Once again Sikhs throughout the world are celebrating the festival of Vaisakhi, one of the most important days in the Sikh calendar. Vaisakhi is a tale of brave martyrdom followed by the challenge of new beginnings.
The story of Vaisakhi begins with the martyrdom in Delhi of Guru Teg Bahadur, 9th Guru of the Sikhs, whose 400th birth anniversary we are celebrating this month. The Guru, who disagreed with many aspects of Hindu teachings was publicly beheaded by the Mughal rulers for trying to protect the Hindu community’s right to freedom of belief and worship. The Mughal emperor then challenged the Sikhs who at that time, had no distinguishing appearance, to claim their master’s body. But in the event no one came forward. The Guru’s young son Gobind now became Guru, and as he grew into manhood, he constantly stressed that Sikhs should always be ready to stand up for their beliefs, however difficult the circumstances. Then he decided to put the community to the test.
On Vaisakhi day three centuries ago, as crowds were celebrating the gathering of the spring harvest, the Guru, sword in hand, asked for anyone willing to give his life for his faith, to come forward. A brave Sikh stepped forward and accompanied the Guru into a tent. To everyone’s dismay, the Guru then emerged alone, his sword apparently covered with blood, and asked for a second volunteer. After five Sikhs had come forward, the Guru again emerged from the tent. To everyone’s joy he was now followed by all five Sikhs who were clearly alive and well and dressed in turbans and other symbols that have ever since formed a uniform or badge of Sikh identity.
The Guru was clearly overjoyed. The infant Sikh community had proved its courage and he was now confident that it could now continue to flourish, if it remained true to the teachings of our Gurus and the Guru Granth Sahib, while being on its guard against those who wish to distort or destroy the independence of Sikh teachings.
We have survived many direct challenges before. Today the threat is from India’s PM, Narendra Modi, a lifetime follower of the RSS agenda to turn India into a Hindu State. Disguised as praise for Sikh teachings, and aimed at absorbing Sikh teachings into Hinduism, it poses an insidious threat. The clue is in the PMs own words.
He writes – “our Sikh Guru tradition is a philosophy of life in itself.”
What does an extremist Hindu leader of a supposedly secular country that has passed discriminatory laws against Muslims, mean by ‘our’ Sikh Guru?
Guru Arjan emphasised independent Sikh identity when he wrote:
‘I neither keep the Hindu fast; nor the Muslim Ramadan. I serve the one God who is both Allah and Ram.’
The Guru taught that Sikhism cannot be caged in Hinduism or any other belief system. On this anniversary of Vaisakhi, we should pledge ourselves to resist both threats and blandishments; and live and promote Sikh teachings of equality, tolerance, and freedom of belief in a world that has lost its ethical direction.
Lord Singh of Wimbledon, Director, Network of Sikh Organisations
JUSTICE COMMITTEE HATE CRIME AND PUBLIC ORDER (SCOTLAND) BILL
SUPPLEMENTARY SUBMISSION FROM NETWORK OF SIKH ORGANISATIONS
The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) is a registered charity no.1064544 that links more than 130 UK gurdwaras and other UK Sikh organisations in active cooperation to enhance the image and understanding of Sikhism in the UK.
This submission is supplementary to our original REF: J/S5/20/HC/1756 dated 17th September 2020 and our 2nd submission dated 16th November 2020 REF: J/S5/20/HC/1771, which followed the oral hearing on 10th November 2020 in which our Deputy-Director Hardeep Singh gave evidence to the Justice Committee alongside several other organisations. This 3rd submission is in response to consideration of options tabled for a new overarching free speech clause, which has been proposed by the Secretary for Justice.
