The Judiciary of England and Wales and the Ministry of Justice are encouraging people from all walks of life and different faiths to apply to become magistrates, to help keep their communities safer. The campaign is also part of efforts to make the magistracy better reflect the diversity of British society today.
Statistics on the diversity of the magistracy in England and Wales over the last five years show an increase in magistrates from underrepresented groups. This includes people aged under 50 (currently 18% of the local judiciary), people from an ethnic minority background (currently 13% of the local judiciary) and women (around 57% of the magistracy).
Although this is a step in the right direction, there is still further to go to ensure that the magistracy is representative of all communities that it serves. This includes the Sikh community, which accounts for over 524,000 people in England and Wales.
What is a magistrate?
A magistrate is a volunteer that sits in criminal, family and/or youth courts. Magistrates often work closely in groups of three alongside a legal adviser who provides expertise on matters of law, practice and procedure. No legal qualifications or experience are needed to join the bench. All volunteers are given training and legal support to reach decisions on cases.
Anyone between the ages of 18 to 74 who are able to commit to at least 13 days a year for at least five years can volunteer as a magistrate. As part of the bench, you will have the opportunity to learn new skills, enjoy new challenges and become part of a network of other magistrates within your community.
Sikh magistrates have stepped forward to discuss the many benefits that the role has bought to their lives and the different skills they have gained.
Baljit, from Derby, is a Learning Consultant at E.ON . She has been a magistrate for over five years. She applied for the role because she wanted to give back to her local community. Being of Indian heritage, she wanted to ensure greater representation in the magistracy.
On her role as a magistrate, Baljit said: “Being a part of the magistracy is a great learning experience. I’ve discovered so much about myself and about people with different backgrounds to my own. The role is a real eye-opener and encourages you to look at a situation from different perspectives before making a decision – an invaluable skill. You don’t need any legal background or experience as you are fully supported by legal advisers to help with the decision-making process. If you’re interested in helping others within your community, I would urge you to apply.”
Pam from Walsall works as a Regional Enterprise Director at NatWest and has been a magistrate for over seven years. She joined as she is passionate about diversity and inclusion, and wanted to help contribute to a more diverse bench.
On her role as a magistrate, Pam said: “One of the highlights of the role for me is knowing you are supporting the community and paying it forward. It is also very rewarding knowing you have made a difference to someone at a critical time in their life. If you’re interested in creating positive change in society while learning new skills, I urge you to apply to join the magistracy today.”
Justice Minister Mike Freer said: “Ordinary people up and down the country play a vital role as magistrates help to ensure that crimes in their community are penalised, and we want more people to join them.
I am always impressed by the people I meet who volunteer their time and experience from all walks of life and I would encourage anyone with a desire to help victims get justiceto apply.”
As part of the application to sit in the criminal court, applicants are required to observe at least two magistrates’ sittings in court. This is an opportunity to learn more about the role and see magistrates in action. Cases heard in the magistrates’ court can include domestic abuse, drug offences, motoring offences, theft, assaults, criminal damage and public order offences.
Family court hearings are heard in private so public observations are not possible. To apply to sit in the family court, applicants must complete research into the family court. This may include watching videos and reading information found on icanbeamagistrate.co.uk. Family court magistrates can have a significant impact on a child’s life and a family’s future. They make decisions that affect vulnerable children, such as enforcing child maintenance orders and protecting children subject to significant harm, so they move to a safe environment.
Magistrates typically develop highly transferrable skills such as critical analysis, complex problem-solving, mediation, influencing and decision-making, all of which stand to benefit them in their wider lives. Research conducted in 2021 by the Ministry of Justice among HR and business leaders showed people who volunteer as magistrates were likely to have sound judgement (89%) and effective decision-making (81%).
Any study of Sikh teachings and Sikh history will show that the Gurus’ teachings differ from other religions in that, while giving advice on responsible living, they also reach out to recognise important commonalities between faiths.
Sikh teachings emphasise ‘sarbat ka bhalla,’ looking to the wellbeing of all members of our one human family. The far-sighted teachings of our Gurus predate, by some four centuries, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights drawn up in the aftermath of the Second World war, as essential for the survival of what the Declaration also terms, our one human family.
Sikhism is a religion that is open to all, not only for personal improvement, but also with a commitment to work for the wellbeing of wider society. It has nothing whatever to do with ethnicity, which by definition refers to transient differences in social and cultural practices.
Why the obsession with ethnicity among some Sikhs?
The Mandla Case
In the early eighties, a Sikh schoolboy was sent home from school on the grounds that wearing a turban was against the school rules. The turban was a religious symbol and under the 1976 Race Relations Act religious discrimination was perfectly legal.
Ethnicity however was a protected characteristic. I advised the then Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) that as most Sikhs then in the UK were born in the Punjab, we had a good chance of winning protection on the grounds of Punjabi ethnic origin. We won protection of Sikh religious identity through the loophole of ethnicity.
Today, the loophole of Punjabi ethnicity would not apply as most Sikhs in the UK were born in the UK. Nor is it necessary because discrimination against religion is now against the law.
Ethnicity and the 2021 Census
Cynically ignoring the Gurus’ teachings on the oneness of our human family, the Sikh Federation UK have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds, promoting themselves as defenders of an exclusive Sikh ethnicity, ignoring the fact that religious belief has nothing to do with ethnic origin. We have asked the SFUK how much exactly was spend and what proportion of these funds were donated by the sangat, but they gave not responded to us. Gurdwaras in places like Wolverhampton and Southampton have been depleted of gurdwara funds.
