– Sikh youth conferred ‘Order of the British Empire’ by Prince William

Sikh24 Editors

London-UK, 26 April 2017. London based young Sikh barrister named Jasvir Singh was conferred the award of ‘Order of the British Empire’ at an investiture ceremony at the Buckingham Palace for his services in inter-faith communication and social cohesion.

The ‘Order of the British Empire’ (OBE) is one of the Britain’s highest civilian honours. Jasvir Singh’s family hails from the Doaba region of Punjab.

Singh, who is the chair of City Sikhs and is closely involved in other organisations, has been honoured for services to faith communities and social cohesion in the United Kingdom.

Jasvir Singh received the OBE from Prince William in the Ballroom of the palace, along with two other Sikh recipients, Brinder Singh Mahon, for services to education, and detective sergeant Sarbjit Kaur from the Merseyside Police, for services to policing.

After attending the ceremony Jasvir Singh said that it was a humbling experience. “I met many inspiring people, including scientists, artists, paralympians and various members of the Armed Forces and the Police, and found out about their remarkable achievements,” he added.

He further informed that he also spoke to Prince William and commended him for the work he and his brother, Prince Harry, were doing to help remove the stigma of mental health problems.

It is worth mentioning here that Jasvir Singh was involved in several projects, including the ‘Grand Trunk Project’ led by the Faiths Forum for London, that looks to foster better relationships between communities of South-Asian heritage in towns and cities throughout the country.

His projects also include challenging hate crimes, promoting youth and female empowerment, improving faith literacy in society, and developing collaborative interfaith initiatives. He is considered as a plaintiff of creating positive change in society. – Sikh Youth UK, Tommy Robinson and Islamophobia

Harkamal Singh

Birmingham, 27 April 2017. Historically, my community has prided itself on diversity. Growing up, I have spent many hours ambling up and down Soho Road, immersing myself in the various sights, sounds and smells.

Communal solidity has been largely positive, especially within inter-faith dialogue as generations of migrants have settled in Handsworth and have made an active effort to integrate socially, culturally and religiously.

As a city more widely, Birmingham has a similar reputation boasting a racially diverse demographic; in the 2011 census the population was recorded as 57% white, 26% Asian British, 9% British black and 4% mixed race.

One only needs to point to the recent response to the EDL march in the city centre to demonstrate Birmingham’s commitment to social cohesion and inclusivity.

As mentioned, inter-faith dialogue has developed religious understanding between various groups and even while much of the British media stokes Islamophobic sentiment, Birmingham largely exhibits unity.

I was disheartened, therefore, to see a name constantly appear on my twitter feed in close proximity to a Sikh religious organisation: Tommy Robinson. I believe this points to a larger problem pertaining to the organisation and its anti-grooming campaigns.

Sikh Youth UK do some important work with regards to tackling addiction and abuse within Sikh communities in Birmingham and nationwide. Recently however, the organisation has developed an anti-grooming narrative aimed at reducing the number of Sikh girls and women who experience varying types of victimisation and abuse.

I have no problem with the aims of this campaign, but the content of its narrative is what has shocked and surprised me, and it should be a cause of concern for those who value communal stability.

This campaign is projected through a variety of media, lectures, leaflets and a recently released film entitled Misused Trust.

This has slowly developed into a more overtly Islamophobic, anti-Muslim discourse as Sikh Youth UK openly demonstrate their professional relationship with Tommy Robinson, an activist who has worked with the British National Party (BNP), the English Defence League (EDL) and has recently established Pegida UK, an anti-Islamic organisation.

“Muslim/Islamic grooming gangs” is a phrase readily used in some British media which works to further distance the non-Muslim population from Muslim communities. This highly damaging, incredibly insensitive and down-right Islamophobic assertion encourages British Muslims to be viewed as extremists, criminals and as an anti-Western “Other”.

Sikh Youth UK reproduce such narratives in their anti-grooming campaigns to such an extent that Tommy Robinson has uploaded pictures with members of the organisation and has tweeted, describing their film as an education “about Muslim grooming”.

This exposed what I had thought for a long time: most public anti-grooming narratives contain anti-Muslim sentiments. It also exposed another problem within some British Sikh communities: rampant Islamophobia.

I was very happy to see certain groups, such as Sikhs Against the EDL, call upon Sikh Youth UK to explain their interactions with Tommy Robinson. However, I fear that the illogical anxieties that such people harbour about Islam can be difficult to dislodge once they have taken root.