1.1Previously agreed clause for protecting free speech when it comes to matters of religion and belief
We are surprised that only two of the options offered for review as a ‘catch all’ free speech provision by the Secretary for Justice, include an already agreed amendment when it comes to protecting free speech when discussing matters of religion and belief. This was approved unanimously by the committee last week and something we raised along with others in oral evidence to the Justice Committee, and in our previous written submissions. The new and controversial ‘stirring up hatred’ offences must include free speech clauses to protect speech beyond merely ‘criticism’ and ‘discussion’ of religion. The previously agreed amendment would have provided greater protection to expressions of ‘antipathy’, ‘ridicule’, ‘dislike’ or ‘insult’ of religion or belief and brought this free speech protection (in the Hate Crime and Public Order Bill) in line with an equivalent clause in section 29J of the Religious Hatred Act 2006[i] (England & Wales).
During the oral evidence session on 10th November 2020 Anthony Horan Director, Catholic Parliamentary Office of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, Neil Barber, spokesperson for Scotland, National Secular Society (NSS) , Kieran Turner, Public Policy Officer, Scotland, Evangelical Alliance, and our Deputy-Director Hardeep Singh all supported the echoing of freedom of speech provisions in English law, when it comes to religion and belief.[ii] This was later agreed as an amendment by the committee. It is frankly remarkable how this now appears to have been rescinded in two of, ‘four options for freedom of expression provision.’[iii] We are not alone in our astonishment and disappointment at this development – our allies in the Free to Disagree Campaign, the NSS have rightly described this development as ‘perplexing and farcical.’[iv]
1.2 More time is required to consider the ‘catch all’ free speech clauses
We are alarmed by the speed in which this critical part of the public consultation is now being conducted. Our Deputy-Director was a signatory to a letter calling for deferring scrutiny of the draft stirring up hatred offences proposals until after the May election.[v] This stage of the public consultation was announced on 18th February 2021, and evidence in response to the ‘catch all’ free speech provision has been given the deadline of 10:00 Monday 22nd February 2021. This is only two working days and simply not sufficient notice to provide these ‘catch all’ free speech clauses the attention they deserve. There are also questions as to why the free speech defence for religion and belief (in two of the proposed provisions) which mirrors English law, has not been expanded to other protected characteristics in which only ‘discussion or criticism’ is protected. This not only creates a clear hierarchy of free speech defences but puts those who for example, want to air strong opinions on transgender issues/women’s rights in serious difficulty if this legislation is enacted.
1.3Parliamentary scrutiny and procedure on previously agreed free speech clause for religion and belief
We would also like to understand the mechanism and process by which the previously agreed free speech clause for religion and belief, has essentially been shelved in all but two of the proposed ‘catch all’ clauses. It would indeed be helpful if an explanation is provided by the Secretary for Justice during the oral evidence session scheduled at 14:30 on 22nd February 2021.
JOINT PRESS RELEASE: GLOBAL SIKH COUNCIL & NETWORK OF SIKH ORGANISATIONS UK
We are writing to express our admiration and full support for hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers and their supporters from all walks of life. Despite the winter cold, and police oppression, they have been demonstrating for the months against unjust laws that threaten their livelihoods. Their courageous stand against injustice gives hope for an end to the systematic erosion of democracy in India.
India’s abuse of human rights The farmers’ cause is just and is fully supported by leading figures in the judiciary, high-ranking civil servants, university and college lecturers, trade unionists, Indians abroad and government spokesmen in the UK and Canada. As a UK spokesman put it, ‘the right to peaceful demonstration is a basic human right’. The response of the Modi government to this basic human right has been widespread use of tear gas, water cannons, and police brutality against peaceful protesters. There is now a call for India to be expelled from the Commonwealth for its flagrant abuse of human rights.
Many will be unaware that Narendra Modi is a supporter of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a fascist group modelled on the Hitler Youth Movement. In 2002, he was Chief Minister at the time of the infamous Gujarat ‘riots’, which led to the slaughter of thousands of Muslims. For some years he was barred from entry to the USA and UK. Today, RSS thugs or ‘goons’ are collaborating with rogue Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters and are being given a free hand to beat and maim peaceful protesters including women and the elderly. The farmers’ peaceful protest has captured the world’s admiration in the way it looks to the wellbeing not only of the protesters, but also in the way food and medical assistance is offered to the attacking police.