Sikh responses in the 2021 Census
Sikh responses showed that the UK Sikh community totally rejected SFUK’s attempt to conflate ethnicity with religious identity. 99.7% of Sikhs confirmed their commitment to Sikhism.
Only 0.3% – 1,725 identified with ethnicity alone, rather than with Sikhism, as a faith. Of this group, more than half did not record their religion, 13.6 per cent said they were Muslim, 8.7 per cent Christian, and 12 per cent no religion.
Dabinderjit Singh (who likes to pluck figures from the air) – stated the ONS was wrong in recording the UK Sikh population to be some 526,000. It is, he maintained, nearer to 900,000.
Dr Jasdev Rai acknowledged that the SFUK’s campaign to declare Sikhs an ethnic group had come to a ‘dead end.’ However, his cunning plan was to say that Sikhs are not members of a religion but, a ‘quam’ or ‘dharam’ and, as that these words have no English translation, he maintained, with Baldrick logic, Sikhs should be given a special status.
Dabinderjit Singh, who supports the SFUK’s claim on Sikh ethnicity with the Mandla case (which was decided in part on the premise that most Sikhs at the time of the ruling were born in Punjab), went on to contradict SFUK’s central argument for separate Sikh ethnicity, by also stating 3/4 of UK Sikhs in the 2021 Census were born in the UK.
Dr Jasdev Rai, setting aside his own ‘think tank’ credentials, claimed that intellectuals were responsible for all the problems in the Sikh community.
Dabinderjit Singh when challenged by S Gurnam Singh, said he would be happy to give a full account of the spending (of what is reported to be over one hundred thousand pounds for one judicial review alone[i] – there were three) in campaigning and litigation for a Sikh ethnic tick box. He then went on a peculiar tangent and asked how much the NSO had spent in promoting Punjabi ethnicity.
NSO Comment: The NSO have consistently stated that Sikhism is a world religion open to all and not limited by ethnicity. We have not spent a single penny promoting Punjabi ethnicity.
Given Dabinderjit Singh agreed to disclose the legal costs involved, can the British Sikh community now have the full details of SFUK’s spending in relation to three judicial reviews on their claim that Sikhs are a separate ethnic group?
ONS statistics from the 2021 Census show: 426,230 people identified as Sikh through the religion question alone – that’s 81% of the total number of responders and the vast majority.
Only 1,725 responded through the ethnic group question alone – 0.3% of the total number of responders. This is a significant drop from the 2011 Census, where 6,862 identified their ethnic group only as ‘Sikh’. The absurdity of the SFUK’s longstanding campaign is illustrated by data from within this tiny segment of 1,725 who identified their ethnic group as ‘Sikh’.
Remarkably, 55.4% of them did not report their religion, 13.6% recorded it as Muslim, 12.5% reported no religion and 8.7% said their religion was Christian. So, thanks in part to the SFUK, and the lobbying via the SFUK influenced APPG for British Sikhs – we absurdly have ‘ethnic’ Sikhs who are Islamic by faith – ‘ethnic’ Sikhs who are Christian (it is not clear if they are Catholic or Presbyterian) and ‘ethnic’ Sikhs who don’t have a faith – this presumably includes atheists and agnostics.
The question to ask SFUK – a simple yes or no – was Guru Nanak the founder of a global world religion? Moreover, British Sikhs now deserve to know how much of the sangat’s money was used in legal fees to challenge the ONS through the courts?
The positive findings
Indeed, there are some positive findings from the Census data not least:
Around a third (36.7%) of people who identified as Sikh reported a Level 4 or above qualification, similar to the percentage for the England and Wales population (33.8%)
Higher percentages of home ownership among people who identified as Sikh (77.7%), compared with the England and Wales population (62.7%).
People who identified as Sikh were more likely to be married than the England and Wales population (61.0% and 44.4%, respectively) and were more likely to have married younger.
Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.
Sikhs and the Declaration
The Declaration was made at the end of WW2 in which millions of lives were lost in conflict and unspeakable atrocities between communities not recognising the sentiments of the above Declaration and seeing others as lesser beings.
Sikh teachings on human rights predate the Universal Declaration’s emphasis on the oneness of our human family, by some 500 years, with their rejection of caste and race, emphasis on gender equality and, in the closing words of our Ardas: ’sarbat da bhala’ – concern for the wellbeing of all humanity.
As Sikhs, we are therefore concerned that the Universal Declaration has been universally ignored in the last 75 years. Numerous horrific conflicts have resulted in the shameless pursuit of power, so-called strategic interest or worse, and bigotry of belief – something condemned by Guru Nanak who taught the one God of us all was not in the least bit interested in our religious labels, but in what we did for our fellow beings.
The Conflict in Gaza
The brutal attack on Israel on October 7 and the taking of hostages was followed by the no less brutal Israeli attack on Gaza with the continuing killing of thousands of civilians, hospital strikes, and an attack on mosques and refugee camps, along with the denial of food, water, power, or humanitarian assistance.
