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Social media campaign for Jagtar Singh Johal

The gangster-like behavior of Indian authorities in arresting a Scottish born Sikh Jagtar Singh Johal for ‘influencing the youth through social media’ is a matter of major concern to the British Sikh community.

We understand Mr. Johal’s crime was highlighting Indian government atrocities in 1984. There appears to be little other information about the circumstances surrounding his case, other than the nature of his arrest and his handling by Indian authorities. Mr Johal was on holiday in Punjab, when according to reports he had a sack thrown over his head and was bundled into a van. Days later, his newly wed wife and family were told he had been arrested.

We like his Member of Parliament Martin Docherty-Hughes, want to make sure Mr Johal is treated fairly, his family is updated about his whereabouts, and that he has access to legal representation in the event the case against him progresses. Our Director Lord Singh, will be writing to the Foreign Office to flag his concerns. It cannot be right that a British citizen is treated in this way, his family deserves answers and his wellbeing is paramount.

Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO)

[image: book launch – 1984: India’s Guilty Secret, where Lord Singh said, ‘Guru Nanak’s teachings state truth is high, but higher still is truthful living but for the British government, truth is high but higher still is trade.’]

Following the 2014 disclosures from The National Archives under the 30-year rule, there are two things clear about the Thatcher government’s role in events leading up to the storming of the Golden Temple in 1984. Firstly, the then government dispatched an SAS officer to provide military advice to the Indian Army in the run up to the attack in Amritsar (codenamed Operation Blue Star). Secondly, the British dispensed with human rights in order to secure lucrative military contracts with India, in particular the Westland helicopter deal. We believe there is little more to be gained from a full public inquiry into the Thatcher government’s role into 1984. We already know Sikhs were betrayed for financial gain, because trade trumped human rights. The real focus must surely be justice for the victims, by lobbying for a UN-led inquiry into human rights violations by the then Indian government, on similar lines to one supported by Britain for Sri Lanka’s massacre of Tamils. Why are groups like the Sikh Federation (SFUK) aiming for the wrong target?

Chronology of events and background

Following the 2014 disclosures David Cameron instructed Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood to conduct an internal government review of documents related to British involvement in the run up to Operation Blue Star. After the Heywood review, Lord Singh was invited to meet the Cabinet Secretary on 21 January 2014. 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 he’d seen documents showing the only concern of the then government seemed to be 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.

Sir Jeremy Heywood was additionally informed that Lord Singh had met a former Cabinet member back in November 1984, to express concern over the UK government’s 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’. 

On 4 February 2014, Sikh representatives met Baroness Warsi. Prior to the meeting Gurmel Kandola (Sikh Council UK) contacted Lord Singh suggesting the NSO’s Director should lead on behalf of Sikhs. However, at the meeting, Kandola maneuvered himself into position of chair, ignoring Lord Singh throughout, but giving ample opportunity for others to speak. Lord Singh was forced to interject. He unequivocally criticised the Heywood review as a ‘whitewash’ and ‘a cover up job’. Warsi responded, ‘If that’s an argument I can fight.’ Others presents including the otherwise vocal Sikh Federation were remarkably silent. A Sikh present unhelpfully felt it necessary to tell Warsi he was planning to stand for election on the Lib Dem ticket; another oddly provided a totally unrelated history lesson on Amritsar’s shrines. In an undated letter following the meeting, Warsi writes: ‘on the allegations that the UK military advice was linked to defence sales, there is no information to suggest the UK, at any level, attempted to use the fact that military advice has been given on request to any commercial objective.’

Deeply unsatisfied with Warsi’s response Lord Singh tabled a debate on the 3 March 2014 in the House of Lords. Concluding his speech he said, ‘I urge the Government to add their support for an open, independent inquiry into the massacre or genocide of Sikhs in 1984 in the same way that they are backing a UN-led inquiry into the killing of Tamils in Sri Lanka. Against this, all offers of government assistance and offers to talk to Sikhs pale into an unnecessary distraction.’ Making no commitment to Lord Singh’s request, Baroness Warsi reiterated views expressed in her undated letter following the 4 February 2014 meeting – in short SAS advice was not given for commercial gain.

