Where Unity Is Strength
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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.   

Signatories:

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


[i] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/priti-patel-publishes-paper-on-group-based-child-sexual-exploitation

[ii] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-18117529

[iii] https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/rotherham-grooming-gang-sexual-abuse-muslim-islamist-racism-white-girls-religious-extremism-a8261831.html

[iv] https://www.iicsa.org.uk/key-documents/19095/view/LOY000001.pdf .

[v] https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/local-news/you-preyed-on-girls-because-they-were-687987

[vi] https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6428197/Sexual-exploitation-British-Sikh-girls-grooming-gangs-ignored-claims-report.html

[vii] https://metro.co.uk/2007/02/22/hindu-girls-targeted-by-extremists-108990/

[viii] https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b039kmx6

[ix] https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-23896937

[x] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/rising-tensions-between-muslims-and-sikhs-over-hidden-pattern-of-sex-grooming-2nvjjk22mxr

[xi] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/muslims-extremism-women-far-right-tommy-robinson-rape-a9143671.html

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.

With best wishes for a safe and happy 2021.

Indarjit

Lord Singh of Wimbledon CBE

Director, Network of Sikh Organisations

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.

Network of Sikh Organisations

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’.

[Ends]


[i] https://www.editorscode.org.uk/downloads/codebook/Codebook-2021.pdf

[ii] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18092605

[iii] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/sex-gangs-asian-label-insults-us-say-hindus-and-sikhs-xfd5dmzgds9

[iv] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/religious-groups-defend-mp-sarah-champion-over-grooming-claim-fnbslnnlm

[v] http://nsouk.co.uk/the-mirrors-recent-article-on-grooming-gangs-and-use-of-the-word-asian/

[vi] https://www.ipso.co.uk/media/1710/nso_ipso_jun_2019.pdf

A Gurpurab message

November 29th, 2020 | Posted by Singh in Current Issues | Press Releases - (0 Comments)

Waheguru ji ka Khalsa Waheguru ji ki Fateh

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.


[i] https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/index.html

[ii] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/the-times-view-on-lord-singh-and-the-today-programme-thought-for-the-day-rmt736ckg

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’.

Mathematics

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.

[ENDS]


[i] https://labourlist.org/2020/10/labour-led-parliamentary-group-calls-for-action-to-combat-anti-sikh-hate/

[ii] https://labourlist.org/2020/10/labour-led-parliamentary-group-calls-for-action-to-combat-anti-sikh-hate/

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:

For organisations supporting victims here:

[Ends]

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.

Network of Sikh Organisations

[Ends]


[i] https://www.gov.scot/binaries/content/documents/govscot/publications/factsheet/2020/04/hate-crime-bill-what-it-will-do/documents/hate-crime-bill-general-overview-note/hate-crime-bill-general-overview-note/govscot%3Adocument/Hate%2BCrime%2BBill%2B-%2BDraft%2BInformation%2BNote%2B-%2BGeneral%2BOverview%2B-%2BRevised%2BJune%2B2020.pdf

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/news/politics/scottish-politics/2338172/jk-rowling-could-end-up-in-the-dock-if-new-hate-crime-laws-are-passed-critics-warn/

[v] https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/could-scotland-s-hate-crime-bill-make-depictions-of-mohammed-illegal-

[vi] https://static1.squarespace.com/static/599c3d2febbd1a90cffdd8a9/t/5bfd1ea3352f531a6170ceee/1543315109493/Islamophobia+Defined.pdf

[vii] https://spf.org.uk/new-hate-crime-bill-could-devastate-police-relationship-with-the-scottish-public/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-hate-crime-bill-could-devastate-police-relationship-with-the-scottish-public

[viii] https://twitter.com/RadioClydeNews/status/1305120257699446784

[ix] https://static1.squarespace.com/static/599c3d2febbd1a90cffdd8a9/t/5bfd1ea3352f531a6170ceee/1543315109493/Islamophobia+Defined.pdf

[x] https://twitter.com/holland_tom/status/1128756384537956352?lang=en

[xi] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/sikh-peer-leaves-bbc-radio-4-show-with-swipe-at-thought-police-m3vcjg77w

[xii] https://www.parliament.scot/S5_JusticeCommittee/Inquiries/JS520HC417_Free_Presbyterian_Church.pdf

[xiii] Ibid.

We are delighted to have launched the Sikh Messenger podcast series last month.

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: info@nsouk.co.uk

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