On India’s Republic Day (26 January), India’s compliant police following orders, removed barricades and opened the large steel gates to the Red Fort to allow known BJP activists to enter as supposed farmer activists to enable the government to smear the protesters as anti-national. Brave reporters in India’s tightly controlled media, who drew attention to this absurdity or questioned government action have been harassed and arrested. Many have had their social media accounts blocked and some have disappeared without trace.
The farming laws India’s farmers have long been exploited by greedy middlemen. The Modi government saw this an opportunity to ‘reorganise’ farming. These laws blatantly allow billionaire businessmen who are also party supporters to control the supply and distribution of agricultural produce throughout the country in a way that would leave farmers virtual serfs on their own land.
• The laws were rushed through Parliament with no time given for proper scrutiny or debate. • They laws are clearly unconstitutional. The Constitution states that agriculture is a devolved responsibility of individual States, not the central government. • The laws have been condemned as unconstitutional by senior members of the judiciary. • The laws abolish the minimum support price given to farmers. • The laws allow for no right of appeal. • Two close billionaire friends of Modi, with a pre-knowledge of the government’s intentions, brought huge sites in Punjab to build giant silos for the long-term storage of grain allowing for price rigging and manipulation. • Today, in Modi’s India, 1% of India’s population owns nearly half the country’s wealth.
Erosion of democracy in Modi’s India We are deeply concerned by the government’s dismissive attitude to the requirements of its secular constitution and the human rights of its people. The Citizens Amendment Act, in its appeal to majority bigotry, deprived more than a million Muslims of their citizenship with Home Minister Amit Shah referring to Muslim refugees as ‘termites’. This was followed by the repeal of Article 370 placing Kashmir under military rule.
The highly respected human rights organisation Amnesty International has been expelled from India to prevent it reporting on the growing abuse of human rights. Amnesty commented, ‘It is a dismal day when a country of India’s stature, a rising global power and a member of the UN Human Rights Council, with a constitution which commits to human rights and whose national human rights movements have influenced the world, so brazenly seeks to silence those who pursue accountability and justice’.
Urgent action required India’s farmers’ brave stand against injustice is fast becoming a people’s movement for the restoration of democracy and human rights in India. We pledge them our full support. Those of us living abroad have a particular responsibility to support a movement that has at least 67 lives lost already through cold weather and lack of medical supplies.
While calling on governments around the world to condemn India’s repressive behaviour, we urge Mr Modi to commence urgent talks with farmer’s leaders to meet their genuine concerns.
Lord Singh of Wimbledon CBE, Member of House of Lords UK Parliament – Director, Network of Sikh Organisations (UK)
Lady Singh, Kanwaljit Kaur, President Global Sikh Council
As UK faith representatives, we support the persistent efforts of Home Secretary Priti Patel who has in the face of some considerable opposition decided to release the government report on, ‘Group based child sexual exploitation characteristics of offending.’[i] The Home Office report talks of ‘othering’ of victims by perpetrators, but remarkably failed to address one of the more obvious motivations behind street based sexual grooming gangs in the UK – that is culture linked to religion.