The Universal Declaration and the way to peace
Old fashioned concepts of dividing countries into friend and foe in our one human family are totally contrary to the spirit of the Universal Declaration. Looking the other way when those we see as allies abuse human rights is not the best way forward. Nor is the much vaunted two state solution talked about for decades practicable, when Israeli ‘settlors’ acquire Palestinian areas. This British government concept of dividing people because of supposed difference is not only contrary to the Universal Declaration of one human family, but also doomed to failure as seen in the conflict in Northern Ireland, and that seen in the Indian subcontinent. The only way forward is for the West to help ensure equal human rights of freedom of movement and belief, as well as the right to residence and employment in one country, that is both Israel and Palestine. When I suggested this at a meeting in Parliament a few years back, I was told that this will happen at the second coming. I retorted, ’why wait?’
A peace effort on the lines on inherent common identity as mandated in the Universal Declaration would be the best way to celebrate this important anniversary. All Sikhs and non-Sikhs should give it their full support.
Lord Singh, Director – Network of Sikh Organisations
Lord Singh of Wimbledon – Opposing the Motion – ‘This House Believes That God Is A Delusion’
Madam President, Ladies and Gentlemen.
What strikes me most about the motion before the House, and the arguments made for it, is the arrogant assumption, that because some do not understand or agree with what religions say about God, the idea of God must be a delusion.
In opposing the motion, I do however have some sympathy for those unhappy with the way God is described in Abrahamic religious texts, and how this has been used to divide what Sikhs see as our one human family.
God, the creative force behind all that exists, is shown in Abrahamic texts as a sort of elderly male with superhuman powers, who also has very human failings of jealousy, anger, and favouritism. God is shown to benevolently overlook the misdeeds of some, while, vindictively punishing those not favoured by him, consigning them to, everlasting suffering in the blistering heat of Hell. Some texts take this further, suggesting that skin burnt by the heat will re-grow, and be burnt again to inflict further continuing punishment. The reward for those God favours, is everlasting bliss in a place called heaven-where Muslims men enjoy some added extras.
Members of the Abrahamic faiths, and their various subsects, each claim that they are God’s favourites, the chosen people, leading to horrendous conflict and unbelievable atrocities between sister faiths as seen in Gaza and other parts of the Middle East today. When asked to comment on God creating man in his own image, the philosopher Voltaire wryly commented – it is we who have created God in our image.
The portrayal of God as a being who inflicts dire punishment for supposed bad behaviour, was used in a more superstitious past, as what Conrad describes as ‘a constables handbook’ to scare people to lawful and responsible behaviour, but is widely ignored today.
This view of God is a million miles removed from the Sikh concept of God being the name given to the unknowable creative force behind all that exits. Some here today, will bristle at my suggestion that some things are beyond our understanding. They will argue, that if they cannot understand the idea of God as a creative force beyond our comprehension, the very idea of God is a delusion. The renowned scientist Isaac Newton was more modest when he said, ‘my achievements are no more than playing with a few pebbles on the shore, while a vast ocean of knowledge lies before me undiscovered’. The scientist JB Haldane put it even more succinctly when he said, ‘the universe is not only more complex than we suppose, but more complex than we can suppose’.
The teachings of Guru Nanak on our inability to fully understand the nature of God, the creator or creative force behind all that exists, are in line with the views of these famous scientists.
In the opening lines of the Sikh scriptures, Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith, writes:
There is one God
The creator of all that exists,
The ultimate truth and reality
Beyond emotions of fear and enmity
Beyond time, birth, gender, or human frailty
For Sikhs the aim of life is not to seek salvation, but simply to live in harmony with what we call hukam, or ‘the will of God’. Sikh teachings require honest living, standing up against injustice, rejecting all notions of race or religious superiority, recognising gender equality and, in the closing words of our daily prayer, ‘working for the wellbeing of all humanity’.
Shakespeare also recognised the importance of living in consonance with what Sikhs call the will of God. in Julius Caesar, he refers to what Sikhs call hukam as a tide, saying:
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which taken at the flood leads onto fortune
Omitted, all the voyages of their lives.
Are bound in shallows and miseries.
Sikhism does not believe in afterlife punishment or reward, but simply in our responsibility to leave the world a better place for our having lived.
Coming back to the motion before this House, I again quote Shakespeare, with Hamlet reminding Horatio, that ‘there are more things in heaven and earth that are dreamt of in your philosophy’.
Unless like the clever Mr Toad, you believe, we know all there is to be known; and are prepared to forget the unbreakable scientific link between cause and effect, and irrationally believe in the absurdity, that at first there was nothing, and then suddenly, without cause, it all exploded to create infinite time space and matter, we have to accept the existence of a power or force beyond our comprehension that Sikhs refer to as God.
I therefore urge you to vote against the motion that God, the creative force behind all that exists is a delusion.
Sikhs In Law is a group of self-selected lawyers with no longstanding record of involvement in the affairs of the Sikh community, or legal standing in the judiciary. Despite a lack of knowledge of the Sikh religion, and religion more generally, it appointed a ‘Select Committee’ to look at the Bloom Review and report its findings at a meeting in the House of Lords on 19 July 2023.
The group, seemingly obsessed with its own self-importance, referred to itself as ‘The Honourable Council’, and absurdly asked those present in the room to stand as they entered the room, as if they were judges in a court of law.
The presentation that followed was deeply disappointing and at times embarrassing. We had been led to believe that we would be presented with an objective analysis of the Bloom Review. But no, Bloom was in the dock. Here is a flavour of what the attorney for the prosecution had to say:
Bloom is a Christian, and worse, a Conservative Christian.