Anti-Muslim sentiment is somewhat easier to stoke in British Sikh communities which is good news for Islamophobes. A religion with a distinct martial history, many individuals have become martyrs for the Sikh religion through interactions with the Mughal Empire.

Growing up, I was taught about the Sikh religion and its relationship with the Mughals, I was told stories of Mughal emperors forcing conversions and threatening Sikhs with death. I do not detract from this history, but to compare the Mughals of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth century India to modern-day British Muslims is ludicrous.

However, when considered alongside Islamophobia within British media more generally, this historic relationship becomes increasingly important as a justification for distinctly anti-Muslim views.

As a Sikh, I understand the ways in which Sikh Youth UK protesters were criminalised and portrayed as barbaric, religious criminals late last year. However, through their framing of “Muslim grooming gangs” they are reproducing the same marginalising structures which were previously used against them.

I do not want to see such malicious characterisations worsening community bonds and destroying lives.

As a Sikh, I want the organisations which claim to represent me to lay the building blocks for a future where my children do not think less of others based on fabricated lies. I want these organisations to tackle rampant anti-blackness, Islamophobia, misogyny and casteism in South Asian communities.

As a Sikh, I want an end to the grooming of all men and women without resorting to spiteful, insensitive and socially destructive narratives which will inevitably do more harm than good, pitting religious communities against one another: neighbour against neighbour, colleague against colleague and friend against friend.

The Tribune – Dera row: Political leaders perform ‘sewa’

Tribune News Service

Amritsar, 26 April 2017. Abiding by the Akal Takht’s directions, Sikh political leaders performed “sewa” as part of the “tankhah” (religious punishment) pronounced upon them on April 17 for seeking support from the Sirsa dera ahead of the Assembly elections.

As many as 21 leaders swept the passage leading to the Golden Temple from Gurdwara Saragarhi. Tomorrow, they would clean up the “parikrama” of the shrine at 3 am. The next day, they would perform “sewa” at the Langar Hall for two hours and “joda” (cleaning shoes of devotees) for two hours, the other day.

After completing this sewa, they would offer Rs 5,100 to the “golak” and Rs 501 “karah parshad”.

Among the 21 leaders who performed “sewa” today included 20 of the Akali Dal. Prominent among them were Darbara Singh Guru, Parminder Singh Dhindsa, Sikandar Singh Maluka, Surjit Singh Rakhra, Jeetmohinder Singh Sidhu, Ajit Singh Shant, Varinder Kaur, Inderiqbal Singh Atwal, Mantar Singh Brar, and Kanwaljit Singh Rozibarkandi. Congress’ Ajitinder Singh Mofar was also present.

Gent Gurdwara – Bhog of Akhand Path

Mata Sahib Kaur Gurdwara
02 April 2017

Reading of the final pages of the Guru Granth Sahib

A full reading of the Guru Granth Sahib takes 48 hours

Gurbani Kirtan
Singing of the poetry from the Guru Granth Sahib

Tabla player, two singers who also play
waja = small harmonium

Sangat : Men on the left – women on the right

The Granthi Singh has joined the singers

Mata Sahib Kaur Gurdwara
Kortrijksepoortstraat 49
B-9000 Gent – Oost-Vlaanderen

To see all my pictures:

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

KW – Petitie tegen mogelijke komst Sikh tempel [Gurdwara] in Blankenberge

Toekomstige Gurdwara in Blankenberge

The building the Sikhs want to take on rent for their Gurdwara

Some locals have started a petition against the gurdwara, which has been encouraged by the extreme right wing party Vlaams Belang. We have been contacted by another group of local people who want to welcome the Sikhs.
Man in Blue

Concreet vrezen enkele buurtbewoners voor overlast en problemen op vlak van mobiliteit.

Blankenberge, 26 April 2017. Buurtbewoners van de Schaapstraat in Blankenberge zijn een petitie gestart tegen de mogelijke herbestemming van de sportruimte naar een gebedsruimte voor de Sikh-gemeenschap.

Concreet vrezen ze vooral voor overlast en problemen op vlak van mobiliteit. Eigenaar Raoul Bruggeman (86) ziet geen probleem. “Dat zijn heel brave mensen. Ik zie niet in hoe zij voor overlast zouden zorgen.”

