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UK Sikhs are deeply disappointed by the UK government’s attitude to Sikh human rights. While the present government cannot in any way be held responsible for support given by a predecessor government of 30 years ago, the present government’s statement that the assistance then given was ‘only minimal’, was deeply hurtful to Sikhs, and insensitive to others concerned with human rights.

The same seeming indifference to Sikh human rights was also evident in the House of Lords during questions on the UK government’s advocacy of a UN led investigation into human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. Director NSO, Lord Singh asked Baroness Warsi, the Senior Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, if the UK government would consider supporting a similar investigation into the highly organised mass killing of thousands of Sikhs in 1984.

Lord Singh cited evidence from the American Embassy in New Delhi that the number of Sikhs killed in just three days in 1984 exceeded the total number of victims of General Pinochet’s cruel and arbitrary seventeen year rule in Chile.

Baroness Warsi declined to answer the question, saying instead, that she had spent ‘an hour and a half’ in a meeting with the Sikh community.

Following discussions in the NSO and with other Sikh organisations, Lord Singh was asked to pursue the point and ask the UK government to show the same degree of commitment in addressing Sikh human rights, as they were showing in addressing human rights abuses against the Tamil population of Sri Lanka.

Lord Singh accordingly put a written question to Baroness Warsi, again raising the apparent lack of even-handedness. Baroness Warsi again gave a response which totally ignored the question. Lord Singh complained to House of Lords officials who agreed that his question had not been answered, and the Minister was formally requested to respond to Lord Singh’s original question.

During Questions on 26th March Adam Holloway MP asked the Prime Minister what more could be done to justice for the appalling events at Amritsar thirty years ago.

In his reply the Prime Minister acknowledged the continuing hurt to the Sikh community and described the events of 1984 as ‘a stain on the post-independence history of India’. He continued: ‘we cannot interfere in the Indian justice system, nor should we’.

As British citizens, we are entitled to a clear answer to the question put by Lord Singh, ‘why is it fine for our government to concern itself with human rights abuse in Sri Lanka but wrong for similar concern to be shown to Sikhs in India?’ Are Sikhs lesser human beings?

The Prime Minister concluded his reply with an all too familiar patronising comment: ‘The most important thing we can do in this country is celebrate the immense contribution that British Sikhs make to our country………’

The contribution detailed by the Prime Minister failed to mention the most important contribution Sikhs to society, whether here or in India. That is, in the spirit of our Gurus’ teachings, a total commitment to human rights, not only of Sikhs, but of all peoples everywhere.  The true message of Baisakhi is that we should always be ready to stand up and be counted in our concern for the human rights of all people whatever the cost. It is a commitment that cost our 9th Guru, Guru Teg Bahadur his life defending the right of Hindus to worship in the manner of their choice against Mughal persecution. It is the same commitment that led to the 1984 genocide against Sikhs for their earlier opposition to the three year dictatorship of Mrs Gandhi.

We believe that it will be a betrayal of still grieving families in India, for UK Sikhs to participate in a UK government celebration that not only ignores their trauma and suffering, but also ignores the underlying commitment to human rights central to the festival of Baisakhi.

We urge all Sikhs to boycott the Downing Street function as a charade that ignores the very meaning of Baisakhi.

STATEMENT FROM DIRECTOR: LORD SINGH OF WIMBLEDON

There is a tide in the affairs of men

                     Which taken at the flood leads on to fortune——–

  -On such a full sea are we know afloat

                                 And must take current when it serves or lose our venture

                                                                               Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

The need for an open independent inquiry into the genocide of Sikhs should be the most important demand for Sikhs in this 30th anniversary year of the Indian government’s planned massacre of Sikhs in 1984. We now have a better than ever opportunity to make this important Sikh demand a reality for the following reasons:

  • The revelation of the then UK government’s involvement, places a moral obligation on the present government to make amends by giving a measure of support for an independent inquiry, on the same lines as it is calling for a UN led inquiry into the massacre of Tamils in Sri Lanka
  • The centenary commemorations of the start of the Great War (1914-18) give an added reason to remind the UK government that 83,000 Sikhs gave their lives in the two world wars strengthening our demand for reciprocation of support
  • Wikileaks documents now available provide USA confirmation that more Sikhs were killed in just 3 days in India than in the 17 years of General Pinochet’s widely condemned cruel and arbitrary rule in Chile
  • India has a General Election in May. Two of the three main political parties have said they support an independent inquiry into the events of 1984 and Raul Gandhi, leader of the Congress Party has publically admitted that some Congress party members were involved
  • PM Manmohan Singh is also on record as speaking in the Indian Parliament on the genocide of 84 of ‘questions ‘still unanswered’
  • A General Election is to be held in the UK next year. There are sizable Sikh populations in many marginal seats and we can make it clear to political parties that Sikhs expect support for Sikh human rights