He has no academic qualification to talk about religion – Comment: Jesus Christ and Guru Nanak were similarly unqualified.
He refers to wolves in sheep’s clothing. Totally inappropriate Christian language to describe some Sikhs who pretend to work for the good of the Sikh community, but who are, concerned only about themselves.
Worse, the ‘Select Committee’ displaying its own lack of religious literacy, makes the observation that: ‘Bloom ignores this at his peril’ that there are profound differences between the Judeo-Christian religions and Eastern religions – so, ‘his Review is fundamentally flawed from its very inception’.
Comment – It is difficult to believe that members of this ‘Select Committee’ (comprising of Sikhs) know so little of Sikh teachings. Verses of Muslim saints are included in the Guru Granth Sahib to illustrate similar truths between faiths.
Moving away from the above examples of bias and ignorance, (there are many more), let us look at excuses made for what Bloom rightly describes unjustifiable behaviour that brings the community into disrepute.
Violent demonstrations. ‘Select Committee’ observation: – British values allow freedom of speech.
Abuse, threats and even violence towards individuals – ignored by the ‘Select Committee’.
Preet Gill MP on the instigation of her advisers in the Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) making a complaint to the House of Lords Commissioner for Standards, of rude and aggressive behaviour towards her by Lord Singh in front of an ONS officer. The ONS officer in his evidence said the accusation was false and Lord Singh had been characteristically polite during the discussion. The ‘Select Committee’, instead of condemning Ms Gill’s behaviour, appears to have excused it, because the Commissioner for Standards had taken no action against her.
For the record, Preet Gill MP took out a second complaint against Lord Singh for daring to question the SFUK’s behaviour. She appears to have helped persuade one of her staff to take out a claim of bullying behaviour against Lord Singh. Again, the complaint was thrown out.
Lord Singh could have taken action against Ms Gill for malicious attempts to harm his character. He declined to do so because he had better things to do, and because he felt Ms Gill, with little knowledge of the Sikh religion, had been naïve and pressurised by the SFUK, who were angry with Lord Singh for maintaining that Sikhs were members of a world religion, not ethnically confined to Punjab.
Bloom: ‘The British Sikh community is one of the oldest minority communities in the UK, but the first major immigration of Sikhs to the UK was in the 1950s. Many settled in London and the West Midlands, and by most measurements British Sikhs have successfully integrated into communities across the whole of the UK. According to the 2021 Census results, there are approximately 524,000 people in England and Wales who identify as Sikh.’
Data included in Bloom shows that British Sikhs have:
high rates of employment and home ownership.
Sikhs have high rates of high-skilled occupation.
In 2018, over 39% of Sikhs had higher education qualifications compared to 30% of Christians.
British Sikhs tend to place a high value on family life and providing direct support for extended family, especially when they are old or in poor health.
According to the 2018 British Sikh report, only 2% of Sikhs in Britain have elderly family members living in care homes.
45% of respondents own their homes, 29% are in the process of buying, and 79% are employed or self-employed.
Bloom’s ‘areas of concern’
‘The first area of concern is the power struggle within some areas of British Sikh communities over who will represent them at official levels and be recognised as the preeminent Sikh body in the UK. Government should take a pluralistic approach to engagement, and the COVID-19 Sikh roundtable set up in May 2020 is a good example of how this can be done. The approach also avoids ‘gatekeeping’, which limits government’s capacity to engage a particular faith in all its diversity and diminishes its integration within wider society.’
Yes, but groups invited should have some tangible record of contribution to society and social integration. The report warns against self-proclaimed representatives who bring the community into disrepute.
The second concern
‘The division between some British Sikh communities which is caused by an extremist fringe ideology within the pro-Khalistan movement, a separatist movement seeking to create a sovereign homeland for Sikhs in the Punjab region. It is important to note that the promotion of Khalistan ideals is not itself subversive, but the subversive, aggressive and sectarian actions of some pro-Khalistan activists and the subsequent negative effect on wider Sikh communities should not be tolerated.’
Only a very small minority of Sikhs are involved, but unfortunately, they cause disproportionate disruption. Gurdwara Management Committees should be alert to such groups seeking power and funds for negative activities.
‘The third area of concern is the activities of some individuals and organisations that are demonstrably fuelling sectarianism and anti-Muslim sentiments, as well as legitimising discriminatory and misogynistic behaviour.’
The report ignores the fact that anti-Muslim sentiments generally result as a reaction to the behaviour of Muslim grooming gangs towards Sikh girls, and other non-Muslim girls. Misogyny exists in all communities, but is less in Sikhs, because of Sikh teachings on gender equality, which are followed by the majority.
Quote from anonymous participant in Bloom: ‘Only minority Sikhs are causing divisions and hate, [the] majority are peace loving but these minority are controlling the leading Sikhs temples in England and using funds raised for worship for propagating Khalistan and openly do that on social media. All are allowed to express their views and raise concerns of any injustice in India but spreading hate and brainwashing Sikh youth is a matter of serious concerns and many Sikh Temples are allowing [organisations to have youth camps where some are trying to recruit youth to follow their hate, terror and division agenda.’
Bloom concludes: ‘Although these three areas of concern are different, they are sometimes conflated by self-appointed ‘community leaders’ seeking prestige or power.’