Later that month on 26 March 2014, during Prime Minister’s Questions, David Cameron was asked what more Britain could do to get justice for victims of 1984. He responded by saying the events in Amritsar continue to be a ‘deep source of pain to Sikhs everywhere’ and ‘a stain on the post-independence history of India.’ He went on, ‘The most important thing we can do in this country is celebrate the immense contribution that British Sikhs make to our country, to our armed forces, to our culture and to our business life and celebrate what they do for this country.’ It was this blanket dismissal of Sikh human rights, which led to the NSO’s decision to boycott the Downing Street Vaisakhi function that year. Unsurprisingly other’s shamefully attended for photo opportunities.

We have studied the SFUK’s recent report ‘Sacrificing Sikhs’, which was launched at the APPG for British Sikhs by Preet Gill MP on 1 November 2017. It provides a significant amount of detail from previously undisclosed papers, supporting what we already know about the then British government’s foreign policy agenda – that is trade with India trumped Sikh human rights. The author Phil Miller, who was commissioned by the SFUK, says the British government is yet to declassify documents relating to India after 1985. The SFUK are pushing for further disclosure, and a full inquiry into the then British government’s involvement. We see little point in lobbying for a full inquiry or disclosure of further documents. Here’s why: Lord Saville who chaired the ten-year Bloody Sunday Inquiry and sits with Lord Singh as a crossbencher, dismissed any further inquiry into the UK role as futile. He said thirty years of looking for further information would get us no further forward.

Justice for surviving victims and their families

We urge Sikhs to rather focus their attention on getting justice for the surviving victims and their families via a UN-led inquiry into human rights abuses of the then Indian government. This is achievable, as its already been done for Sri Lanka, and Britain had an important role in lobbying for a UNHRC probe into the massacre of Tamils. Those with vested interests in UK party politics will no doubt continue to lobby Theresa May’s government for a full inquiry into the Thatcher government’s role – but they are willfully misguided.

[Ends]

References:

1.http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/Pages/OISL.aspx
2. Operation Bluestar was the codename for the Indian Army’s assault on the Golden Temple complex in 1984
3. http://nsouk.co.uk/uk-government-involvement-in-the-attack-on-the-golden-temple-and-its-failure-to-respect-the-human-rights-of-sikhs-in-the-genocide-of-1984/
4. Letter on file addressed to Gurmel Kandola of Sikh Council UK from Baroness Warsi (intended to be distributed to all attendees of the 4th February 2014 meeting), was not disclosed to us for some time, and received by the NSO from a source other than the Sikh Council or Gurmel Kandola
5. https://hansard.parliament.uk/Lords/2014-03-03/debates/14030340000202/SikhCommunity#contribution-14030340000102
6. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/04/07/sikh-uk-vaisakhi-downing-_n_5102896.html
         

(Image above right, courtesy: Kashi House)

The Network of Sikh Organisations is delighted to be hosting the official launch of Pav Singh’s eagerly awaited book, 1984: India’s Guilty Secret (published by Kashi House) in the House of Lords on the evening of 1 Nov 2017.

The event was sold out within an hour of publicity and promises to be both engaging and thought provoking. The format will include a Q&A with the author, and will be hosted by our Director Lord Singh of Wimbledon.

The book can be purchased via link below:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/1984-Indias-Guilty-Pav-Singh/dp/1911271083

Last week the government of Ontario passed a motion which officially recognizes the 1984 anti-Sikh riots orchestrated by Congress politicians as ‘genocide’.

Legislator’s in Ontario’s provincial government passed the motion which was put forward by Liberal Member of the Legislative Assembly Harinder Kaur Malhi last Thursday. The Private Members Notice of Motion number 46, was passed with a majority vote of 35 to 5.

It was first introduced last year by the New Democratic Party (NDP) Deputy Leader Jagmeet Singh, but failed to get cross-governmental support at the time.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon, who has been tirelessly campaigning for justice for the victims of 1984 said:

“We applaud the initiative of Harinder Kaur and the Ontario Legislature in describing the widespread government killings of thousands of Sikhs in India as genocide.”

He went on: “We hope that other governments will follow, resulting in an international inquiry to punish the guilty and bring closure to thousands of still grieving families.”

In a debate in the House of Lords in 2014, Lord Singh said the widespread killing of Sikhs in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination was incited by the words ‘Khoon ka Badla Khoon’, meaning ‘Take blood for blood’ on All India Radio.

