (e.g. that his homosexual or transgender conduct is sinful) could claim that what was said was abusive (perhaps even just reading a passage from the Bible) and could have the Christian punished.’[xiii]
If the Scottish Government’s Hate Crime and Public Order Bill is passed unchallenged, some religious scriptures could be viewed as ‘inflammatory’ themselves, especially when they incite hatred and violence against ‘non-believers’.
We oppose the controversial clauses in this Bill and urge the Scottish government to withdraw them or Scotland will be transformed into one of the most hostile places for free speech in Europe.
In the first of the series we interviewed Harbakhsh Grewal about his roles at the UK Punjab Heritage Association (UKPHA) and publisher Kashi House. We ask him about the seminal volume Warrior Saints, by historians Parmjit Singh and Amandeep Singh Madra, and the popular exhibitions hosted by UKPHA at the SOAS Brunei gallery – including The Sikhs and World War 1 in 2014. You can listen to the interview here.
Later in August, as part of the Catch ‘Together Against Hate’ 2020 project we interviewed Billie Boyd a Hate Crime Support worker at the charity Galop. We find out about her role and how she has made a tangible difference for her clients who have suffered discrimination and hatred for being part of the LGBT community. You can listen to the interview here.
As part of the same series – we then had the pleasure of talking to our Director Lord Singh of Wimbledon who told us about his early life in Britain, the challenges with racism at that time, which later included a backlash against Sikhs post 9/11 in so called ‘mistaken identity’ attacks. Lord Singh reveals how he used humour to deal with racism during those early years. You can listen to the interview here.
We then spoke to Suresh Grover, Director of the Monitoring Group in Southall – a veteran anti-racism campaigner who has led campaigns to help the families of Stephen Lawrence, Zahid Mubarek and Victoria Climbie. He talks about ‘Paki bashing’, the history of Southall and the role of the Punjabi community during the tumultuous period following the racist murder of schoolboy Gurinder Singh Chaggar in 1976. Listen to part 1 of the interview here: Listen to Part 2 here.
In our most recent interviews, we talked to our Deputy-Director Hardeep Singh who has co-authored a volume titled Racialization, Islamophobia and Mistaken Identity: The Sikh Experience, and also Chief Supt Raj Singh Kohli who surprised us with the prejudice he has faced over the years – from his early years at school, through to post 9/11. But he didn’t take it lying down – his story is both uplifting and remarkable. We will be uploading the interviews onto both Anchor and YouTube soon.
If anyone has any suggestions on who we should interview and the topics they’d like to hear about, contact us: email@example.com
There is one thing that unites all Sikhs around the world irrespective of the status of their personal spiritual journey or background – that is the primacy of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) – the eternal Guru of the Sikhs and Guru Gobind Singh’s clear edict ‘Guru Manyeo Granth’, which recognises the Guru Granth Sahib as the only eternal Guru. But there are insidious forces at play – some with allegiance to Hindutva, who are looking to tarnish, distort and pervert the foundations of our great world religion.
Another iteration of this presented itself at the beginning of the month. On 1st September 2020, the Delhi Gurdwara Parbandakh Committee (DGPC) sanctioned discourses from the so called Dasam Granth (DG) to be read from the gurdwara. This action is a direct challenge to the primacy of SGGS. Following protests, we understand the DGPC have said this won’t happen again, but whether or not this is the case remains to be seen. As previously discussed, the authorship of parts of the DG is a matter of significant dispute. When the Sikh Rehat Maryada (SRM) was compiled in the 1940s, highly respected scholars at the time discarded the majority of the DG writings, which could not be attributed to Guru Gobind Singh. Some of these included amorphous and pornographic exploits of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, as well as misogyny and the denigration of women.
The DGPC should be ashamed of their decision to let this go ahead and we support the efforts of the Malaysian Gurudwara Council in their letter to the Akal Takht (pdf below) to take action against this flouting of the SRM. Although these events are in India, there are groups in the UK who are promoting this anti-Sikh agenda and we have pointed to this in the past. In 2018 there was the case of Amrik Singh Chandigarh – a preacher who promotes the primacy of SGGS, who was attacked by thugs associated with a sect called the Taksal. Sadly, the gurdwara committee in Southall where the incident took place did not condemn the thuggery, and at one point perversely sided with the Taksali bully boys. Another respected Sikh, is still have physiotherapy to this day, having been violently attacked over a decade ago by unsavoury elements in our midst.
All Sikh groups must openly challenge this kinds of behavior.
Sadly, groups like the tick box obsessed Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) previously failed to condemn the attack on Amrik Singh Chandigarh. We now ask them to join us in condemning the actions of the DGPC and their disregard for the SRM.
We note that in May 2019 the SFUK published a tweet which read:
‘Lord Indarjit Singh, Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations writes deeply offensive comments regards Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s Dasam Granth Bani (scripture) and his initiated Damdami Taksal. We demand Lord Singh apologies (sic) to the millions of Sikhs around the world.’
