Birmingham, UK – 22 January 2021
“The delivery of policing – whether in the form of ‘force’ or ‘service’ – should not be greatly inferior for some social groups than others.” – Policing ethnic minority communities – Ben Bowling, Alpa Parmar & Coretta Phillips
On 20th January 2021, millions of Sikhs across the globe celebrated the birth of Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the tenth Sikh Guru. The extent of the celebrations were of course limited to the constraints of living within the current global pandemic. Nevertheless, it did not stop the exchange of greetings and best wishes across social media to keep spirits lifted.
On the same day, The Express and Star, a West Midlands newspaper, published an article about the Sikh community. However, it was not an article sharing good wishes with the Sikh Community about the auspicious celebrations. Instead, it was headlined ‘Police have identified a ‘small’ threat from Sikh extremists’, the sub-heading claimed; ‘A police chief has revealed the West Midlands force has been targeting Sikh terrorists operating in the region.’
As British Sikhs, it is difficult to define an adequate response to what is an outrageous and extraordinary piece of badly timed media reporting framing 40 years of Sikh democratic campaigning for a homeland in such a demonised manner. Who are these so called ‘Sikh extremists’ and who are the ‘Sikh terrorists’ operating in the region as per West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit (WMCTU)?
Terrorism is a profoundly serious criminal offence. If “Sikh” terrorists are supposedly operating in the region then why have no statistics relating to any numbers who have apparently been charged and convicted with terrorism offences ever been shared with the Sikh gurdwaras and organisations? Nor has there been any attempt to engage Sikh community leaders and think tanks.
The same article goes on to quote the West Midlands Police (WMP) in a way in which the word separatist and terrorist are interchangeable, such thinking would then make Nicola Sturgeon a terrorist and the current government of Scotland a terrorist organisation for advocating a separate Scottish state.
At this point, on what basis do the WMP make the accusation? Even if the police had any evidence, it would be up to the Crown Prosecution Service to determine whether that evidence was sufficient to move to a trial, after which it would fall to the legal process and the courts to determine guilt. How could it be that Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) Matt Ward would take it upon himself to be investigator, judge and jury in a situation where he has not even sufficient evidence to lay a solitary charge of terrorism?
Earlier this month, ACC Matt Ward himself presented a report to the West Midlands Police and Crime Panel in which he explicitly explained that in the region the threat from terrorism was as follows:
1. Islamic terrorism
2. Far right
3. Left wing groups
4. Irish linked
5. Indian led
How then, just 9 days after this meeting, do we have a published article in The Express and Star and a number of disparate statements from ACC Matt Ward exclusively targeting Sikhs?
It is both extraordinary and outrageous, but how can we explain it? How can we explain the behaviour of the WMP in this and other recent actions taken against members of the British Sikh community? We must look beyond the West Midlands if we want to begin to understand what is driving this highly damaging and unjustifiable persecution of a law abiding and well-respected religious minority in Britain.
On 14th December 2020, Dominic Raab, British Foreign Secretary, visited India. His visit coincided with the ongoing ‘farmer’s protest’ – the largest protest recorded in human history. The protest centres around the Indian government’s imposition of laws against the interests of India’s farming communities. These are laws imposed without consultation and hurried through India’s parliament without due process; a strategy employed by the government to take advantage of the lockdown resulting from the ongoing pandemic.
The central government of India has used all means, foul and fouler to try and supress this legitimate protest. Many hundreds of protesters have suffered severe injuries at the hands of India’s paramilitary forces and police. The current death toll amongst the protesters runs close to 100. The suppression of the protesters in India led many in the Sikh Diaspora to raise their voices in support. If the Indian government could not tolerate peaceful protest without resorting to violence, the Diaspora communities would raise awareness in their respective countries. The protest within India and around the world has become the biggest challenge yet faced by India’s hard right ethno-religious governing party – the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Dominic Raab returned to Britain on 18th December 2020. In the early hours of 21st December 2020, three family homes were raided by WMCTU officers. The police smashed through the front doors of these homes in full riot gear. These were homes inhabited by families with young children. Three men were arrested and transported to London to be told they would be facing extradition to India for a crime that took place more than a decade ago and for which they had been previously investigated by British police and released without charge.
The timing of these raids speaks for itself, as does the manner in which the police acted, choosing a theatrical, dawn raid when there was no urgency or suggestion of any current or otherwise unlawful activity, unnecessarily terrifying the families involved,.
