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Image courtesy of Biteback Publishing

If ever you need a reference point on one man’s battle against institutional racism, then we recommend you get a copy of Gurpal Virdi’s book out today – Behind the Blue Line.

It is fair to say Virdi has been through it all. In 1998 as a police Sergeant in the MET he was falsely accused (and dismissed) for sending racist e-mails to himself, and other BAME officers and was subsequently exonerated. On his reinstatement to work, he says his career was essentially over because he’d spoken out and challenged racism in the police. However, what would have deterred a lesser man didn’t stop Virdi. He has successfully taken the MET to two industrial tribunals for discrimination, and bravely gave evidence to the Macpherson inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence – when he knew of the consequences. He is also the subject of the VIRDI inquiry report.

After his retirement, in 2014, he decided to enter local politics as a Labour candidate. Just before the election, he was falsely accused by the MET of a sexual offence against a minor and abandoned by many of his friends, so called colleagues and the Labour Party. He stood and won as an Independent. In 2015, a jury took 50 minutes to clear him of charges from an alleged incident in 1986. The presiding judge, His Honor Judge Andrew Goymer said a conspiracy may be behind the case. Despite his lengthy battles for justice and equality, Virdi remains a man who encompasses the Sikh ethos of chardi kala, or everlasting optimism.

We at the NSO have worked with Gurpal Virdi for many years and collaborated with him during his role at the Metropolitan Police Sikh Association (MPSA). Our Director, Lord Singh of Wimbledon was incensed at the allegations leveled against Virdi in 2014 and supported him during the trial.

We don’t often give book recommendations, but Gurpal’s journey in Behind the Blue Line is the rare exception as an injustice can happen to any one of us.

The Mirror’s recent article on grooming gangs highlights the best of British journalism, but we have filed a complaint to IPSO regarding use of the term ‘Asian’

The term ‘Asian’ continues to be regrettably used as a euphemism, when it comes to the identity of those convicted in the majority of Britain’s sexual grooming cases. The report in the Mirror last Sunday focusing in on Telford, rightly describes this horrifying issue as an ‘epidemic’. Whilst we are indebted to the investigative journalists behind this important report, the continuing smearing of ‘Asians’ per se is appalling, as the term encompasses swathes of communities from across the Indian subcontinent. This cowardly non-specific description of the perpetrators continues to be used in the British press, to describe men of predominantly Pakistani Muslim heritage convicted in grooming gang cases. We believe this is in part due to the fear of offending Muslims.

The media’s reluctance to describe perpetrators of these despicable crimes with clear and honest language, has elicited angry responses from Sikhs and Hindus, who’ve contacted us to express their outrage following the Mirror’s article. It has upset Pakistani Christians too. To put it frankly, the word ‘Asian’ gives the false impression gangs of Indian, Thai, Japanese or Korean men are rampaging across Britain sexually abusing underage white girls on an industrial scale. Is that fair? We suggest that this vague terminology isn’t only an insult, smearing innocent communities, but also serves to mask the fact that girls from Hindu and Sikh communities have historically fallen foul of grooming gangs themselves. The common denominator in such cases is the deliberate targeting of non-Muslim girls, which we believe should be categorized by the police as a hate crime.

Although we applaud the bravery of Nick Sommerlad and Geraldine McKelvie for their excellent journalism in the Mirror’s report, the NSO has reluctantly chosen to file a complaint to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), because of the liberal use of the word ‘Asian’ in the article to describe the identity of the offenders. Given the importance of their work, we did not take this decision lightly. However, we believe use of the word ‘Asian’ to describe sexual grooming by men of predominantly Pakistani Muslim heritage, whilst being both irresponsible and inaccurate, masks the real identity of those perpetrating these heinous crimes.

Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO)

(Above: graph from Dr Pannu’s paper showing mortality relates related to alcohol abuse amongst different groups)

Dr Gurprit Singh Pannu’s editorial on the consumption of alcohol amongst different groups has over the years highlighted a troubling trend for Indians, and in particular Punjabis among them. It is well known that the Scottish and Irish have higher rates of alcohol consumption compared to England and Wales. However a recent paper shared by Dr Pannu on social media indicates Indians, (of which Punjabis are the most significant proportion) have a 60% higher mortality rate from alcohol use when compared to the average in England and Wales. This startling statistic is supported by evidence that indicates higher hospital admissions rates, (including psychiatric ones) than the general public. We all have a responsibility to reduce these admissions and deaths within our community.

To be clear Dr Pannu isn’t talking about the majority of Punjabis who drink socially, but a minority who end up on a slippery slope, which eventually leads to higher mortality rates, and associated social problems. Criminality, domestic violence, workplace problems and social disorder are just some of the consequences pointed to in the paper. Just on domestic violence, according to Dr Pannu’s paper a third of all cases nationally are linked to alcohol abuse, with over one million children affected by their families problematic circumstances.

Although the consumption of alcohol is strictly prohibited in Sikhism, the Punjabi contingent highlighted by Dr Pannu of course includes those of Sikh heritage, who are culturally predisposed to drinking. This admittedly could be either Punjabi culture or British pub drinking culture, given these statistics would incorporate British born Punjabis as well as those born in India. It is interesting to note that those of Pakistani heritage, presumably because of stricter adherence to alcohol prohibitions in Islam, have significantly lower alcohol related death rates than Indians. It is a matter of huge embarrassment that non-Sikhs who attend Sikh weddings often marvel at the free flowing bottles of spirits and alcoholic beverages available at receptions, walking away with the wrong impression Sikhs are permitted to drink.

The NSO has supported Dr Pannu’s positive work over the years, and to this end we will be organising a series of workshops with experts to discuss the issue of alcohol abuse among Punjabis. We acknowledge there is a lot of good work out there already, however one of our aims will be to signpost families to access appropriate medical services and local support network’s essential for the process of rehabilitation from alcohol abuse. This knowledge must be readily accessible to all, and we look forward in working with Dr Pannu and allied healthcare professionals to address a social ill we cannot afford to ignore.

Dr Pannu said, ‘Alcohol misuse in Punjabi men is driving a large excess of admissions to general and psychiatric hospitals with 60% higher death rates than the rest of population in England. There is also evidence that Punjabis are more susceptible to organ damage caused by alcohol.’

He went on, ‘These people represent just the tip of the iceberg, with community studies showing high rates of liver damage in apparently well people. Also the associated social problems are often hidden from view. The solutions include prevention. How can we as Punjabis reduce our overall drinking to amounts similar to the general population? This is the key to stopping unnecessary pain and suffering in Punjabi families.’

The NSO’s Director Lord Singh said, ‘I am delighted to support this important initiative. Dr Pannu gave a thought-provoking presentation to a meeting of the NSO a few years back in which he highlighted the serious and disproportionate problem of alcohol abuse in the Punjabi community and we have continued to act on his advice and guidance. Despite clear warnings in Sikh teachings against the use of intoxicants, alcohol abuse is sadly all too evident among some in the Sikh community, leading to serious health effects, domestic violence and family breakdown. Many Sikhs in prisons are there for alcohol related crimes.’

He added, ‘Guru Nanak reminded us that the consumption of alcohol dims our awareness of our priorities and responsibilities. The proposed workshops recognise a real problem and will help many to get back to the direction of the Guru’s teachings.’

 

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