24 January 2013
The Sikh Federation (UK) started to organise the mass lobbying of MEPs by visiting them at the European Parliament in Brussels around eight years ago.
Around 250 Sikhs from across Europe attended the first ever lobby and after initially agreeing to allow Amritdhari Sikhs to wear the Kirpan when entering the main European Parliament building this decision was reversed on the morning of the first lobby.
UK MEPs informed Sikhs taking part in the lobby this restriction was as a direct result of pressure on the Secretary General responsible for administration from the Indian Ambassador based in the European Parliament by suggesting a ban on the Kirpan was appropriate.
The Indian authorities did not want Sikhs lobbying about human rights abuses in India e.g. the case of Professor Davinderpal Singh Bhullar, or issues related to the Sikh identity and were prepared to go to extreme lengths to try and stop Sikhs lobbying by asking for the Kirpan to be banned.
Given the opposition from India the Sikh Federation (UK) encouraged Sikhs to take a stand by organising an annual lobby at the European Parliament in Brussels. Initially the Sikh Federation (UK) organised venues adjacent to the Parliament building so MEPs were encouraged to meet Sikhs from across Europe. However, in addition smaller groups of Sikhs, including Amritdharis wearing the Kirpan, successfully entered the European Parliament following pressure from MEPs setting a precedent that this was possible.
UK MEPs continued to exert pressure and this resulted in a large conference room holding around 300 being made available each year in the Eastman Building of the European Parliament complex where Sikhs were allowed to wear the Kirpan. However, very few MEPs other than those from the UK were prepared to leave the main European Parliament building to speak in the inconveniently located Eastman Building.
The issue remained that large numbers of Amritdhari Sikhs could not freely enter the main European Parliament building to meet MEPs for pre-arranged meetings so Sikhs have been protesting each year. One year Sikh men, women and children protested with MEPs by holding a peaceful sit down protest blocking two of the three entrances to the main European Parliament building. This attracted considerable media attention and highlighted the issue and created pressure for change.
In recent years the Sikh Federation (UK) has not been arranging large lobbies, but instead sending Sikhs to speak at events or meet MEPs as necessary. This was also in part as Sikhs in many mainland European countries have been unable to establish the sorts of links Sikhs have had with UK MEPs.
However, in the last 12 months the Sikh Federation (UK) has been establishing its own network across Europe and setting up sister organisations to get Sikhs more active in engaging with politicians. The two-day lobby organised by the Sikh Federation (UK) at the start of this week was therefore the first test of the working of this set up.
The Sikh Federation (UK) appealed to its contacts in Italy, Germany, France, Belgium etc. to keep numbers to around five representatives from each country. This was deliberate as the Federation wanted a much more focused lobby with around a dozen meetings over the two days and to test whether Sikhs could exercise the right to enter the European Parliament (and European Commission) in relatively large numbers while wearing their Kirpans.
The Sikh Federation (UK) is delighted to announce that Sikhs having taken a robust stand on the wearing of the Kirpan when entering the European Parliament and European Commission buildings have in effect had the restriction on the Kirpan removed for pre-arranged meetings when it is known who will be in attendance. Behind the scenes work involving MEPs, especially in the last 12 months with those responsible for security, meant that all turban wearing Sikhs – Amritdhari or not were fully respected and had all security waived when entering the European Parliament and at the two European Commission meetings.