Where Unity Is Strength
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NETWORK OF SIKH ORGANISATIONS UK 
PRESS RELEASE
 
Truth is high, but higher still is truthful living—Guru Nanak
Truth is high, but higher still is trade—1984 UK Government.
 

London: (08 Feb 2014); On Tuesday 4th February representatives of many Sikh organisations met with Rt Hon Hugo Swire, Minister MP at the Foreign Office to express concerns over the Cabinet Secretary’s Report on revelations on UK government support for Indian Army action against Sikhs in the Golden Temple.

SUMMARY

UK Sikhs are particularly concerned that despite a promised full inquiry, the Terms of Reference of the Report appear to have been designed to mitigate embarrassment resulting from incriminating documents inadvertently coming into the public domain. The Report of the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood is selective in its examination of documentation and concludes that British involvement was minimal. No mention is made of the background of a decade of increasingly active persecution of Sikhs by the Congress government as detailed in reports by Amnesty International and other human rights organisation.

The then Cabinet’s collective bias against Sikhs in the released papers is seen in a consistent labelling of Sikhs with a pick and mix assortment of pejorative descriptions such as separatist, dissident, extremist, fundamentalist etc. to produce a negative image of the community. The documents also showed the absence of a single word of sympathy for the thousands killed in the attack on the Golden Temple on one of the holiest days in the Sikh calendar and the organised widespread killing of Sikhs later in the year. The Inquiry Report instead seeks to show minimal UK military involvement.

The unanswered question remains why and on what criteria the UK government decided to accede to the then Indian government request for military assistance against India’s 2% Sikh community.

DETAILED CONCERNS

1.    Trade of greater importance than Human Rights of Sikhs Lord Singh, Director NSO was invited to meet the Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood on 21st January. He explained the hurt and sense of betrayal felt by UK Sikhs over the revelations of British government involvement. The Cabinet Secretary’s response was that his task was simply to look at all documentation and report accordingly. When Lord Singh mentioned that the documents showed that the only concern of the then government seemed to be that a lack of support for the Indian government might jeopardise arms exports, he received the astonishing response from the Cabinet Secretary that he and his team were unaware of any arms trade implications in the papers. Lord Singh responded that he had seen several references to arms sales to India being under threat, and at the Cabinet Secretary’s request, gave his office details of a Cabinet document dated 22 November 1984, referring to a five billion pound arms contract.

·      Cabinet papers reveal several other references to arms sale concerns. A two-hour search by an NSO researcher at the National Records Office at Kew, found additional material and importantly evidence of key documents being removed. It has since been confirmed that the missing file related to ‘military intelligence relating to India for 1984’.

 

·      Lord Singh also informed Sir Jeremy Heywood of a personal experience when he went to see a former Cabinet member in November 1984 to express concern over UK government silence over the widespread organised killing of Sikhs throughout India. The staggering response was ‘Indarjit, we know exactly what is going on, it’s very difficult; we’re walking on a tightrope: we have already lost one important contract’. 

2.    Cabinet papers show that all members of the then Cabinet wilfully ignored the reality of the persecution of Sikhs in India despite evidence then available.

·      The UK consistently says that it does not interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign countries. Yet a policy decision seems to have been taken by the 1984 Cabinet to give unquestioning support to a Congress government with democratically tainted credentials in military action against India’s minority Sikh community. The decision ignored widely available evidence of the systematic persecution of Sikhs. This freely available evidence included:

·      A detailed report by Amnesty International in 1983 (AI Index: ASA 20/01/84 Distr: SC/CO) documenting widespread human rights abuses by the government.

·      A Report by highly respected Hindu civil rights lawyers entitled ‘Who Are the Guilty’, was smuggled out of India in November 84 and personally placed by Lord Singh in the pigeonholes of every MP.

·      A presentation was also given to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights who unanimously decided to send a two man investigating team to India. The Indian Government refused them visas. They appealed saying that their inquiry would help reduce tensions in the UK. They were still refused visas.

3.    Censorship of foreign journalists.

·      Jane Corbyn, a highly respected journalist from Channel 4, in India at the time of the organised killing of Sikhs in the first week of November, had her film confiscated by the Indian authorities. She did however manage to smuggle a duplicate copy to the UK. This censorship of foreign journalists is mentioned in the documents and was only relaxed after the end of the organised killings of Sikhs throughout India.

·      Perusal of the released papers also reveals Cabinet discussions on the need to curb the UK media against allowing any reporting or interviews about or with Sikhs that might offend the Indian government.

·      Unhelpful use of pejorative language in Cabinet papers to tarnish the image of UK Sikhs.

·      Reading through the documents gives the impression that anyone who expressed concern over the plight of Sikhs in India was immediately labelled an extremist by the UK government.

·      The papers show several examples of government pressure on the media to deny Sikhs a voice.