We believe the evidence overwhelmingly points to an inconvenient truth that non-Muslim girls (this includes Sikh, Hindu, and Christian heritage girls) have been systematically targeted in Britain, and this aspect of ‘othering’ is culturally motivated hatred. We implore the Home Secretary to have the courage to explore this element, which is critical in understanding the motivations behind street based sexual grooming gangs like those convicted in Rochdale, Rotherham, Telford and Oxford. It is important that we listen to the voice of Muslim leaders like Baroness Warsi, who bravely said, ‘a small minority’ of Pakistani men see white girls as ‘fair game’.[ii]
Victims and others concerned are increasingly speaking out. A Rotherham survivor said she was called a ‘white slag’[iii], and in evidence given to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is quoted to have said perpetrators viewed, ‘kaffir girls as worthless’.[iv] (‘Kaffir’ is a derogatory term for non-Muslims). Judge Gerald Clifton who sentenced men in Rochdale in 2012, made a similar observation in sentencing remarks. He said the men had targeted their victims because they were not part of the offenders’ ‘community or religion.’[v]
Since the 1980s British Sikh and Hindu communities have suffered at the hands of Pakistani grooming gangs.[vi],[vii] A television report on BBC1’s Inside Out programme in 2013 explored this issue – in particular, the targeting of Sikh girls.[viii] In the same year there was a conviction of men with mainly Muslim names in a case in Leicester, in which a Sikh girl was being abused above a restaurant called the Moghul Durbar.[ix],[x]
The establishment’s perceived obfuscation on the issue of race and religion, has created an opportunity for Britain’s far right activists to have a stake in this debate,[xi] in which they unfairly blame Muslims in general. They also blame others from the sub-continent for the behaviour of a minority of Muslims who use a misunderstanding of Islamic teachings to justify the negative treatment of women of other faiths and cultures.
We believe moderate voices in all communities have a duty to promote an open and honest dialogue about the racial and religious drivers behind these crimes, which will help strengthen the image and standing of the majority of British Pakistani Muslim men, who are law abiding citizens.
The Home Office must prioritise this in any subsequent research into the characteristics of those convicted in high profile sexual grooming gang cases, while showing support and understanding to those survivors who are brave enough to speak out about it.
Lord Singh of Wimbledon CBE, Director – Network of Sikh Organisations
Anil Bhanot OBE, Interfaith Director – Hindu Council UK
Rajnish Kashyap MCICM, General Secretary – Hindu Council UK
Arun Thakur, President – National Council of Hindu Temples UK
We at the Network of Sikh Organisations UK offer the Sikh community warmest greetings on the auspicious occasion of the birthday of Guru Gobind Singh ji, the tenth Guru of the Sikhs.
Guru Gobind Singh’s life was one of an unwavering commitment to uplifting ideals; a life dedicated to the pursuit of social and political justice, freedom of belief, and the equality of all human beings, including importantly, the dignity and complete equality of women. The message of his life and teachings carry invaluable guidance for all humanity and are of particular relevance to a world gripped with fear and uncertainty during the raging COVID-19 pandemic.
At such times it is easy to ignore the needs of others. The Guru in applauding Bhai Kanhaiya for looking to the enemy wounded in battle, reminded us of our responsibility even in the most difficult of circumstances, to always look to the needs of others. It’s a message taken up by Sikhs throughout the world with the media recognising the huge contribution of Sikhs in helping those suffering in various parts of world. This includes feeding hungry lorry drivers stranded in Dover, and giving food, medicine and clothing to farmers shivering in the winter cold of Delhi in a mass protest against new agricultural laws which risk depriving them of their livelihoods.
Today, we remember how Guru Gobind Singh in his quest for truth and justice lost his mother and four sons but never became despondent, nor gave up. He however gave us the important Sikh teaching of ‘Chardi Kala’, or eternal optimism.
Today it is important that we reflect on the Guru’s life and teachings. They can carry us to a better future.
The Home Office’s research paper into ‘Group-based Child Sexual Exploitation Characteristics of Offending’ was published earlier this week, but it fails to acknowledge one of the well evidenced motivations behind grooming gangs like those in Rochdale and Rotherham – the religion and culture of the perpetrators.
The report talks of ‘othering’ of victims to justify abuse but fails to accept this also involves ‘othering’ of non-Muslim girls who are considered fair game and worthless. Their abuse is justified by the perpetrators because they are considered inferior. This religion-linked justification empowers the perpetrators who feel they have impunity, whilst sustaining the persecution of the victims. The Home Office’s failure to acknowledge this important driver is most peculiar, given it is clear from the testament of victims (in places like Rotherham), and in the conclusions of the judge in Rochdale, who said the perpetrators targeted their victims because they were outside of their community and religion. In failing to consider this important aspect, the victims have been failed yet again.