The statement is essentially correct and a cause for concern, but the use of words like ‘hate’ and ‘terror’ agenda, are a little over the top in describing this undemocratic seeking of power and authority. (although we understand why the respondent chose to be anonymous, for fear of backlash).
Bloom says, ‘numerous respondents were deeply concerned about the division and distress caused by some activist groups aggravating communities and painting an unduly belligerent picture of the Sikh faith. These groups can associate themselves with mainstream Sikh communities, but their intimidatory and subversive methods are considered by most to be alien to the basic tenets of the Sikh faith. Respondents warned that if government doesn’t distinguish extremist agendas of power, control and subversion from mainstream Sikh communities, it would result in the UK turning a “blind eye towards religious extremism. This review’s evidence gathering also found repeated cases of individuals being intimidated and threatened by aggressive Sikh activists, either directly or indirectly through family members, for openly standing against them. The difficulty in Sikhs speaking out has been previously noted. In the 2019 report for the Commission for Countering Extremism, ‘The changing nature of activism among Sikhs in the UK today’, some potential respondents reportedly refused to participate because they feared backlash and others chose anonymity. It is important to note that Sikh identity and outlooks can be defined by historic events.’
He goes on: ‘Any study of Sikh activism today must take account of the Sikh historical context, including in relation to persecution and survival. This context can evoke powerful emotions of injustice and duty which can be used to lend relevance and legitimacy to actions. Any investigation into aggressive Sikh activism or extremist behaviour must therefore seek to understand the historical and philosophical root causes, while firmly setting parameters for what is and is not acceptable activity or behaviour in the pursuit or promotion of ideals. This reviewer urges government to consider the proposed recommendations with this in mind.’
Who represents British Sikh communities?
Bloom says, ‘for the government to engage with British Sikh communities in both a constructive and productive way, it is vital to address the issue of who is best placed to represent British Sikhs. This issue was raised repeatedly in written comments throughout the call for evidence, with many Sikhs concerned that the genuine interests of their communities are at risk of being overlooked due to public officials’ insufficient understanding of intrafaith dynamics.
The structure of Sikh communities in Britain differs significantly from some other religions because there is no official leader or religious authority for Sikhs in the UK. Instead, there is a plurality of councils, communities and groups. This complexity can create a power struggle over who will be the pre-eminent Sikh body at official levels, in government bodies.
These tensions can play out publicly, but they are not always clear to the average observer. As part of the evidence gathering for this report, politicians, public figures, academics and officials provided evidence, some of whom are high profile. Because of their fear of retribution, they spoke under the condition of anonymity, but their stories were all very similar. At times they have felt disparaged, victimised, harassed or threatened by aggressive Sikh activists who do not hesitate to abuse or bully anyone who either criticises them or does not follow or support their opinion. Many have been intimidated and called ‘traitors’, ‘impure’, ‘nastic’ (infidel) and ‘patits’ (heretics).
Members of different political parties who have served in public office have given examples of how they felt pressured to do what these activists wanted, and how some Sikh activists claim to have power over not only the ballot box, but also the selection processes of different local parliamentary and political bodies. One public servant said they would “live in fear” of retribution if they were to speak out against the ideological narrative of the activists. Others have confirmed that investigations into this type of extremist behaviour, which this report aims to present, are long overdue.
The government must take special care in understanding and wisely navigating these aspects of Sikh communities. Through improved faith literacy training for public servants, outlined in recommendation 4 of this report, government and the Civil Service will be able to more effectively discern between those who can genuinely represent the Sikh faith and those who are exploiting theSikh faith as a vehicle to promote divisive interests which fracture communities at home and abroad.’
Bloom writes, ‘The Khalistan movement is a Sikh separatist movement seeking to establish an independent and sovereign Sikh state called Khalistan (Land of the Pure) in the Punjab region of India. The movement grew in power and influence in the 1980s and 1990s. Many acts of violence and extremism occurred in the aftermath of Operation Blue Star, which remains a highly emotive issue for many Sikhs.’
The report should have put the idea of Khalistan in context. Operation Bluestar was an attack on the Golden Temple by the Indian army on one of the holiest times in the Sikh Calendar, designed to humiliate Sikhs. Thousands of Sikhs were killed or tortured to death. It was followed later in the year by the government supported genocide of Sikhs throughout India with the burning of Sikh homes, the torture and burning alive of Sikh men and the rape of Sikh women.
The revulsion to the government backed genocide in which the Indian Army declared that all practising Sikhs were legitimate targets, was, if Sikhs are treated in this way, we’ll seek a separate homeland. The reality however is that Sikh teachings which emphasise the equal rights of all communities, do not support the idea of a Sikh religious state where Sikhs have more rights than other communities. This hasn’t stopped disreputable elements in the Sikh community exploiting the still lingering sense of hurt for their own selfish ends.