These raids were not the result of new evidence or any ongoing investigation on the part of the WMCTU or WMP. These raids originated some 4,000 miles away in India and in truth they had nothing whatsoever to do with any crime. These raids had but one motivation – the Indian government’s desperation to silence dissent amongst human rights activists in the UK who continue to expose the criminal excesses of the Indian state.
This raid was not an isolated incident. In September 2018, WMCTU, in collaboration with Indian agencies, raided other Sikh homes in the West Midlands without a shred of evidence and with absolutely no expectation of finding any. These homes were again smashed into in the early hours, families were forced out – men, women and children, to allow their homes to be turned upside down by counter terrorism officers. Not an iota of evidence of terror activity was discovered.
That the British government is misusing the police and abusing the criminal justice system in order to persecute a segment of their own citizenry at the behest of a foreign power is not a conclusion reached lightly. This raid is but one example amongst many of an emerging, but consistent pattern of behaviour directed against the British Sikh community by recent British governments, including the previous and current administration and the government of David Cameron.
Just within recent years we have experienced –
Unprecedented heavy-handed policing for the peaceful protest against widespread Sikh religious desecrations in India outside the Indian High Commission in Aldwych some months before Indian PM Modi’s visit in 2016. This included Metropolitan Police officers breaking and throwing to the floor the Sikh faith flag and employing intentionally provocative ‘Ketteling’ methods of containment against a small and entirely peaceful group of Sikh protesters. The Cameron government subsequently laid out the red carpet for the Indian PM, a man who rightfully could not secure a visa to any Western country a few years previously for his alleged part in a massacre of thousands of men, women and children in 2002.
In June 2015, Boris Johnson as Mayor of London refused to allow the 1984 truth and justice protest to be held in Trafalgar Square despite decades of precedent, despite the Metropolitan Police describing the organisation and past conduct of the protest as ‘exemplary’. This protest commemorates India’s ‘operation bluestar’ an event actually described by former PM David Cameron as a massacre, calling for justice for the many thousands of victims.
In 2017, we saw a debacle over policing the same protest. After over 30 years of exemplary cooperation between organisers and the Metropolitan Police, the police force decided to simply not attend. This left the protest organisers to steward thousands of people through central London traffic themselves at great risk to themselves and those in attendance. It was once again a politically driven decision. The police service was later forced into a hasty response, inadvertently confessing they had liaised with the Indian High Commission on the event. This would be akin to liaising with the Chinese embassy on a protest to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre.
The governments of Cameron, May and Johnson have continuously stonewalled all attempts to get to the truth about British involvement in the Amritsar massacre of June 1984, breaking with British parliamentary convention to provide India with a report into the ‘inadvertent’ release of British papers relating to the massacre prior to publication, so that Indian authorities may assess what information was ‘acceptable’ for release.
Now, we have the ongoing British government collusion in the case of Jagtar Singh Johal – the British Sikh citizen being effectively held hostage and subject to torture for his lawful and legitimate political beliefs. It was Boris Johnson as Foreign Minister who gave Indian authorities the go ahead to effectively kidnap a British citizen whilst on holiday. Johnson clearly believes Jagtar’s life is a price worth paying in favour of trade relations with India. Margaret Thatcher before him calculated the same when her government agreed to assist in the Amritsar massacre of 1984.
The current relationship between the British police and British Sikh community is deteriorating into a difficult one. Today’s controversy about the abuse of police power, the influence of the Indian state, and the irresponsible creation of demonised media reporting targeting an entire community echoes a long and troubled Police history with ethnic minorities.
Terrorism is a profoundly serious criminal offence and the Sikh community stands with British authorities to clamp down on criminal behaviour related to such an act. However, it is essential that authorities such as the WMP and WMCTU are briefed on the very clear differences between separatism and terrorism and an immediate apology is forthcoming from these authorities regarding the comments of ACC Matt Ward. If we are to see a way forward it is also essential that these authorities work closely with Sikh gurdwaras and organisations, Sikh community leaders and think tanks to build on their knowledge of Sikhs and their core beliefs and history, and also work towards a more collaborative relationship with this law abiding and well-respected religious minority in Britain. The Sikh Network would be happy to facilitate such introductions.
Mankamal Singh & Sukhbir Singh
The Sikh Network