·      This use of pejorative language to smear a religious minority (referred to earlier) is underlined by Lord Singh’s personal experience. In November 84, two Scotland Yard officers visited him early on a Sunday morning. They said they were concerned about tensions in the Sikh community and asked Lord Singh if he was ‘an extremist or a moderate’? To emphasise the absurdity of such terms he replied he was ‘extremely moderate’. They then asked if he supported Sikh fundamentalism, to which he replied that the fundamentals of Sikh teachings were about the equality of all human beings, respect for other ways of life and a commitment to work for the betterment of society, ‘Yes I do try to be a Sikh fundamentalist’.

ACTION DESIRED

The present government cannot be blamed for what happened 30 years ago. But the Cabinet in 1984 must have been aware that the day chosen for the attack on the Golden Temple was the martyrdom anniversary of Guru Arjan, (the founder of the Golden Temple) when the huge Temple complex was full to overflowing with innocent pilgrims. The reason given was to remove supposed extremists. The unanswered question is why then were 40 other gurdwaras in Punjab attacked at the same time? Today the UK government should reflect on the continuing hurt of the Sikh community, including the then government giving unthinking support to the cruel and vindictive Mrs Gandhi. To many outside the Sikh community, the events of 1984 are, in the words of the poet, ’dying embers’; to Sikhs they remain ‘red hot coals’ now fanned afresh by the revelation of British government involvement.

The events of 1984 damaged the previous close relationship and mutual respect between the Hindu and Sikh communities. 30 years after the event it is time for an open, independent inquiry that that punishes the guilty and leads to healing and closure.

Two of the three main political parties in India have openly declared their support for such an inquiry, and even Raul Gandhi speaking for the Congress has agreed that there was Congress involvement in the genocide.

Sikhs in the UK call on the government and UK political parties to give their strong backing for a long due open inquiry. In response to a question from Paul Uppal MP, in the Commons, the Foreign Secretary obliquely supported the need for such an inquiry; it should now be given support at the highest government level.

Sikhs are duty bound to stand up for the human rights of all people (Sarbat Da Bhalla), and in this spirit we call on the UK government to show that the subordination of human rights to arms sales to any part of the world is no longer present policy. If the UK government does not do this it forfeits any moral right to lecture other countries on the abuse of human rights.

All Sikh Organisations that attended the Foreign Office briefing showed heartening unanimity in their statements. If we can maintain this unity, we have a real chance in meeting our common objective of an open independent inquiry into the holocaust of Sikhs in 1984.

 
                             ———————————————————
 [Ends]
 
Notes to Editors.
1.      The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) is a registered charity that links more than 130 Gurdwaras and other UK Sikh organisations in active cooperation to enhance the image and understanding of Sikhism in the UK.
 
Hardeep Singh
Press Secretary
The Network of Sikh Organisations
http://nsouk.co.uk

Please see this link which includes a BBC Television interview with Lord Singh

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-26027631

Golden Temple attack: UK advised India but impact ‘limited’

The Golden Temple is the holiest shrine for SikhsThe Golden Temple is one of the holiest shrines for Sikhs

British military advice was given to India ahead of the 1984 deadly attack on a Sikh temple but it had only “limited impact”, MPs have been told.

Foreign Secretary William Hague was delivering the findings of a review into claims an SAS officer helped Delhi plan the raid which killed hundreds.

The storming of the Golden Temple in the city of Amritsar was intended to flush out Sikh separatists.

Mr Hague said UK assistance was “purely advisory” and given months beforehand.

The inquiry was launched last month after declassified documents were said to suggest Margaret Thatcher’s government was involved in planning the raid, called Operation Blue Star.

Official figures put the death toll at 575, but Mr Hague said other reports suggested “as many as 3,000 people were killed including pilgrims caught in the crossfire”.

William Hague said a review had concluded British advice had “limited impact” on the Amritsar operation

“This loss of life was an utter tragedy,” he said.

“Understandably members of the Sikh community around the world still feel the pain and suffering caused by these events.”

Continue reading the main story

Analysis

image of Sanjoy MajumderSanjoy MajumderBBC News, in Delhi

The military commander who led Operation Blue Star, Lt Gen Kuldeep Singh Brar, has told the BBC that he had no knowledge of any advice from Britain to India.

In 2007 a former Indian intelligence officer, B Raman, claimed agents from the UK’s MI5 had visited the Golden Temple four months before the raid. The UK government review appears to corroborate the claim that a British adviser was sent.

But it also appears that the British advice was limited to a few people and certainly not shared with military commanders.

In India, Operation Blue Star has always been seen as a military disaster, which led to the loss of hundreds of lives – including those of civilians – and to the eventual assassination of the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

The latest revelations will only lead to more questions about the assault on the Golden Temple, why it was a disaster and if, in fact, it could have been averted.

Delivering his statement, Mr Hague set out the UK’s involvement in planning for the raid.

He told the Commons that the British government had received an urgent request for help from Indian authorities who wanted to regain control of the temple from Sikh militants.

In response, an unnamed British military adviser was sent to India in February 1984, and he recommended any attack should be a last resort, MPs heard.

The adviser suggested using an element of surprise, as well as helicopters, to try to keep casualty numbers low – features which were not part of the final operation, Mr Hague said.