Bloom continues: ‘There is a small, extremely vocal and aggressive minority of British Sikhs who can be described as pro-Khalistan extremists. This reviewer is of the opinion that every individual has the right to protest both here and abroad and values the importance of doing so within a democratic state. The promotion of pro-Khalistan ideas does not have to be subversive. There are many democratic avenues for political persuasion which do not involve manipulative threats or intimidation. However, this reviewer is deeply critical of any group which uses physical, psychological or political coercion and abuse to further its interests. While these extremists reflect a tiny minority, they attract disproportionate amounts of attention and stoke divisive sentiments in sectors of Sikh communities. This reviewer heard views that some of these groups or individuals have sought to artificially inflate their influence and legitimise dubious positions or tactics by using the ‘Sikh’ label to lobby political bodies. By circumventing democratic order, some groups compete for power by masquerading as human rights activists, presenting a false appearance of legitimacy. The use of various aliases which attempt to divert public attention away from a central umbrella organisation is a common strategy used to subvert the British political order.’
The issue of secessionist political agendas
Bloom adds: ‘Subversive activity in the UK agendas within the Indian diaspora was highlighted during the controversy over calls for an additional tick box option in the 2021 Census. The Office for National Statistics concluded that including ‘Sikh’ under ‘Other ethnic groups’ prompted concerns and suspicions about why Sikh was being separated from the Asian or Indian tick boxes, as the majority of those answering ‘Sikh’ to the religion question in the 2011 Census and the 2017 ethnic group question test ticked the ‘Indian’ ethnic group box. This was still the case when a Sikh tick box was added to the ethnic group question in testing. Attempts to change the Census have come from members of Sikh communities, but they are not reflective of the whole faith community.
Some respondents to this review claimed that the tick-box controversy bears all the traits of an extremist interpretation of pro-Khalistan ideology and has no relation to the ancient Sikh teachings of oneness, which they said contains no endorsement of an exclusive ethno-religious state called Khalistan.
Whether or not this is the case, government must have the clarity and confidence to ensure neither the Census nor the British political system become entangled in divisive or subversive agendas.
A prominent Sikh in public life, Lord Singh of Wimbledon, has also alleged deliberate ill-treatment aimed at silencing him in his recent evidence to the House of Lords Conduct Committee. He was responding to a complaint against him brought by Preet Gill MP to the House of Lords Committee on Standards’.
Preet Gill MP, a prominent Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) supporter irked by Lord Singh’s contention that Sikhism was a world religion not tied to a part of Punjab, took out a vindictive complaint against him with the ParliamentaryCommissioner for Standards. In it, she claimed Lord Singh was rude to her in front of an ONS official. This was totally denied by the official in evidence, and the case was thrown out.
Bloom writes: ‘It is difficult to prove given the complex structures and multiple aliases of various groups, but conversations with academics and political figures have given this reviewer grounds to suspect that there is at least overlap of membership between some Sikh groups operating in the UK and proscribed (or previously proscribed) groups.
In particular, this report recommends that the MPs who are in the All-Party Parliamentary Group for British Sikhs consider the findings of this report. The parliamentary authorities must do what they can to ensure that the parliamentary estate is not unwittingly hosting organisations and individuals who have been linked to bullying and harassment at best, and subversive behaviours at worst, which are antithetic to the parliamentary estate’s own values of truth, justice, peace, tolerance and democracy.’
This is an important recommendation which requires urgent action.
The APPG under the chairmanship of Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) supporter Preet Gill MP, stifled hearing of opposition voices or an open discussion with MPs on the APPG on issues like the SFUK’s ‘Sikh’ tick box Census, which might question SFUK’s stance.
The narrow focus of the SFUK on the pursuit of political power led to the APPG’s Chair and secretariat’s failure to consider the implications of the Offensive Weapons Bill (p51 of the report) on the Sikh cultural practice of presenting a full-length kirpan to an individual for making a significant contribution to the Sikh community. Nor did the Sikh Chair of the APPG pick up the omission in Parliamentary debate.
When the Bill moved to the Lords, Lord Singh of Wimbledon tabled an amendment which won the support of all parties to the annoyance of SFUK who lobbied a government minister to state in debate on the Bill that she had been fully briefed by SFUK. The implication was that she believed that this fringe body which failed to understand the implications of the Offensive Weapons Bill spoke for the wider Sikh community (At a conference in Estonia, Lord Singh, who suggested the amendment, was introduced by the then British Ambassador, as ‘the man who brought Guru Nanak to the breakfast tables of Britain’).
Bloom says, ‘The right to hold certain beliefs should always be upheld, as should the right to freedom of expression of those beliefs. But government must take extra care to ensure that the beliefs and subsequent behaviours of individuals or organisations do not conflict with or undermine democratic order.
Government must allow for the proper level of engagement with British Sikh communities, but it must also impede the advance of subversive groups which attempt to fracture majority Sikh communities and negatively affect the stability of our society. It is important that government neither overlooks nor fails to be discerning when it comes to concerns regarding extremist ties when selecting the individuals and groups responsible for representing British Sikhs at official and political levels.’
Sectarian or discriminatory behaviour in the UK
On Sikh marriages, he says ‘For generations, many Sikhs have been able to marry outside the community, including interfaith marriages, without any problems. However, some groups have sought to aggressively pressure Sikh leaders and gurdwaras to ban the use of the Anand Karaj (the Sikh marriage ceremony) for interfaith marriages. In 2007, arsonists attacked the house of a gurdwara leader in Birmingham in what was believed to be a reprisal attack for allowing a mixed marriage (despite the fact that the gurdwara claimed the man voluntarily chose to convert ahead of the wedding). During an interfaith marriage at the Leamington Spa gurdwara, a group of more than 50 men protested against the marriage. Those present at the gurdwara subsequently complained of the protestors’ very aggressive language and behaviour.’