If we ignore this real opportunity, we will as Shakespeare observes, ‘lose our venture.’ This unusual combination of political developments will not occur again. UK Sikhs will betray the families of those who lost their lives in the genocide of Sikhs if we fail to make the need for an open inquiry the single- minded focus of Sikhs, to the exclusion of all side issues (including a time wasting inquiry into the minutiae of British government involvement which could take years without getting us any further).

Highlighting the Sikh Demand for an International UN-led Inquiry

My position in the Lords gives me a unique opportunity to constantly press politicians on this important issue, and with NSO support I have done this on four separate occasions. Yesterday I met the then Cabinet Secretary, Lord Butler to try to get his support, and am planning to ask a written question to Baroness Warsi as a follow up to the debate. It will not be easy but I will continue trying. One of the difficulties is the game of divide and rule, with the government saying other Sikhs are not necessarily backing the NSO demand. It is important to show Sikhs are united on this issue.

Need for Strategic Thinking

It is a matter of concern that although we are now fast approaching the June anniversary, and that May will see important elections in India, the Sikh Council appears to have no clear policy on what needs to be done. This has been admitted in recent email correspondence in which the Council asked the NSO for information on ten questions relating to background information so that they can begin consultations with constituent members.

Even more worrying, the Sikh Federation faction of the Council is actively seeking to divert attention and destroy momentum with a demand for a time wasting, judge led inquiry into British involvement that could take months, if not years without getting us any further!

In what many consider a historic House of Lords Debate on Monday 3rd March, I said all we want from the UK government is its backing for an International UN led inquiry into the 1984 genocide, on the same lines that HMG is supporting the need for a UN inquiry into human rights abuses against the Tamils in Sri Lanka.  I believe that the stance of the Federation faction of the Sikh Council in pursuing minutiae of UK involvement could prove counter-productive in alienating the UK government at a time when we need its support.

Unabashed, the Council are trying to claim credit for Monday’s historic debate in the Lords supposedly achieved with Sikh Council cooperation. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the Federation faction of the Sikh Council successfully muddied the waters by briefing Lord Triesman to shift the focus away from my demand for a UN backed inquiry into the behaviour of the Indian government, to instead, a time wasting inquiry into missing documents

Clarification

As I closed my speech in a strictly time limited debate, in which I had just 10 minutes to set the scene for the debate with a full history of the causes and details of the genocide of 1984,

I tried to impress on the government that Sikhs were united in our desire for an international inquiry and referred to the Sikh Council alongside reference to the NSO. This caused some ambiguity in the relationship of the Director NSO with the Sikh Council.

I would like to make it clear that I and the NSO have no desire to be involved with an organisation that includes factions that do not subscribe to the primacy of the Guru Granth Sahib, and on the current issue, acts in a way which I believe, seriously damages the Sikh cause. I have sympathy for Mr Kandola presiding over a group with conflicting agendas, but in this he is on his own.

My concern over the behaviour of the Sikh Council is that their lack of support may seriously harm this important Sikh demand. What I have written is backed by fact and I will be happy to debate it on any Sikh TV channel.

Conclusion

The NSO asks UK Sikhs and non-Sikhs committed to human Rights, for unqualified support for its demand for a UN-backed international inquiry into the genocide of Sikhs in 1984. It will be a betrayal of the families of victims if we allow ourselves to be deflected from this course.

Note: In preparing this statement the Network of Sikh Organisations wrote to Mr Kandola in an attempt to gain clarity on the Sikh Council’s strategy. Although Mr Kandola responded copying in colleagues, we are still no closer in understanding what their policy on the matter is. In the last communication Mr Kandola promised he would conduct consultation on the issue ending with the words ‘bear with us.’ We now understand Mr Kandola and his team have gone to India to help the UK government deal with asylum seekers.


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