No equipment or training were offered, Mr Hague said, and the Indian plan “changed significantly” in the following three months, to cope with a considerably larger dissident force and extensive fortifications within the temple complex.

The investigation, carried out by Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, involved searching 200 files and 23,000 documents.

Prime Minister David Cameron said: “I hope the manner in which we have investigated these dreadful events will provide some reassurance to the Sikh community, here in Britain and elsewhere.”

He added: “A single UK military officer provided some advice. But critically, this advice was not followed, and it was a one-off.”

Retired Lt Gen Kuldeep Singh Brar, who led Operation Blue Star, maintains he had no advice or support from Britain.

“If some things went around months earlier or weeks earlier with other agencies, intelligence agencies, I am not aware of them,” he told the BBC.

“From the time I was given command of Operation Blue Star until I planned it and executed it, let me emphatically tell you that there was no involvement whatsoever as far as the British are concerned.”

Indian army soldiers in the Golden Temple after the attack in June 1984Indian army soldiers moved to flush out Sikh separatists from the Golden Temple in June 1984

Paul Uppal, the UK’s only Sikh MP, said many Sikhs would be “relieved that it was just purely advice that was given”.

He praised the speed and thoroughness of the review and said it could be an “important step” towards “some closure” for Sikhs.

But Lord Indarjit Singh, director of the Network of Sikh Organisations, called Mr Hague’s statement “smug and condescending”.

On the claim that UK advice had a “limited impact” of the Golden Temple attack, Lord Singh said: “It is like saying that I had only a minimal involvement in a massacre or a holocaust.”

He said the language in the documents was “insulting” to Sikhs – suggesting they were all extremists – and the UK’s real motivation in assisting India was keeping its arms contracts.

But Mr Hague said the review had found “no evidence” UK military advice in February 1984 had been “linked to defence sales or any other policy issue”.

Lord Singh, Network of Sikh Organisations: “Why should Britain be involved in the attack on a religious minority”

Jasvir Singh, director of the City Sikhs Network, which represents Sikh professionals in the UK, said the information disclosed in the review “harks back” to colonial times.

“I think there are lots of people in the Sikh community who are upset that the British could be involved in this, even to a limited extent,” he said.

Mr Singh said many details about British involvement in the 1984 attack were still unclear, and called for “transparency” from the authorities.

UK Sikh groups have said the government review should have looked not only at June 1984 but also the events that followed, and Mr Singh also criticised this “narrow scope”.

Continue reading the main story

Storming of the Golden Temple

  • 1982: Armed Sikh militants, led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, take up residence in the Golden Temple complex
  • 3-8 June 1984: The Indian army attacks the Golden Temple, killing Bhindranwale, his supporters and a number of civilians
  • 31 October 1984: Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who had given the go-ahead to Operation Blue Star, was assassinated by two Sikh bodyguards
  • November 1984: More than 3,000 are killed in anti-Sikh riots across India

The Indian government said the UK had kept it “informed on this matter”.

“We have noted the report and the statement made,” an Indian foreign ministry spokesman said.

Indira Gandhi assassinated

David Cameron ordered the review last month after Labour MP Tom Watson said he had seen papers from Margaret Thatcher “authorising Special Air Services (SAS) to work with the Indian government”.

Mr Watson cited two letters released under the 30-year rule. He said a 1984 letter from the prime minister’s office stated that a British adviser had “visited India and drawn up a plan” which had been approved by the Indian government.

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said “serious questions” remained about British involvement, and called for all relevant documents to be released.

The Sikh separatists at the Golden Temple in 1984 had been demanding an independent homeland – called Khalistan – in Punjab.

In October 1984 Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in what was thought to be a revenge attack for what happened at the Golden Temple.

A month later, more than 3,000 people were killed in anti-Sikh riots across India.

London: (02 Feb 2014)

In a recent rally in India Rahul Gandhi was reported to say some congress politicians ‘were probably involved’ in the Delhi anti-Sikh pogroms in 1984.

Asked to comment by the Times of India Lord Singh said:

“I welcome Rahul Gandhi’s statement accepting that that ‘some Congressmen were probably involved’ in the November 84 genocide of Sikhs. He also agrees that the attacks on Sikhs were unwarranted and evil. In view of this will Rahul Gandhi institute an open inquiry as to why no action was taken against a spokesman on All India Radio repeatedly called for the killing of Sikhs with the words ‘khoon ka badla khoon’? Similar incitement in Rwanda led to a lengthy imprisonment by the International Criminal Court.”

He added: “In view of the need to improve relations between the Hindu and Sikh communities, will Mr. Gandhi agree to an open and independent Truth and Reconciliation Inquiry into the events of 1984 that moves to punish those responsible for violence on either side so that we can move to closure on this unfortunate period in Indian History?”

 [Ends]

Notes to Editors.

1.      The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) is a registered charity that links more than 100 Gurdwaras and other UK Sikh organisations in active cooperation to enhance the image and understanding of Sikhism in the UK. 

Hardeep Singh
Press Secretary
The Network of Sikh Organisations 
www.nsouk.co.uk
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