For years we’ve highlighted that it’s not only white girls who’ve been targeted by predominantly Pakistani heritage Muslim gangs in street-based sex grooming – it is something that has been an issue for Sikh and Hindu communities for decades, and one that has regrettably triggered vigilante responses by young Sikh men, some of whom have been sent to prison as a result.
Whilst we acknowledge perpetrators come from various ethnic backgrounds, the high-profile cases like Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford and Telford (to name a few) have involved mainly Pakistani heritage Muslim men and showed a now well-established pattern of criminality which has blighted our country over the last few decades. We understand that it has been difficult to obtain meaningful data on ethnicity of perpetrators, and this has limited the inquiry’s exploration into characteristics of offenders. In fact, in the report’s foreword, Home Secretary Priti Patel writes, ‘Some studies have indicated an over-representation of Asian and Black offenders. However, it is difficult to draw conclusions about the ethnicity of offenders as existing research is limited and data collection is poor.’
We want to reiterate our position on the vague word ‘Asian’ (which has been used in the report several times), which is offensive to Sikhs and Hindus. This issue has at least now been recognised by the Editors’ Codebook – guidelines which accompany the Editors’ Code of Practice, which are rules the reporting print media has to follow, and is regulated by The Independent Press Standards Organisation.
It’s time for the Home Office to accept religiosity is one of the drivers behind high-profile sex grooming gangs. If they choose to turn a blind eye, they not only do a disservice to the victims, but fail to build on perpetrator profiles, which will no doubt assist law enforcement agencies now and in the years to come.
Over the last few years, we’ve been lobbying for change in the Editors’ Code of Practice which sets out the rules that newspapers and magazines regulated by The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) have agreed to follow. Our issue has been in relation to the print media’s regular and misleading use of the vague word ‘Asian’ to describe those convicted in grooming gang cases in towns like Rotherham, Rochdale, Telford, and Oxford. The perpetrators in such cases have been almost always men of Pakistani Muslim heritage.
We are pleased to say we have succeeded. The latest edition of the Editors’ Codebook (the handbook which accompanies the code) has made a recommendation under the ‘accuracy section’ which reads, ‘Editors may be well advised to approach crimes committed by people identified as members of religious or racial communities with caution – and to be aware that their reporting may, in turn, prompt concern in other communities.’ It goes on, ‘British Sikh and Hindu groups have objected to the use of the word ‘Asian’ to describe those convicted in sexual grooming gang cases. While accurate, it is better to avoid such general descriptions but this may not always be possible,’[i] Although this is a non-binding recommendation – editors will have to pay attention to it when reporting such matters from January 1st, 2021.
Our long running campaign emerged in 2012, when we issued a joint statement the Hindu community to complain about the term, which was reported by the BBC.[ii] The following year we coordinated a petition on the matter following comments from the then MP for Rochdale Simon Danczuk. The petition was reported in The Times.[iii] In 2015 we coordinated a letter published in The Times ‘Sexual grooming and the culture of denial’, which not just challenged the vague term ‘Asian’ but also highlighted that both Sikh and Hindu communities have themselves suffered at the hands of grooming gangs. In 2017, our Director Lord Singh came to the defence of Sarah Champion, the MP for Rotherham who was forced to quit the front bench after pointing out that many perpetrators of sex crimes involving street-grooming were of Pakistani origin, his intervention was supported by Hindu and Christian organisations and was reported in The Times.[iv]
In 2018, we filed a complaint with IPSO for an article in the British tabloid the Mirror that used the term ‘Asian’ six times when describing what the paper termed ‘Britain’s ‘worst ever’ child grooming scandal’, in which approximately 1,000 girls were sexually groomed.[v] At the time we wrote, ‘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?’ The complaint was not upheld because IPSO said ‘Asian’ was accurate, nonetheless our complaint triggered complaints from the Hindu and Christian Pakistani community. At this point we knew change was urgently needed.
