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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

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/

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
Sri Guru Singh Sabha Hounslow © Copyright Des Blenkinsopp and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. Ensuring adequate hand washing facilities and (or) a supply of sanitising hand gel at convenient points.
  4. Disposable paper towels or air dryers that do not have to be operated by touching or the press of a button.
  5. Bags or bins to collect disposable paper towels.
  6. Reminders that members and visitors walk in the gurdwara keeping to one side, without coming in contact with other worshippers.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

4th June 2020

Network of Sikh Organisations

E-mail: info@nsouk.co.uk

Website: www.nsouk.co.uk

Twitter: @Sikhmessenger

[Ends]

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.

(religion is already adequately recorded in the census)

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.

Yesterday Sikhs in Britain and worldwide woke up to the heart wrenching news of the cold-blooded murder of 25 worshippers (including one child) in a gurdwara in the Afghan capital Kabul.

Islamic State gunmen have been held responsible for the massacre of innocent worshippers, and disturbing images of the dead, along with videos of panic-stricken children sitting in a room in the gurdwara, have been widely disseminated online. The Afghan security forces were engaged in a gun battle with jihadists and helped some members of the congregation escape.

The terrorist attack against the Sikh minority is nothing new. In the summer of 2018, a suicide bomber struck a crowd of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus arriving to meet with President Ashraf Ghani as he visited the eastern city of Jalalabad, an attack that killed at least 19 people and wounded 10 others. Almost the entire Afghan Sikh and Hindu leadership were killed, including the only Sikh candidate running for election.

At the time Lord Singh our Director, tabled a written question to the government: ‘To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the suicide bombing resulting in the death of 19 Sikhs in Jalalabad, Afghanistan in July, what representations they intend to make to the government of India to encourage it to offer asylum or safe passage to Sikhs wishing to leave Afghanistan.’

The minister’s response: ‘The British Government condemned the 1 July attack on a group of Sikhs and Hindus in Jalalabad. The Minister for Asia and the Pacific publicly described it as “a despicable attack on Afghanistan’s historic Sikh and Hindu community”. As part of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, the UK supports the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces in its efforts to improve security for all communities in Afghanistan. NATO’s Resolute Support Mission is also assisting the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces with security planning for the upcoming elections. The UK regularly raises human rights issues with the Government of Afghanistan, including the need to protect the rights of all ethnic and religious groups in line with the constitution.’

At the time Lord Singh also asked the government whether they would provide asylum to Afghan Sikhs, to which they responded – ‘Those who need international protection should claim in the first safe country they reach – that is the fastest route to safety.’

In 2018 the Home Office put together a briefing paper highlighting the persecution of Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan. It cited an article that revealed, ‘prior to 1992 there were about 220,000 Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan with another putting that number as low as 50,000. By now, the very few remaining are concentrated in the provinces of Nangarhar, Kabul, and Ghazni’. Sikhs, Hindus and other minorities are being systematically ethnically cleansed from Afghanistan, a country Sikhs have resided in since the fifteenth century.

In response to the Kabul gurdwara massacre, we will continue to raise the targeting of Sikhs and other Afghan minorities with the government. We will also be raising the issue with members of the APPG for International Freedom of Religion or Belief as a matter of urgency.

We request Sikhs write to their MPs requesting asylum rights in the UK for Sikhs escaping genocide, and for strong UK condemnation of the attack on innocent Sikh worshipers.

For further information contact Deputy-Director Hardeep Singh at: info@nsouk.co.uk


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