A church marriage can only be between Christians and marriage in a Mosque between Muslims. Similarly, marriage in a gurdwara should be between those with a commitment to Sikh teachings. The Anand Karaj marriage ceremony in a gurdwara is a public commitment by both partners to live true to Sikh teachings, pledging mutual support in service to the wider community.
A marriage in a gurdwara where one, or both parties have no intention of living true to the requirements of the Anand Karaj is hypocrisy bringing the gurdwara into disrepute. Unfortunately, some gurdwaras, turn a blind eye to such a charade in pursuit of additional income. While violence and unruly behaviour is to be deplored, gurdwara congregations should do more to hold management to account.
Sikh teachings have nothing against an interfaith marriage where one partner is a non-Sikh, but this should take place in a registry office. If the bride or groom wish it for family reasons, a reception could follow in the langar hall, or the bride and groom could opt to receive a blessing from a granthi (priest).
Bloom continues, ‘Several Sikhs have previously alleged that advocacy against grooming is being used as a guise to promote anti-Muslim hatred. Some members of the Sikh community have expressed concerns that others are focusing on the reported grievance of Muslim men grooming or sexually exploiting Sikh women, sometimes with the intention of converting them, to the exclusion of other types of intra-community abuse which they worry may be going ignored.
Furthermore, a small minority of individuals connected to certain Sikh groups appear to have had historical associations with white nationalist groups such as the English Defence League and the British National Party (despite protestations to the contrary). These are likely to have centred around a common anti-Muslim agenda, including on tackling alleged Muslim grooming gangs.
Online and media content Sikh extremists and their supporters often upload videos and other materials onto social media platforms such as Facebook, iTunes and YouTube which contain alarmingly dangerous and offensive imagery, language and the glorification of extremist behaviour. There are videos that incite violence and hatred towards Muslims, Hindus and even other Sikhs who disagree with the minority extremist ideology. To avoid publicising such material, the detail is not included here.
Some of these videos depict the graphic abduction, torture and murder of Indian leaders, and multiple other videos inciting violence, retribution and the glorification of dead pro-Khalistan militants and AK47 machine guns. Some YouTube channels which spread such material have subscribers in the tens of thousands. In February 2021, Khalsa Television Ltd, which served Sikh communities in the UK, was fined £50,000 by Ofcom for failing to comply with broadcasting rules. The channel aired a music video indirectly calling for violence (including murder) and a discussion programme which provided a platform for views that amounted to indirect calls to action that were likely to encourage or incite crime or lead to disorder. The discussion programme also included a reference to proscribed terrorist organisation Babbar Khalsa, which could be taken as legitimising and normalising its aims and actions in the eyes of viewers. In 2022, Ofcom took the decision to suspend and eventually revoke Khalsa Television Ltd’s broadcasting license following multiple breaches of broadcasting rules:
“This was the third time within four years that this licensee had been found in breach of our rules on incitement to crime due to programmes inciting violence.” This involved promoting violence, including murder, as an acceptable and necessary form of action to further the pro-Khalistan cause. But crucially, there is no sign that YouTube or the UK’s counter-terrorism bodies have investigated the explicit glorification of violence and terrorism being promoted by Sikh extremists on YouTube channels and social media platforms. However, in November 2020, the government granted Ofcom the responsibility of regulating video sharing platforms.
This reviewer is of the opinion that extremist videos uploaded to the internet should be dealt with in a similar way to content that incites violence on television stations. Indeed, should the Online Safety Bill be approved, there will be ample scope for directly addressing extremist content spread by aggressive ethno-nationalist groups. 356 The impact assessment of the Online Safety Bill specifically recognises the risk of extremist content as part of the rationale for intervention, ensuring online platforms are held to account for violent, harmful and abusive content.’
Tackling the problem
‘These subversive, sectarian and discriminatory activities do not reflect the true nature of the majority of British Sikh communities, who, for the most part, are the ones adversely affected by this behaviour. There have been previous attempts to curtail this sort of activity. For example, Babbar Khalsa International was proscribed in 2001.
Babbar Khalsa International is known for its use of violent force and planned terrorist attacks, which has led to multiple arrests of suspected members in India, Canada and the United States over the last 20 years. However, International Sikh Youth Federation, which has also allegedly been responsible for assassinations, bombings and kidnappings targeting Hindus, moderate Sikhs and Indian government officials, was de-proscribed by the UK government in 2016 following an application to remove them from the list of terrorist organisations in the UK. The International Sikh Youth Federation has been banned in multiple countries and is still listed as a terrorist entity in Canada.364 As this report has previously stated, several members of Sikh communities believe there is overlap between some Sikh groups operating in the UK now, and proscribed (or previously proscribed) groups. This is extremely difficult to prove given the complex structures and multiple aliases of various groups. But nevertheless, this reviewer urges government to investigate and reconsider some of its previous conclusions regarding the activity of these groups.
This reviewer does acknowledge that it would be difficult to proscribe specific groups unless they meet the clear threshold for terrorist behaviour. But this leaves a significant policy gap that must be plugged. Government needs to take steps to define and deal with the subversive and sectarian behaviour described in this chapter, which in the opinion of this reviewer should be viewed as harmful extremism, to ensure it cannot continue or be emulated by other faith-inspired ethno-nationalist groups. Democratic order, the fabric of our society, and the ability of faith communities to live cohesively and peacefully is at risk if this is not addressed.’
