26 January 2013
A Sikh Federation (UK) team returned this week from a two-day lobby in Brussels. Two meetings took place with the European Commission and UK representatives had separate meetings with 10 different UK MEPs.
One of the meetings with the European Commission was with staff working for Siim Kallas, the Vice-President and European Commissioner for Transport to discuss respect for the Sikh turban and airport security (this has been reported separately).
At the other meeting the Sikh Federation (UK) led a 14-member European-wide delegation of Sikhs to meet with five key staff working for Baroness Catherine Ashton, the Vice-President of the European Commission and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. These staff work for the European External Action Service (EEAS), the EU’s diplomatic service set up in December 2010.
This meeting was the third such meeting with the European Commission organised by the Sikh Federation (UK) in recent years to discuss EU relations with India, the death penalty and human rights abuses in India with those responsible for human rights and day-to-day dealings with India on behalf of the EU. There was a frank exchange of views on a wide-range of issues and the meeting was appreciated by both sides given the quickly developing situation in India.
Using the example of mass protests by the younger generation in Punjab in support of Balwant Singh Rajaona and more recently against the treatment of women a view was expressed that the events of the last 12 months have shown India is far more unstable than many had previously been prepared to accept.
It was pointed out that in recent weeks the world media has drawn attention to the criminalisation of politics in India, a failing judicial system that allows the rich and powerful to escape justice for serious crimes and problems such as drug addiction in Punjab that the Indian State is deliberately allowing or worse still promoting.
The fact that one third of the members of the Indian Parliament have either been convicted or arrested and charged with serious criminal offences, such as murder, rape, kidnapping, robbery and extortion was not lost on those the Sikh delegation were meeting.
Staff at the European Commission working for Baroness Catherine Ashton were clearly far more receptive to the idea that there are systemic failings in the workings of the Indian State and unless there is radical reform issues like the treatment of women, minorities and the huge gap between the rich and poor could result in the break-up of India. Given the importance of EU trade with India, in the present economic climate, it was suggested the EU may need to look at the distinct possibility of a different scenario that could include the existence of a separate Sikh homeland.
In the meetings that took place with the European Commission and UK MEPs the following specific human rights issues were discussed:
- on-going death row cases of Davinderpal Singh Bhullar and Balwant Singh Rajaona who have been in prison for 18 and 17 years respectively
- alse arrest and torture in September 2012 of opposition leaders Kulbir Singh Barapind, an elected member of the SGPC and Daljit Singh Bittu who have both chosen the path of political engagement
- 10-year imprisonment of 93-year old Dr Assa Singh and 11 others, many in their 60s and 70s, in November 2012 for the Ludhiana bank robbery some 25 years ago using circumstantial evidence under the infamous TADA legislation, widely condemned by Amnesty International and the United Nations Human Rights Council and supposedly abolished in 1995
In addition, whilst reference was made to the lack of justice following the genocide of Sikhs in June and November 1984 and the visit of Kamal Nath to EU countries certain cases were highlighted where Sikhs have been killed in the last two years. The significance of the Sikh media in raising awareness within the Sikh Diaspora, in particular the 1 million Sikhs in Europe and the 1 million Sikhs in Canada and the USA was not lost on officials and politicians listening. The five cases highlighted were:
- Illegal police detention, torture and beating to death of Shaminder Singh Shera in January 2011
- arrest, torture and mysterious death in police custody of Sohanjit Singh under mysterious circumstances in March 2011
- apprehension, torture by police and killing of Veer Singh in January 2012
- death due to serious burns of Kulwant Singh in Central Amritsar Jail in February 2012, he had previously been admitted to hospital with life threatening injuries as a result of police torture
- 18-year-old Jaspal Singh was killed by police bullets in an unprovoked firing during a peaceful protest in March 2012
Various separate meetings took place with UK MEPs that explored with each one depending on their specific roles how they could assist the Sikh community in exposing the human rights abuses highlighted. This included two party groupings who can speak in debates to raise issues, members of various delegations, including the India delegation and South Asia delegation and members of sub committees such as the one for human rights. Some agreed to raise parliamentary questions and others said they could use their various positions to raise matters on behalf of Sikhs.
MEPs that held meetings in alphabetical order were: Stuart Agnew, Phil Bennion, Derek Clark, Roger Helmer, Jean Lambert, Linda McAvan, Edward McMillan-Scott, Bill Newton Dunn, Peter Skinner and Charles Tannock.