From around 2018 we raised the issue with IPSO and subsequently produced a Journalists’ guide to Sikhism[vi] (hosted by IPSO on their website which highlighted our concerns on the matter in one section). Our Director Lord Singh of Wimbledon also met the then IPSO Chair Sir Alan Moses, and we subsequently filed a submission (April 2020) to The 2020 Editors’ Code of Practice review in which we specially asked for an acknowledgment of the Sikh and Hindu concerns in editorial guidelines when it comes to the reporting of grooming gangs. We have consistently written about the issue in the media and our efforts with support from our allies have come to fruition.
We’d like to thank the following organisations and individuals for their support over the years. The Hindu Council UK, The Hindu Forum of Britain and in particular Anil Bhanot, Ashish Joshi, Mohan Singh, Trupti Patel and Satish K Sharma. They have all played an important role in making this change happen and have celebrated this success with us. We are grateful for their commitment. Remarkably, in contrast there has been a deafening silence from organisations who purport to represent Sikh interests, who have been distracted with nonsensical ideas like ‘ethnic’ tick boxes, and others who are involved in the interfaith industry, or want to cosy up to civil servants and give the impression they are somehow ‘community leaders’.
Now we have this important recommendation in place which goes as far as asking editors to ‘avoid’ using ‘Asian’, the work is not over. We must now hold journalists, editors, and publications to account when they insist on reporting on grooming gangs as they have previously done so. The good news is we can now point to The Editors’ Codebook in our correspondence which provides a compelling reason to ditch the fudge ‘Asian’.
Gurpurb vadhiya on this anniversary of the birth of Guru Nanak the founder of Sikhism.
At the time of Guru Nanak’s birth, religions both in the West and East were engulfed in bitter rivalry with each claiming a monopoly of truth and a special relationship with God. In his very first sermon Guru Nanak taught:
Na koi Hindu, na koi Mussalman
That is, in God’s eyes there is neither Hindu nor Muslim. That God is not interested in our different religious labels but in what we do to make the world a better place.
Guru Nanak taught that to move in this direction, we must be committed to freedom of belief and respect for those of different faiths, the equality of every human being, gender equality and a life committed to the service of others. Guru Nanak’s uplifting teachings were not only for the people of Punjab or India, but for the whole world.
Today with a virulent COVID-19 pandemic engulfing the world, and with democracy and human rights under assault in many countries, we need to reflect on the Guru’s positive guidance for a fairer and more peaceful world.
This year’s commemoration comes at a difficult time for Sikhs in India with the Modi government’s discriminatory action against farmers in Punjab in an attempt to destroy their livelihood by reducing prices paid for crops to facilitate land take over by big business. Sikhs abroad have a particular responsibility to speak for those who cannot speak in India.
Sikh teachings on tolerance and respect for others are a powerful antidote to narrow-minded intolerance, today, we should pledge ourselves to living and promoting Sikh values in ourselves, our children and in wider society. The best way we can celebrate the birth of Guru Nanak is to follow his uplifting guidance in working for a fairer and more peaceful world.
Waheguru ji ka Khalsa Waheguru ji ki Fateh.
Lord Indarjit Singh of Wimbledon, Director – Network of Sikh Organisations
At the AGM of the APPG for British Sikhs earlier this year, Chair Preet Gill MP, announced that the group would be looking to address the issue of hate crime against Sikhs. It was agreed that APPG would work with the NSO, given we had already done much work in this field.
We wrote to Preet Gill on 12th October 2020 to remind her of her commitment to work with us and shared information about the progress we’ve made on hate crime. The commitment to build on what already exists for the benefit of the UK Sikh community was regrettably (but unsurprisingly) ignored. The APPG, which primarily involves the Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) and its affiliates like The Sikh Network (and one of the two co-existing Sikh Council UK’s) are ignoring what has previously been achieved, to suggest that they are pioneers in the fight against hate crime.
Their statements not only show a lack of understanding of the nature of hate crime, but more seriously, an appalling ignorance of basic Sikh teachings. Moreover, the definition that they have proposed for ‘consultation’ is not only ambiguous, it absurdly does not include the post 9/11 backlash faced by Sikhs across the West in so called ‘mistaken identity’ or ‘Islamophobic’ attacks.
