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Jagjit Kaur

The video of a Sikh girl (Jagjit Kaur) allegedly abducted from her home in Punjab (Pakistan) and visibly under duress whilst being betrothed to a Muslim man in a marriage ceremony has sent shock waves across India and amongst diaspora Sikh communities across the West.[i]

Politicians have waded in, including Captain Amarinder Singh the Chief Minister of Punjab (India) and the Akali Dal’s Manjinder Singh Sirsa. The Indian government responded on 30th August: ‘the Ministry had received a number of representations from various quarters of civil society in India, including Sikh religious bodies in India, at the reports of the incident of abduction and forced conversion of a minor Sikh girl in Pakistan. We have shared these concerns with the Government of Pakistan and asked for immediate remedial action.’

The girl’s father has been identified as Bhagwan Singh, a priest at Gurdwara Tambu Sahib. A few days ago, her brother Surinder Singh issued a statement to ask for her safe return home, he confirmed the family had lodged a first information report (FIR) with Nankana Sahib police, however according to Surinder Singh the family was facing threats from the abductors for filing the case and being pressurised to convert.[ii]

However, news reports of the incident have been contradictory, confusing and allegations of fake news have been made. Some reports suggested Jagjit Kaur was returned to her family and 8 arrests had been made,[iii] whereas other reports on the same day suggested she refused to go back to her family ‘fearing a threat to her life’.[iv] In another article her brother refuted the news that she has been returned despite government claims.[v] Separate reports point to a statement filed in court which suggests Jagjit Kaur converted out of her own free will.[vi]

The incident is a cause of huge embarrassment for Pakistan who have been hosting an international Sikh Conference on August 31 at Governor House in Lahore. Former Labour MP for Glasgow, the incumbent Punjab Chief Minister tweeted about the abduction following representations made to him.[vii]

We are cognisant the issue of abduction of non-Muslim girls in Pakistan is a significant blight on wider Pakistani society. Aside from Punjab, there is compelling evidence of abduction and forced marriage in Pakistan’s Sindh province – a 2018 University of Birmingham report ‘Forced Conversions & Forced Marriages In Sindh, Pakistan’, highlighting the issue for Hindu and Christian women. The report’s executive summary says, ‘It has been estimated that 1000 women and girls from religious minorities are abducted, forcibly converted and then married off to their abductors every year.’[viii]

We have flagged Jagjit Kaur’s case with the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief and Baron Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the UN, Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

[ENDS]

References

[i] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVRWy_ETGPk

[ii] https://twitter.com/SikhMessenger/status/1167080801097461761

[iii] https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/sikh-girl-forcefully-converted-to-islam-in-pakistan-sent-to-parents-1593732-2019-08-31

[iv] https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/sikh-girl-forced-convert-islam-refuses-home-pak-official-1593980-2019-09-01?utm_source=rss

[v] https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/brother-of-pakistani-sikh-girl-forcefully-converted-appeals-to-imran-khan-for-justice/story-Sobbhiy0jjPlB0kCB3d4wK.html

[vi] https://www.msn.com/en-in/news/world/adopted-islam-out-of-my-own-free-will-sikh-girl-after-family-alleges-forced-conversion-in-pakistan/ar-AAGzJ4r?li=AAEz3n1

[vii] https://twitter.com/ChMSarwar/status/1167510245461114882

[viii] https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/Documents/college-artslaw/ptr/ciforb/Forced-Conversions-and-Forced-Marriages-in-Sindh.pdf

 

A Report commissioned by the Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has found that the persecution of Christians in many parts of the world amounts to what some see as near genocide. Millions of Christians have been uprooted from their homes, and many have been killed, kidnapped, imprisoned and discriminated against.

Sadly, the experience of Christians is mirrored in the experience of other faiths. Looking at my own faith, Sikhs are prohibited from opening a gurdwara in Saudi Arabia and most Middle East countries. In Afghanistan, a prosperous Sikh population of more than 20,000 has been reduced to a few hundred. Similarly, once thriving Sikh communities in Tehran and other cities in Iran, have almost disappeared without trace. Regular reports of the All Parliamentary Group for Freedom of Religion and Belief and other agencies, remind us of similar suffering of religious communities across the world.