At the time he informed peers: “We know all about the disappearances and killings in General Pinochet’s Chile, but a WikiLeaks document carrying a signed report from the American embassy in India shows that more Sikhs were brutally murdered in just three days in 1984 than those killed in Pinochet’s 17-year rule.”

A detailed report on the subject, 1984 Sikhs’ Kristallnacht can be found here

['The Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland': image by Gryffindor under license CC 3.0]

[‘The Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland’: image by Gryffindor under license CC 3.0]

Talk given at the Palais des Nations, the United Nations Office at Geneva [22-09-16]

Friends,
It is a real pleasure to be with you to give a Sikh perspective on Religious Literacy and Freedom of Religion and Belief today. Religion is very much in the news, often for the wrong reasons. Religion, and religious bigotry are often wrongly seen in the public mind as one and the same thing. There is therefore, a clear need for religious literacy to help us distinguish between religion and the misuse of religion.

Basic literacy
Unfortunately, instead of explaining the essentials of different religions and what motivates people of faith, the inter faith industry has made religious literacy a subject for academics who voice their understanding in highly abstruse and difficult to understand lectures and seminars. We need the basics in clearly understood language.

Let’s start with Sikhism: a little known religion in the West, although tens of thousands of Sikhs gave their lives for the West in two world wars and were briefly welcomed with smiles and flowers. Today, Sikhs are confused with Muslims and often referred to as Bin Laden, although, as you will see, they are clearly two different faiths.

Sikhism is a religion with about 25 million followers that began in Punjab some five and a half centuries ago; a religion that believes in one God who is beyond birth and timeless. Teachings stress the equality of all members of our one human family, full gender equality, rejection of all notions of race or caste and a commitment to tolerance and respect between different religions; a belief that God isn’t a bit impressed by our different religious labels, but in what we do in serving our fellow human beings. That is all anyone needs to know about Sikhs and Sikhism in my understanding of basic religious literacy.

We need to adopt the same basic approach in looking at other religions, and then go on to look for and rejoice in shared commonalities, and be aware of irreconcilable differences that should be questioned, respected, or possibly be challenged.

The real purpose of religious literacy is to remove dangerous ignorance. Prejudice thrives on ignorance and leads to irrational hate. We all know that in a fog or mist, even normally familiar objects like a tree or bush can assume sinister or threatening proportions. It is the same with people of different religions or cultures when we see them in a mist of ignorance and prejudice. Remove the fog or mist of ignorance and we see them as fellow human beings.

Let me now talk briefly about Freedom of Belief. Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights declares that we all have a human right to practice and manifest our religion, and in precept at least, it is binding on all members of the UN. Unfortunately, the Declaration is often more honoured in its breech than in observance.

There are two difficulties:

1.Secular society can, at times, be antagonistic to beliefs that they may regard as a challenge to secular politics.
2. Arrogant behaviour of religions and factions in religions that look down on both other religions and secular society.

Secular Challenge
A history of oppressive religion in France at the time of the French Revolution, led to religion being seen as a threat to material progress, leading it to it being banished to the margins of society. In France and some other countries any public manifestation of religion like a Sikh turban is banned, despite France being a signatory to the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

A European Court of Human Rights ruling that discrimination against the turban is illegal, is simply ignored. Ironically France’s narrow interpretation of secularity is similar to the narrow interpretation of religion by some religious bigots. Today we need to understand that a truly secular state is one in all systems of belief can flourish and in which no religion or system of belief dominates political life to the exclusion of others.

Sikhs reflect on this discrimination against the manifestation of religious belief as we mark the centenary of World War 1, in which tens of thousands of Sikh soldiers were briefly welcomed with flowers before going on to fight and die in the freezing and vermin infested mud filled trenches of the Somme, and in Gallipoli and other battlefields, fighting for those who now discriminate against the turban. We feel particularly bad as the Sikh turban reminds us to be true to freedom of belief, tolerance and respect for others.

Demonising of religion in schools is also counter-productive. If children do not acquire some basic religious literacy in school, they will simply carry their ignorance and prejudices to adult life. In the USA which bans the teaching of religion in schools, the first person shot in revenge for 9/11 was a Sikh. This was followed by other incidents including Sikh worshippers being shot dead in a gurdwara in Wisconsin as a result of mistaken identity. Such incidents, also suffered by other faiths, result from ignorance and prejudice.