The reason we are not surprised by the behaviour of the APPG, lies in their limited contact with the wider Sikh community. The Chair of the APPG works closely with Dabinderjit Singh as an advisor. He also happens to be ‘principal advisor’ to the SFUK. The Chair and a member of her family are prominent in a group called The Sikh Network which is also linked to the SFUK. Some ‘team’ members of one of the coexisting Sikh Council UK’s – another group linked to SFUK, and favoured by the APPG also happen to be members of The Sikh Network ‘team’.
There are some question marks about the mathematics being used by the APPG in recent reports on hate crime. We are not too sure how they’ve come to suggest hate crime against Sikhs has increased 70% year on year.[i]
We’ve looked at the Home Office figures being referenced in media reports. They show the number and proportion of religious hate crimes recorded by the police by the perceived targeted religion for, 2019/20 and 2018/19.
For the most recent year the figure for ‘Sikh’ is 202 and for the previous it is 188. That is an increase of 14 incidents from 2018/19. 14/188 multiplied by 100 = 7.4%
We asked Preet Gill how the APPG came to the 70% figure and she responded:
‘Please can you confirm who this email is written by, and signed off by. Please provide name and details.’
Why ignore basic Sikh teachings?
The groups involved are ignoring the basic Sikh teaching of sarbat da bhalla in in seeking to establish a legal definition of hate crime against Sikhs. Sikh teachings require us to look at the wider picture. Rather than looking inward, the NSO has protested the government’s bias approach in this area in solidarity with other faiths who’ve been marginalised, as well as those of no faith. There should be a level playing field for everyone.
Our Director referred to this in the Lords, in a discussion on Islamophobia, when Baroness Warsi was pressing the government to accept a controversial definition of ‘Islamophobia’ that has the potential to stifle discussion of issues like Muslim grooming gangs, Islamic extremism and aspects of history, like Mughal persecution of minorities. This includes the martyrdom of our Gurus. With former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, sitting next to him, and Baroness Warsi in the row in front. Lord Singh said:
My Lords, emotive definitions such as Islamophobia are simply constraints on freedom of speech. A phobia is a fear, and the best way to combat irrational fear or prejudice suffered by all religions and beliefs is through healthy, open discussion. Will the Minister endorse the commitment given last week by Heather Wheeler, Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, to protect all religions and beliefs without fear or favour?
The Minister fully agreed as did the rest of the House in loud appreciative ‘hear hears’.
This timely intervention supported the legitimate free speech concerns raised by several prominent individuals and a number of organisations (including the NSO) resulted in Baroness Warsi’s failure in her attempt to impose a divisive definition on the House. The government rejected it. Now the APPG for British Sikhs and their followers want to ignore the thrust of our Gurus’ teachings and go down the same path. In urging the APPG to be consistent with Sikh teachings and work with others with experience in the field, we are highlighting some of the progress made by the NSO.
It was the NSO who found that crimes against Sikhs and others are being recorded under ‘Islamophobic hate crime’ in London – research appreciated by Christians, Hindus, Atheists and others.
It was the NSO that pushed back against ‘Action Against Hate’ (2016) for marginalising the non-Abrahamic faith communities in favour of Abrahamic faiths.
It was the NSO that influenced (through giving oral and written evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee) policy when the government made a commitment to support Hindus and Sikhs in reporting hate crime.
The NSO pushed back against a controversial ‘Islamophobia’ definition which would have risked censorship of important chapters in Sikh history – like the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur.
It was the NSO that has worked alongside Galop over the summer and collaborated with other organisations, the police and policy makers in #TogetherAgainstHate2020. We could go on.
A Sikh perspective on hate crime
We should be true to our Gurus’ teachings in all we do as Sikhs. This requires us to look beyond concern for ourselves, to sarbat da bhalla, in this case to all who suffer from so-called ‘hate crime’.