A follow up report to examine the response of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to growing religious persecution will be published later this summer. I do hope that this will lead to positive initiatives to counter world-wide abuse of the UN Universal Declaration of the Right to Freedom of Religion and Belief.

I feel part of the problem is a failure of religious leaders to interpret religious texts in the context of today’s very different times. Candle lit vigils and expressions of religious solidarity following an atrocity are fine, but in the Sikh view such sentiments must also be carried to our different places of worship, to replace centuries of easily exploited bigotry and misunderstanding, with emphasis on respect and tolerance for all beliefs.

Two of the Sikh Gurus gave their lives stressing the importance of inter faith understanding. Sikh believe that our different faiths are like paths up a mountain towards an understanding of God through pursuing truth, equity and justice in our daily lives. The further we go, the greater the similarity of the view ahead. Guru Arjan, our 5th Guru, included some writings of Hindu and Muslim saints in our holy scripture the Guru Granth Sahib, to emphasise that no one faith has a monopoly of truth. The freedom to practise our religion, of whatever tradition, should be similarly valued as an important universal freedom in our strife torn world.

(joint letter sent to the Home Secretary today)

As faith representatives, we support the ongoing efforts of Sarah Champion MP who has asked the government to take further steps in tackling the issue of child sexual exploitation. A recent letter coordinated by Champion dated 25 May 2018, and co-signed by a group of 20 cross party politicians requests the Home Secretary and Minister for Children and Families to do more for the victims of Britain’s sexual grooming gang epidemic.[1]

The cross party group have requested the Home Secretary pays heed to the 2015 report Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation,[2] and have asked the government to commission research into better understanding the ‘operation and motivation’ and ‘drivers’ behind sexual grooming gangs. We believe this is important, however we also believe some aspects of the ‘motivation’ and ‘drivers’ behind sexual grooming/child rape gangs are already abundantly clear.

Firstly earlier this year, a survivor of these rape gangs has confirmed she was targeted for being a ‘white slag’, because she was ‘non-Muslim’.[3] Judges like Gerald Clifton who sentenced men in Rochdale in 2012, made a similar observation in sentencing remarks. He said the Muslim men had targeted their victims because they were not part of the offenders’ ‘community or religion.’[4] A (2017) report from counter-extremist think tank Quilliam looked at 58 grooming gang cases since 2005, and found 84% were ‘Asian’, of which the majority were comprised of men ‘of Pakistani origin, with Muslim heritage.’[5]

This analysis was preceded by the Jay report into Rotherham (2014), which concluded, ‘agencies should acknowledge the suspected model of localised grooming of young white girls by men of Pakistani heritage, instead of being inhibited by the fear of affecting community relations.’[6] The report concluded an estimated 1,400 children, (mainly white girls) had been abused by predominantly British Pakistani men. Muslim girls are rarely targeted, and despite authorities failing to recognise the phenomenon, Sikh and Hindu communities have been complaining about ‘grooming’ since the 1980s.

We as faith communities want the government to do the right thing and call out the motivation for the majority of sexual grooming gangs for what it is. We believe the evidence overwhelmingly points to an inconvenient truth. That is: non-Muslim girls (this includes Sikh, Hindu and Christian girls) have been systematically targeted in Britain due to a form of religiously motivated hate. We must have the courage to face the reality if we are serious about finding a solution to Britain’s sexual grooming gang epidemic. We support Baroness Warsi’s brave stance when she said, “a small minority” of Pakistani men see white girls as “fair game”,[7] and ask the government to help the Muslim community tackle this stain on an otherwise law-abiding community, with appropriate funding if necessary.

Signatories:

Lord Singh of Wimbledon – Network of Sikh Organisations

Wilson Chowdhry – British Pakistani Christian Association

Satish K Sharma – National Council of Hindu Temples

Trupti Patel – Hindu Forum of Britain

Ashish Joshi – Sikh Media Monitoring Group

Mohan Singh – Sikh Awareness Society

[Ends]

[1] https://news.sky.com/story/rotherham-child-abuse-whistleblower-victims-are-being-forgotten-11388560

[2]https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/408604/2903652_RotherhamResponse_acc2.pdf

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

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

[5] https://www.quilliaminternational.com/press-release-new-quilliam-report-on-grooming-gangs/

[6] http://www.rotherham.gov.uk/downloads/file/1407/independent_inquiry_cse_in_rotherham

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

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