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We have reproduced in full (below) notes of minutes circulated to members of The Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) run All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for British Sikhs.

 APPG FOR SIKH FEDERATION

Notes on Meeting held 23-7-19 to examine the Supposed Rationale of referring to Sikhs as an Ethnic Group

Venue: The meeting took place 9.45 am Room W4

Attendees: Preet Gill MP, Pat McFadden MP, Dominic Grieve MP, Mike Gapes MP, Tanmanjit Dhesi MP (joined halfway through the meeting), Lord (Ranbir) Suri, Lord (Indarjit) Singh of Wimbledon.

(Initials will be used to attribute comments in this Note).

Background to Meeting

IS, concerned that the Federation, the successors of the formerly proscribed ISYF were misleading Members of House, had for months been asking for an opportunity to present a view on ethnic monitoring that was consistent with majority Sikh thinking and with Sikh theology. PG, averse to open discussion initially tried to prevent this, and later, successfully minimised attendance by delaying the meeting to a relatively early hour close to the recess. Correspondence also shows that her office had repeatedly refused to provide a list of MPs (who had supposedly signed support for the Federation), for them to be sent briefing documents and a note on the importance of open discussion on the issue.

The Meeting

At the start of the meeting, PG questioned the credentials of IS to speak on this issue and IS began to respond saying he was Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) the largest umbrella body of gurdwaras in the UK. When IS began to detail some of the main areas of activity, PG interrupted to say that was fine. [Details of NSO Activities are appended]

The Presentation

The detailed presentation, for which there was general agreement and appreciation, is appended.

Ethnic Group

In response to a statement by IS that no other world religion called itself an ethnic group, MG said that the Jewish community (which unlike Sikhs, accepts converts only through marriage), could be considered an ethnic group. IS agreed, saying that Jews had considered this but saw no advantage. It was noted by all that Jews and Muslims had gained much more by successful lobbying.

Supposed Practical Advantages of calling Sikhs an ethnic group.

PG said we should not bring Sikh theology into discussions on calling Sikhs an ethnic group. IS disagreed saying Sikh teachings must underpin all policies affecting the Sikh community.

PG, supported by PMcF, raised the issue of Sikh families who had come to her area of Smethwick from Italy, and their difficulties over housing. IS said that they deserved support, but masking religion as ethnicity would not help. Public sector housing is allocated on need and not on supposed ethnicity. Also, many Sikhs would feel it insulting and contrary to Sikh teachings to have a world religion open to all, reduced to a single ethnicity tied to Punjab. They would put their country of origin in the ethnic tick box and tick Sikhism under religion. It was, in an aside, agreed by all, that Sikhs had an above average home ownership.

Reality behind Federation demand for calling Sikhs an ethnic group.

IS explained that the Federation were deliberately conflating a misunderstanding of the limited nature of the Mandla case under the (now repealed) 1976 RR Act), to claim that Sikhs were an ethnic group per se, so that Sikhs could call themselves a nation (see their website). This would, in the Federation’s view, help them advance the case for a homeland in India. DG concurred that he was aware of this political dimension.

The downside of pursuing an ethnic category for Sikhs.

This is detailed in the attached Presentation.

At the meeting, IS also stressed that obsessional focusing on ethnic monitoring is diverting attention from unfairness and discrimination being suffered by Sikhs for being members of the Sikh Faith. The Government’s Hate Crime Action Plan gave 45 examples of hate crime suffered by members of the Abrahamic faiths. There was no mention of the suffering of Sikhs, Hindus and others. A FOI request by the NSO showed that the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group paid expenses to 11 members as well as supplying considerable government support. IS asked where is the Anti-Sikh Hatred Working Group? IS continued by reminding the meeting that the MET records most attacks on Sikh as Islamophobia. He also noted that the NSO was alone in their successful campaign to exclude Sikhs from being described as a Dharmic Faith in MHCLG correspondence. He added that no support was given to the NSO by the Federation in other areas of concern. He did not elaborate as DG indicated that he had another meeting to go to and because these issues were more internal to the Sikh community. Further information can be given if requested.

At the conclusion of the meeting, DG commented that the debate on ethnicity could be academic if the Federation won their case. He thanked IS for an informed and thought-provoking contribution.

The meeting ended at 10.35 am.

The Offensive Weapons Bill is at committee stage in the House of Lords

Our Director Lord Singh continues to work with cross-party peers to ensure the kirpan gets the full legal protection it requires, with proposed amendments to the Offensive Weapons Bill (OWB). Under current legislation the kirpan has an exemption from the provisions relating to the possession of an offensive weapon under the Criminal Justice Act. All that was required, is to include a clause to protect longer kirpans gifted to Sikhs and non-Sikhs as a sign of honouring contribution to society – recipients of whom include senior police officers and the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The failure of Sikh MPs to address this gap in the House of Commons made it necessary for Lord Singh to retrieve the situation. Cross party support was readily given, and Lord Kennedy supported by Lord Paddick tabled an amendment to ensure the kirpan is fully safeguarded under British law.

Despite the failure to address this in the House of Commons, on 21st November 2018, the Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) who run the APPG for British Sikhs, bizarrely announced a ‘victory’ on social media with an accompanying ‘photo op’ with Ministers.

On 30th January 2019, peers discussed proposed amendments to OWB at committee stage in the House of Lords.

Lord Tunnicliffe said:

‘My first ask of the Minister is that she meet my noble friend Lord Kennedy, the noble Lord, Lord Singh of Wimbledon, and representatives of the Sikh community. In asking for a meeting, I put on record that the status quo is not adequate, as it only provides a defence of religious reasons if a person is charged with a criminal offence. It does not cover other reasons such as ceremonial, historical or sporting, where kirpans are offered as gifts to dignitaries. The status quo only provides a defence if a person is charged—the amendment in the name of my noble friend will provide an exemption for the possession of kirpans. The amendment will provide specific reference in the law for the kirpan, which Sikhs have been calling for.’