The important point from Lord Singh’s contribution was that fear and prejudice, sometimes seen as hatred, arises from ignorance. It is therefore important to work actively to remove widespread ignorance of Sikhism and Sikh teachings. This is important because of the ongoing conflation of Sikh identity with that of images of Islamic extremists – be it Bin Laden, ISIS or the Taliban. If the APPG still want to go down the legally recognised definition route, then it’s frankly absurd not to include the post 9/11 element.
Our Guru’s taught us a distinct and enlightened way of life which we must put to the fore in turning ignorance and prejudice into respect and appreciation. While we should be resolute in reporting and tackling unacceptable hate crime, we have much to do in educating the wider community about who we are. Our Guru given values are a powerful vehicle for turning latent prejudice to appreciation and communal harmony.
Reports indicate the APPG are requesting the government, ‘financially supports the work of the Sikh Network and Sikh Council to track hate crimes against their community with start-up grants and annual funding for the next three to five years.’[ii] We think there may well be a conflict of interest here, given some individuals involved in the organisations for which funding has been requested, have links (including familial) with the APPG chair.
We asked Preet Gill to respond to this point. She said:
‘Please can you confirm who this email is written by, and signed off by. Please provide name and details.’
We will be highlighting our concerns about this with relevant government departments.
Now the SFUK who have used the APPG as a vehicle to promote their partisan agenda have failed in their ill-conceived Sikh ethnic tick box campaign, they will be desperate to regain credibility with the broader Sikh community, and the government in other areas. The APPG for British Sikhs may well choose not to work with us, nor learn from the progress and recognition we’ve achieved on hate crime. If so, this only continues to emphasize a non-inclusive, narrow, and limited way of working. The fact that our Director was elected as treasurer for the APPG simply adds insult to injury.
The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) has produced a hate crime guide to help signpost members of the Sikh community to organisations who can support them, as well as encouraging victims to report incidents to the police. The charity has additionally produced a second guide designed to support organisations supporting Sikh victims.
The guides have been complied as part of a project, Together Against Hate, co-ordinated by the UK’s only specialist LGBT+ anti-violence charity Galop. The project has been funded by The Mayor’s Office for Policing And Crime (MOPAC).
There has been a clear trend in the targeting of Muslims as well as Sikhs in the aftermath of terror attacks as has been evidenced post 9/11 and the London 7/7 bombings. The Sikh identity, in particular the turban and beard of observant men, is often conflated with the appearance of Islamic extremists which has resulted in the targeting of Sikhs and Sikh places of worship (gurdwaras).
In 2015 a Sikh dentist was almost beheaded in a revenge attack for the murder of Lee Rigby, and the following year a case in which Sikh women were referred to in derogatory terms resulted in a conviction. In 2018 a Sikh environmentalist almost had his turban forcibly removed when visiting an MP in parliament, and in May 2020 a hate crime against a gurdwara in Derby appears to have been motivated by a geopolitical grievance in relation to the troubled region of Kashmir.
NSO Deputy-Director Hardeep Singh said:
Hate crime against Sikhs often goes unreported and victims do not always feel they need to inform the police of such incidents. Some will not know you can simply report hate crime online, rather than go to a police station to file a report, which can be time consuming.
We hope the guides provide clear, relevant, and timely advice to members of the community. They need to know they are not alone and there are people out there who can help. We also believe it’s important they report incidents to the authorities, which can be done anonymously if need be.
Mel Stray, Galop, Hate Crime Policy and Campaigns Manager said:
These new hate crime guides are a vital resource for the Sikh community and organisations working with Sikh victims of hate crime. We are delighted that the Network of Sikh Organisations has come together with nine other organisations as part of the Together Against Hate project, to stand up alongside each other against hate targeting our communities.
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Notes to Editors:The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) is a registered charity no.1064544 that links more than 130 UK gurdwaras and other UK Sikh organisations in active cooperation to enhance the image and understanding of Sikhism in the UK.
There are two hate crime guides (i) Guide for Sikh victims (ii) Guide for organisations supporting Sikh victims – you can download them below