 [Above: Right to Left, Baroness Berridge and Lord Singh during panel debate]

[Above: Right to Left, Baroness Berridge and Lord Singh during panel debate]

Religious arrogance and rivalry
Freedom of Religion does not carry a right to harm or disparage others It must conform to basic human rights including full gender equality. Historical religious texts sometimes contain harsh strictures on geographic neighbours and other faiths at a time of the early development of that faith, as well as dated social attitudes. These have become embedded not only in some religious scriptures, but also in the psyche of unthinking believers.  These need to be removed or disregarded if religion is to realise its true role in society.

As a Sikh, I believe that that a major impediment to religious harmony is the claim that the one God of us all is prejudiced or biased towards any particular faith, or that ours is the only way to God. This is not only insulting but a recipe for conflict. In the same way, the killing of innocents in the name of God, is the ultimate blasphemy.

Discussion in this area is also made more difficult by a jargon jungle of pejorative language. Words like fundamentalist, extremist, moderate, terrorist or Islamist do not enhance discussion and are simply used by governments and others to smear those they do not like. Let me give an example: Many of you will be aware that in 1984 that the Indian government pandering to latent majority Hindu racism in an election year, invaded the historic Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar on one of the holiest days in the Sikh calendar, on the pretext that it housed some ‘separatists’.

Thousands of innocent pilgrims in the vast complex were brutally killed and much of the complex destroyed. The Indian propaganda machine labelled all practising Sikhs as terrorists and even sought to pressurise those like myself abroad, protesting in the media about the Indian Government action.

Early one Sunday morning two Scotland Yard police officers knocked on my front door. I invited them in and offered them a cup of tea. Somewhat embarrassed, they asked if I was an extremist or a moderate. I replied that I was extremely moderate. Then they asked if I was a fundamentalist. I replied ‘well I believe in the fundamentals of Sikhism, like the equality of all human beings and commitment to work for greater social justice, yes I suppose I am a fundamentalist.’ The two officers finished their tea and left thoroughly confused.

Negative Political Influence
Unfortunately, politicians throughout the world also show a reluctance to be even-handed in their approach to human rights and religious freedom, basing their stance on trade and power block politics. Some examples from Britain, but it’s much the same across the world. At the time of the mass killing of Sikhs in India in 1984, I went to see the British Home Secretary who I knew well and asked him why was the government silent on this near genocide. He turned to me and said ‘Indarjit we know what is going on; we’re walking on a tightrope; we have already lost one important contract (the Westlands helicopter contract) what can we do?’

More recently, a minister in the House of Lords rose to state that Her Majesty’s Government wanted an international inquiry into human rights abuse in Sri Lanka. I rose and asked: ‘will the government support a similar international inquiry into the killing of tens of thousands of Sikhs in 1984? The minister’s dismissive response: ‘that is a matter for the Indian government’. The great human rights activist Andrei Sakharov declared: ‘that there will never be peace in the world unless we are even-handed in looking to human rights’. We should heed his sane advice.

The trumping of trade over human rights was even blatant at the time of a visiting Chinese trade delegation in 2014. The Minister then responsible for trade publically stated that: ‘when we are talking trade with China, we should not raise issues over abuse of human rights’. I have cited examples from Britain, but sadly most countries in the world behave in exactly the same way.

Conclusions
Religious literacy and inter faith dialogue is a basic need for religious harmony. It is too important to be the sole preserve of so-called scholars, or religious leaders who meet and make virtuous pronouncements, and then go away to denigrate the beliefs of their inter faith colleagues and say to their congregation that they and they alone, are the one true faith.

We also need to urgently get away from arguments of religion versus secularity. They are not mutually exclusive and can be mutually enhancing. Religion emphasises responsible behaviour and secular politics emphasises behaviour that conforms to society norms. Religion emphasises ethical values that do not change with time and can or should underpin secular society. Basic religious literacy can not only show that different religions are not all that different in ethical values, but also that our shared ethical values can help make secular society more humane and caring and our world a more peaceful place.

Lord (Indarjit) Singh, Vice Chair APPG International Religious Freedom

Note: Lord Singh’s contribution was received with rapt attention and warm appreciation. Bishop Duleep De Chickera from Colombo, was moved to comment that ‘Lord Singh’s talk was so full of common sense that I wish we had him as President of Sri Lanka‘.

He was invited to join a select Panel to talk to and take questions from national representatives the next morning

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