‘Government should clearly define and investigate extremist activity and identify where this exists within the Sikh community, taking steps to develop a more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of subversive and sectarian Sikh extremist activity. Government should ensure that unacceptable and extremist behaviours are not inadvertently legitimised by government or parliamentary engagement. The reconsideration of previous decisions regarding the activity and legality of certain groups should be included. This will require improving faith literacy across government and the parliamentary estate, particularly on intrafaith issues, so government can be more discerning regarding engagement and representation within British Sikh communities.’
NSO Concluding Comment
1. Notwithstanding the clarifications referred to above, the Bloom Report paints an accurate picture of a largely hard-working successful Sikh community living true to egalitarian Sikh teachings of service to others and care for the elderly
2. The Report expresses concern and sadness that this positive image is marred by various groupings with limited support who exploit Sikh sentiment for political power and financial benefit, irrespective of the harm to the Sikh community
3. The report is a timely wake up call to the wider Sikh community to guard against the boorish behaviour of self-seekers, with no commitment to Sikh teachings, some of whom play on Sikh sentiment to gain political leverage, all too often through the use of gurdwara funds, but also via fund-raising activities through public campaigns on Punjabi/Sikh television channels. (There is no suggestion that this statement refers to individuals, or groups named in our wider comments on Bloom).
4. We wrote to all members of the APPG for British Sikhs (including the Chair Ms Gill) asking them for comment on Bloom, on 12th May 2023, but have not heard back. Bloom’s recommendation, ‘that the MPs who are in the All-Party Parliamentary Group for British Sikhs consider the findings of this report’ is significant and a key point from the report. We will be following up with the MPs to get a response, or will be escalating the matter, if we do not.
5. Perhaps most important of all, the Bloom Report recognises a ‘woeful lack of religious literacy’ among civil servants who advise Ministers on faith issues. There are many examples. The advice given to a government minister at the time of the Lord’s amendment on the Offensive Weapons Bill, that the Sikh Federation UK truly represented the Sikh community, is a case in point.
Yesterday, the NSO responded to some tweets referring to the Bloom report. One from Jasveer Singh suggested ‘Lord Singh of Wimbledon allowing the govt to label Sikhs “extremists”‘. This is a false and totally unfounded allegation. It shows a clear ignorance of what transpired.
To set the record straight, the Bloom report included a redacted quote from the Commissioner for Standards investigation (2021) into a malicious and failed complaint made by Preet Gill MP (a prominent Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) supporter) against Lord Singh. Lord Singh was not a respondent to the Bloom inquiry, nor was he interviewed, or contributed in any other way. Ms Gill’s malicious complaint, which was categorically rejected, is available for all to see in the public domain and can be read and cited by anyone. We do not have any control on that, and any suggestion that we do, is frankly absurd. Yes, Bloom used a redacted version of the quote as an example of how SFUK supporters treat people who disagree with them. It’s nasty, vindictive, and malicious behaviour – to steal a phrase from Bloom, one may even say ‘subversive’, but Lord Singh isn’t alone. During SFUK’s Sikh ‘ethnic’ tick box campaign respected academic Dr Jhutti-Johal from the University of Birmingham, (another prominent opponent of the campaign) was treated appallingly by SFUK and their allies.
Another Tweeter – SFUK supporter Sukhvinder Padda, yesterday tweeted a ‘Spokesperson for NSO on a Zoom meeting supported the report and the notion of make believers a term coined by Bloom for those supporting Khalistan or extremism’s’. Firstly, Sukhvinder Padda is the same person who issued an apology in 2015 for a libel against Lord Singh. One of our Deputy-Director’s, Hardeep Singh, did indeed attend the Religion Media Centre briefing Zoom call with Colin Bloom. He consciously attended this in his personal capacity as an independent commentator and journalist. His frankly innocuous question was in relation to a separate briefing from Bloom, which categorised people more broadly into hypothetical categories ‘True Believers’, ‘Non-Believers’ and ‘Make-Believers’. He did not mention any group or individual, and simply asked what the community can do to help government distinguish between the said hypothetical categories. He also made it clear that he’d not had the opportunity to ‘digest’ the report in full – let alone endorse or ‘support’ it as has been falsely claimed. He made no mention whatsoever of ‘Khalistan’ or those advocating for it. Padda’s interpretation of this innocuous preamble and question, is at total odds with what transpired and is another example of misinformation. Notably, Bloom’s response to Hardeep’s question included the words, ‘the British Sikh community are just outstanding, and some of the best people we have in the UK.’
We hope the misinformation being propagated on social media comes to a halt, and members of the Sikh community can engage in what is an important and highly sensitive matter for them, with both respect and decorum. Yesterday, the Times of India asked Lord Singh for a quote on Bloom in which he said Sikh extremism, ‘appears to have been magnified somewhat’ and ‘recent government statistics on the religion of terrorists or extremists in British prisons indicate none who identify as Sikh’.
Last night, Jasveer Singh published an apology to Lord Singh, which read, ‘I apologise to Lord Singh of @SikhMessenger for saying he’s allowed Sikhs to be labelled ‘Sikh extremism’ in the Bloom review. Since I said that, he’s said the report “magnified” Sikh extremism, also highlighting no Sikh is in UK prison for terror/extremism.’