Although we understand from sources that the DGPC have promised protesters that the insult to Sikh teachings won’t happen again, all British Sikh groups should unequivocally condemn the course of action originally taken by them.
This includes The SFUK, Sikh Council UK, The Sikh Assembly and City Sikhs.
The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) has produced a hate crime guide to help signpost members of the Sikh community to organisations who can support them, as well as encouraging victims to report incidents to the police. The charity has additionally produced a second guide designed to support organisations supporting Sikh victims.
The guides have been complied as part of a project, Together Against Hate, co-ordinated by the UK’s only specialist LGBT+ anti-violence charity Galop. The project has been funded by The Mayor’s Office for Policing And Crime (MOPAC).
There has been a clear trend in the targeting of Muslims as well as Sikhs in the aftermath of terror attacks as has been evidenced post 9/11 and the London 7/7 bombings. The Sikh identity, in particular the turban and beard of observant men, is often conflated with the appearance of Islamic extremists which has resulted in the targeting of Sikhs and Sikh places of worship (gurdwaras).
In 2015 a Sikh dentist was almost beheaded in a revenge attack for the murder of Lee Rigby, and the following year a case in which Sikh women were referred to in derogatory terms resulted in a conviction. In 2018 a Sikh environmentalist almost had his turban forcibly removed when visiting an MP in parliament, and in May 2020 a hate crime against a gurdwara in Derby appears to have been motivated by a geopolitical grievance in relation to the troubled region of Kashmir.
NSO Deputy-Director Hardeep Singh said:
Hate crime against Sikhs often goes unreported and victims do not always feel they need to inform the police of such incidents. Some will not know you can simply report hate crime online, rather than go to a police station to file a report, which can be time consuming.
We hope the guides provide clear, relevant, and timely advice to members of the community. They need to know they are not alone and there are people out there who can help. We also believe it’s important they report incidents to the authorities, which can be done anonymously if need be.
Mel Stray, Galop, Hate Crime Policy and Campaigns Manager said:
These new hate crime guides are a vital resource for the Sikh community and organisations working with Sikh victims of hate crime. We are delighted that the Network of Sikh Organisations has come together with nine other organisations as part of the Together Against Hate project, to stand up alongside each other against hate targeting our communities.
– Ends –
Notes to Editors: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.
There are two hate crime guides (i) Guide for Sikh victims (ii) Guide for organisations supporting Sikh victims – you can download them below
This advice is primarily for the 130 NSO gurdwaras and other affiliated Sikh organisations. Please feel free to share it with other gurdwaras and groups.
Around 17th March 2020 many places of worship including churches, mosques and synagogues made the difficult decision to restrict or hold back services due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This followed direction from the Church of England (CoE), the Muslim Council of Britain, and the Office of the Chief Rabbi. The CoE recommended live stream sermons as an alternative to worship in church. At the same time, the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) gave advice along similar lines to gurdwaras we collaborate with. On 20th of March we announced:
‘Many gurdwaras have already taken steps to curtail or completely stop services. Although it’s not an easy decision to make, following discussion with medical professionals some of whom are at the frontline of tackling the disease, we have concluded UK gurdwaras should seriously consider temporary closure of normal gatherings to prevent transmission of Covid-19.’
We followed this up with telephone calls to individual gurdwaras and management committee members.
Filling the gap caused by the temporary closure of gurdwaras
Our gurdwaras provide two main functions:
1. Congregational prayer or prayer in the sangat, which enhances individual prayer.
2. Strengthening Sikh community cohesion and a commitment to service, through langar (free kitchen) and social activities. The Covid-19 pandemic should be seen as a ‘chardi kala’ (high spirits) opportunity by Sikhs, to look afresh at the teachings of out Gurus, individually and within the family, and to reflect on how these can help us in our journey through life. The internet can help us through the establishment of a virtual congregation. Sikh women’s groups have already taken a lead through the establishment of Zoom facilitated Sukhmani Sahib prayer and similar initiatives. A gurdwara in Reading is now relaying kirtan (devotional hymns) from members’ homes to a wider audience in a way that keeps the local congregation together.
When is it safe to reopen gurdwaras?
The government is hoping that that places of worship will be able to function normally by 4th July 2020 (subject to scientific recommendations.) The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government taskforce have stressed it has to be a ‘phased and safe reopening of places of worship’. Unfortunately, the politically driven taskforce concept fails to understand the very real differences between Sikhism and the Abrahamic faiths, as well as different degrees of risk from Covid-19. We are sadly aware of the controversy surrounding the appointment of a Sikh ‘faith leader’ to the government taskforce, his resignation following community disquiet and the related harassment. The unseemly jostling to replace him has also been regrettable. It appears the government has been playing musical chairs with ‘prominent’ Sikhs.
Gurdwaras have a responsibility to follow government guidance. Before considering reopening gurdwaras it is important that management committees firstly follow existing government advice on mass gatherings and social distancing to help prevent the transmission of Covid-19 and control the spread of the virus.
