UK Sikhs say PM Rishi Sunak demonising them as ‘extremists’ and ‘terrorists’

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak leaves his home address in London, Britain October 22, 2022. — Reuters

LONDON: More than 360 Sikh Gurdwaras and organisations have written an open letter to Rishi Sunak accusing him of discrimination and demonisation of Sikhs since taking over as the prime minister from Boris Johnson.

Representatives of Gurdwaras and Sikh organisations throughout the UK have told PM Sunak that there is increasing and unacceptable demonisation of British Sikhs as “extremists” and “terrorists”. These labels are being regularly used as the Indian authorities are nervous that most Sikhs support the right to self-determination and the re-establishment of a Sikh homeland referred to as Khalistan, says the letter.

Sikh organisations have told PM Sunak that on February 9, 2022, they issued an open letter to his predecessor Boris Johnson following offensive comments by then home secretary Priti Patel in a speech in the US, where she falsely labelled British Sikhs as extremists. On July 7 of last year, Johnson responded to the open letter with an apology and expressing regret to the British Sikh community on behalf of the UK Government.

The open letter tells Sunak he has broken promises made to Sikhs by his predecessor.

The letter says: “As PM he personally committed to ensuring important days in the Sikh calendar are properly acknowledged by the UK Government in future and specifically confirmed to the British Sikh community that Jagtar Singh Johal has been in arbitrary detention In India since November 2017. Despite his apology and commitments to the British Sikh community, we are now having to fathom your actions towards the British Sikh community since you became PM in October 2022.

“You have reneged on the specific assurances given by Boris Johnson to the British Sikh community to properly acknowledge important days in the Sikh calendar i.e. you issued no video message to the British Sikh community on Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s Gurpurb in November 2022 or Vaisakhi in April 2023. Alongside this, you have made an ill-founded and unexplained U-turn on the arbitrary detention of Jagtar Singh Johal In an Indian jail for nearly five and half years since November 2017. These developments are deeply disturbing as it has publicly emerged there may have been British collusion in the kidnapping, torture and his continued arbitrary detention in India.”

Sikh groups have said in the letter: “Your actions as the first British Hindu PM are extremely worrying, set in the backdrop of a pattern of suspicion towards the British Sikh community from the UK government, evidently under pressure from the Indian government. This has included very aggressive policing of entirely peaceful protests, outside the Indian High Commission prior to the November 2015 UK visit of Narendra Modi and more recently the attempted extradition to India of three British-born Sikhs following Indian pressure.

“We are all too conscious of the fact that praise is readily afforded when Sikhs serve others, such as during the pandemic or the cost of living crisis when Gurdwaras provide Langar (free food) to the vulnerable. Yet when we raise our voices against injustices faced by Sikhs in India we are vilified, all at the apparent price of hypothetical trade deals with India. The UK government under your watch is enabling a narrative that is not only factually wrong by mislabelling British Sikhs as extremists, they are abdicating themselves from any responsibility they should carry as a result of the past actions of the British Empire against Sikhs.”

The letter says the UK government has a responsibility to recognise and defend the legitimacy of self-determination as a human right and given the treatment of Sikhs since 1947 the movement to secure the re-establishment of a Sikh Kingdom.

The letter says: “Governments in countries where Sikhs live and in our case the UK need to understand and accept “Raj Karega Khalsa” is a phrase that is part of the anthem recited by the entire congregation after Ardaas at the end of every service at all Gurdwaras across the globe. This phrase can be traced to the 10th Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji. It refers to the Khalsa becoming sovereign, or the Pure will Rule. The word “Khalistan” has been demonised by the Indian authorities but literally translates to “Land of the Khalsa”.

“Following the desecration of the Sikh’s holiest shrine Sri Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple), Amritsar in 1984, by the Indian authorities and the Genocide of Sikhs in June and November 1984, UK Sikh organisations and Gurdwaras have been highlighting human rights violations against them in India and peacefully exerting their legal right to support a Sikh homeland for some 40 years now. The Genocide of Sikhs in 1984 after the Indian Army desecrated Harmandir Sahib, killing thousands of Sikhs remains heavily traumatic for Sikhs in Britain.”

Sikhs have told the UK government that they are under repression in India, and face media blackout and custodial torture but PM Sunak’s government is silent.

Sikhs have condemned the Sunak government for failing to understand why a group of protesters took off the Indian flag outside the Indian High Commission following the barbaric acts by the Indian authorities. It says: “On 18 March 2023, a small group of British Sikhs who protested spontaneously outside the Indian High Commission the next day were labelled ‘terrorists’ for a single act of lowering the Indian flag. Senior UK politicians condemned these protesters without referring to the reason why they were protesting following a massive overreaction by the Indian government.

“However, the same UK politicians have been silent about the provocation and attacks on Sikhs who peacefully protested in their thousands outside the Indian High Commission a few days later on 22 March 2023. Metropolitan Police officers described the provocation, incitement and attacks on peaceful Sikh protesters by those inside the Indian High Commission as unacceptable and have communicated this to senior UK politicians.

“Self-determination is a basic human right and not a crime. As you will be aware, there are SNP, Plaid Cymru and Sinn Fein MPs. Self-determination is enshrined within international law and the UN Charter of human rights. Which makes it even more unacceptable for any UK MP (i.e. Bob Blackman), to abuse Parliamentary privilege to propagate #AntiSikhHate by calling all Sikhs who exercise their right to self-determination “terrorists” to appease the Indian Government.”

The letter asks: “We urge you as prime minister to explain why you have reneged on the assurances given by Boris Johnson to the British Sikh community in July 2022, including the unexplained U-turn on the arbitrary detention of Jagtar Singh Johal In an Indian jail since November 2017. The UK Government, political parties and all Parliamentarians should: condemn outrageous and dangerous commentary about British Sikhs being labelled as extremists or terrorists without evidence or substance. Especially as evidence shows that the CTU have zero open cases relating to Sikhs and data from the Commission on Counter Terrorism states that Sikhs pose no threat to the UK. Call out human rights violations against minorities and women in India and recognise the Sikhs’ basic human right of self-determination.

“Putting human rights violations perpetrated in India on the back burner for the purposes of trade is dishonourable as a foreign policy approach by the UK government with regards to India. Silence regarding state-sponsored atrocities in India as a strategy is not befitting of successive UK Governments and has not worked for decades and is no longer acceptable. As British Sikhs, we are the most visible minority in this country, our presence, as with many minorities, is the legacy of British colonialism. We do not ask for special treatment, but we do demand equal treatment.”

Sikhs have raised a protest with PM Sunak a week after hundreds of British Muslim organisations asked PM Sunak to sack Home Secretary Suella Braverman for spouting racist comments about Pakistani men.

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