Lord Singh who has met the Minister – Baroness Williams and worked with respected colleagues like Labour peer Lord Kennedy and Lord Paddick former Deputy Assistant Commissioner in London’s Metropolitan police service said:

‘My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. I shall give just a little background. Sikhs are sometimes referred to as a martial race. The description is wrong on two counts: we are neither martial, nor are we a race. Sikh teachings criticise all notions of race or caste, emphasising that we are all equal members of one human race.’

He added, ‘The martial assumption comes from the fact that Sikhs have had to endure being a persecuted minority for many years—at one time, there was a price on the head of every Sikh caught dead or alive. Sikhs have had to develop dexterity with a sword to survive, and, importantly, to protect the weak and vulnerable of other communities in society. Kirpan, the Sikh word for sword, means “protector”, and figures prominently in religious practice and ceremony.’

Amendment 70 was withdrawn in line with convention in the Grand Committee, however there was unanimous support from all parties including the government, for the need to effect change in order to fully safeguard the kirpan in law.

The Sikh Federation UK, misleading social media posts and fake news

(Left: Tweet in which SFUK falsely suggest Hounslow gurdwara (Alice Way) was one of 112 gurdwaras which supported their failed ‘ethnic’ tick box campaign)

The Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) is the successor body to the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF) which was de-proscribed from the UK’s list of organisations proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000 in March 2016.[i]

Over the years, the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) have become accustomed to their modus operandi. They no doubt, have been particularly successful in plugging their often grievance filled narrative on social media. We have had to address misleading statements made by SFUK regarding their now failed ‘ethnic’ Census tick box campaign aimed at limiting a world religion to a single ethnic group. We are still waiting for them to disclose the list of gurdwaras they say supported their campaign for a separate tick box in the 2021 census. We have concerns given what we discovered about Hounslow gurdwara (Alice Way). SFUK tweeted to say they were one of the gurdwaras who supported their campaign, but the committee categorically refuted this in writing.

As you can imagine the SFUK who run the APPG for British Sikhs are angry that the ONS decided not to recommend a Sikh ‘ethnic’ tick box in the White Paper. All concerned with getting full protection for the kirpan would applaud Lord Singh for his initiative in the Lords to rectify the Commons error. Instead, the SFUK predictably, began to throw their toys out of the pram by attacking Lord Singh with a post on Facebook on 31st January titled: ‘SHOCKING, IGNORANT AND OFFENSIVE COMMENTS MADE IN HOUSE OF LORDS’. They write:

‘Soon after 9/11 someone advised the government that Sikhs can wear miniature wooden or plastic Kirpans. Some automatically assumed it was Indarjit Singh ..’

What the SFUK haven’t disclosed is that following legal action, one of their leading supporters gave Lord Singh a written apology in May 2015 for inferring Lord Singh had given advice to the government that is was OK for Sikhs to wear ‘a wooden kirpan’. It is simply not true and the repeated inference in the statement above posted on Facebook repeats the libel. We’ve discussed why Lord Singh and other cross-party peers were forced to intervene in the 2nd debate on the OWB above. It is to fully safeguard the kirpan in law, something which should have been done in the House of Commons, despite a SFUK declaration of ‘victory’ on the matter and ‘photo op’ with a Minister and the Chair/Vice Chairs of the APPG for British Sikhs (for which they are secretariat).

SFUK who’ve previously referred to Lord Singh as ‘a dinosaur’, also complained on Twitter about Lord Singh’s comment ‘we are neither martial, nor are we a race’ – but they failed to include his full speech and context given above.

The Guru’s taught us to ‘recognise the human race as one’, and the fledgling Sikh community had to defend itself to survive persecution – the circumstances transformed the community into one which was ready to defend itself and others from tyranny. However, the ‘martial race’ theory was propagated by British military scientists, who wanted to increase enlistment to the British Indian Army during the Great Wars – categorising Gurkhas, Pathans, Hindu Punjabis and Sikhs in this pseudoscientific category. It is not consistent with Sikh teachings.

SFUK remarkably tweeted: ‘A martial race is one that is brave and ready for battle. It appears Lord Singh would like to see Sikhs as ‘Indians’ unfit for battle’. We are not sure what ‘battle’ the SFUK think they are fighting and how Lord Singh’s speech could be possibly interpreted as suggesting Sikhs were ‘unfit’. We do not think it is ‘brave’ to publish misleading posts on social media.

The saddest part of all of this is the way in which SFUK’s misleading post which selectively quoted Lord Singh’s speech, has been received by a vocal minority who follow them on Facebook and other social media platforms. The nature of the SFUK supporters is illustrated by comments like the following below which contribute nothing towards a rationale and reasoned debate.

Manj Onetel ‘He’s a Dogra, the enemy within, claiming to represent Sikhs without being elected or selected to do so. Non Sikhs are more supportive of Sikh issues than these keshadhari Hindus- he has no rehni behni other than the outer appearance literally a lions garb on a sheep.’

Comments on the SFUK Facebook page under the post vary from being plainly rude, conspiratorial, but some disturbingly ageist in nature, like the SFUK previous reference to Lord Singh as ‘a dinosaur’. The individuals concerned should be utterly ashamed of themselves. Following the publication of the despicable ‘karma’ tweet after the death of Sir Jeremy Heywood last November, which the SFUK apologised for, we are by no means surprised by their modus operandi and the odious comments of some of their followers on Facebook. We imagine those in government circles won’t be too surprised either.

[i] https://www.europeansanctions.com/2016/03/uk-de-proscribes-isyf/

 

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