One size does not fit all
We must also remember what applies to the CoE or synagogues may not necessarily apply to gurdwaras – the setting, environment and practice are different, as is the congregation’s demographic. For example, we have higher risk congregations in gurdwaras than most churches. As BAME communities and the over 70s are higher risk groups, gurdwaras need to be especially mindful. Many of the congregation who visit gurdwaras are almost always from the BAME community, being predominantly of Punjabi heritage. They also include a larger proportion of the elderly who are likely to have risk factors like diabetes and heart disease.
Other factors to consider
We must also factor in risks associated with the preparation and distribution of langar, and our ability to be able to socially distance in langar halls, as well as the Darbar hall. This may not be possible in all gurdwaras, due to limited space and it may not be feasible to create one-way systems for queueing as we have seen in supermarkets and in some gurdwaras. The installation of further sinks and facilitates to allow hand washing, and the availability of hand sanitising equipment should also be considered carefully when planning for a phased reopening. We should respect local autonomy in ensuring gurdwaras only open with necessary preparedness.
Specific suggestions to minimise risk of Covid-19
Write to gurdwara members and place notices reminding those wishing to attend for private prayer or services that they must be responsible for their own head covering and that scarves, dupattas or rumals will not be provided.
A recommendation that sanitising hand gel is applied as soon as practical on entering the gurdwara premises. (although we are cognisant some gurdwaras may not want to install alcohol gel dispensers on their premises, it will ultimately be their personal decision based on pragmatism, and the overriding objective to deal with Covid-19 in order to safeguard the community).
Ensuring adequate hand washing facilities and (or) a supply of sanitising hand gel at convenient points.
Disposable paper towels or air dryers that do not have to be operated by touching or the press of a button.
Bags or bins to collect disposable paper towels.
Reminders that members and visitors walk in the gurdwara keeping to one side, without coming in contact with other worshippers.
On entering the Darbar hall, individuals should respect social distancing rules and bow before the Guru Granth Sahib without touching the ground with their head or hands, and then move to a place in the congregation respecting social distancing requirements. Two-meter gaps to guide the sangat could be marked on the floor with masking tape.
We have given advice on funeral arrangements separately here.
The congregation’s health and safety are paramount
We believe gurdwara management committees need to consider the health and safety of the congregation (sangat) above and beyond anything else. A phased and managed reopening of gurdwaras in line with government guidance, but taking special precautions as mentioned previously is paramount. Although the financial implication of lockdown and the restrictions on gurdwaras is regrettable, this is a secondary issue and should under no circumstances be the primary focus of management committees. The most important thing is the health and safety of the sangat. Gurdwaras that choose to compromise on this may well be held accountable.
Disclaimer: This document is advice for UK gurdwaras affiliated to the NSO rather than strict guidance and should be treated as such. All gurdwara management committees ultimately have a duty of care to the congregation, they must follow government guidance and we recommend they also consider our advice carefully in looking to the safety and well-being of the congregation.
Peers debated the contents of draft Census (England and Wales) Order 2020 in the Lords earlier this week. The flawed Sikh ‘ethnic’ tick box argument was raised following a debate in the Commons last week in which Labour party politicians briefed by the Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) cited questionable statistics.
Our Director, Lord Singh who has been a prominent opponent of the SFUK’s tick box campaign told peers about the misunderstanding of the Mandla case from the 1980’s which SFUK rely upon and for which he was expert witness.
He said, ‘The law then protected ethnicity, but not religion, against discrimination. The Law Lords ruled that as most Sikhs in the UK then were born in Punjab and had Punjabi ethnicity, Sikhs were also entitled to protection. The criteria of birth and origin would not be met today, as most Sikhs are born in the UK, nor is such a convoluted protection necessary. The Equality Act 2010 gives full protection to religion.’
He went on, ‘The politically motivated federation falsely claims mass support, with questionable statistics. The ethnicity argument was discussed at the large gurdwara in Hounslow, in front of ONS officials, and was firmly rejected, yet the federation includes Hounslow among its supporters. Many Sikhs and people of other faiths are appalled at the way in which some politicians, anxious for votes, are willing to trample on the religious sensitivities of others and accept as fact the absurdities of those who shout the loudest. I urge that we look to what the different religious groups actually do for the well-being of their followers and wider society.’
Supporting Lord Singh’s position on the issue, Former Bishop of Oxford and crossbench peer Lord Harries of Pentregarth, said: ‘I believe that Sikhism is a great and very distinguished world religion. I do not think there should be any blurring of that fact and I worry that putting this in the ethnic minority category will somehow diminish what Sikhism has to offer as a world religion.’
Once the Order has been approved, Census Regulations will be laid before Parliament. According to the House of Commons Library, ‘the ONS aims to publish an initial set of census reports one year after it has taken place, and to make all outputs available within two years.’
We hope the British Sikh community can now move on from this debate and focus on the uplifting teachings of our global world religion, and all it has to offer today’s fractured society.