De aanvraag voor een stedenbouwkundige vergunning werd eind vorige maand ingediend. Of er in de toekomst effectief een Sikh-tempel komt, is nog niet zeker. Toch zijn ze er in de buurt niet gerust op. Vlaams Belang stak het vuur aan de lont en reageerde ongerust op de aanvraag.

Om hun woorden kracht bij te zetten, startten verschillende buurtbewoners met een petitie. Daarin vragen ze het stadsbestuur uitdrukkelijk om geen stedenbouwkundige vergunning toe te kennen voor een gebedsruimte. “We vrezen vooral overlast en een aantrekpool voor illegalen”, zeggen de initiatiefnemers.

“Daarnaast is de kans ook groot dat de komst van een gebedsruimte zal zorgen voor problemen met de mobiliteit in de straat. En vooral: de nabijheid van zo’n ruimte is volgens ons niet geschikt in de nabijheid van een school.” De petitie werd ondertussen al zo’n 400 keer ondertekend. Woensdag zullen ze ook postvatten aan de school in de Schaapstraat om nog meer handtekeningen te verzamelen.

Geen overlast

Raoul Bruggeman (86) kocht het pand vorig jaar op en gaf toestemming aan de gemeenschap, die in Blankenberge zo’n 40 leden telt, om het gebouw te huren. “Waarom niet? Dat zijn hele brave mensen. Ik kan me niet voorstellen dat ze voor overlast zullen zorgen.

Dat mensen bang zijn voor extremisten of illegalen? Het Sikhisme staat volledig los van de moslims of Allah. Geloof me: ik heb er alle vertrouwen in dat alles rustig zal verlopen.”

Burgemeester Patrick De Klerck (Open VLD) wil nog niet vooruitlopen op de zaken. “Ik wacht het onderzoek van de bevoegde diensten af om een oordeel te velden”, aldus de burgemeester.

The News – SC dismisses request for inclusion of section for Sikhs in census forms

Islamabad, 24 April 2017. The Chief Justice on Monday dismissed the Sindh and Peshawar high courts request of including an option for Sikhs in the religion section of the census form.

Chief Justice Saqib Nisar said that the first phase of census is completed in more than half of the districts of the country. It would now not be possible to print new forms, he said. The forms are in machine readable form therefore the section cannot even be made manually as the machine will not recognise them.

The court ruled that census cannot take place in areas where it has been completed.

The census form does not have a box for Sikhs to mark their religion though there is one for Hindus and Christians.

A Sikh community leader had filed a petition in the Sindh High Court demanding inclusion of Sikhism in the religion column in the census form.

The divisional bench in Sindh High Court heard the case on March 21 and sent notices to the chief census commissioner and provincial census commissioner to submit their response.

The Tribune – Captain speaks to MP CM on gurdwara row

Other reports suggest that the Indore Gurdwara was completely destroyed
Man in Blue

Chandigarh, 25 April 2017. Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh has requested his Madhya Pradesh counterpart Shivraj Chauhan to look into the matter of the alleged damage to a gurdwara in Indore during a recent demolition drive and take steps to assuage the sentiments of the Sikh community, which had been hurt by the reported excessive action of the police and municipal authorities.

Captain spoke to Shivraj Chauhan following reports in a section of the media that Gurdwara Kartar Kiran in Indore district had been damaged during the demolition drive.

He requested the CM to ascertain the veracity of the reports and take action. Chauhan assured him that he would personally look into the matter and ensure welfare of the Sikh community. (TNS) – General Election: Sikh Council UK urges increase in selection of Sikh candidates

Sikh Editors

London-UK, 21 April 2017. The Sikh Council UK is urging all political parties to positively select Sikh candidates ahead of the snap General Election.

There are some members of the House of Lords from Sikh background, but no Sikh members of the House of Commons.

Representatives from all the main political parties have spoken of the huge contribution that Sikhs make to British society and have acknowledged the lack of Sikhs in the House of Commons.

Sikh Council UK Secretary General Elect Jagtar Singh said “We call upon the parties to address the glaring lack of Sikhs in Westminster by shortlisting and selecting promising Sikh candidates in winnable constituencies. We will offer support to Sikh candidates who make it through the selection processes”.

Theresa May has called a General Election for 8 June 2017. Polls that indicate she could win a huge Tory majority in Parliament.

Huffington Post – The semantics of genocide and the bugbear of Khalistan

A long article, but worth the effort of reading it, both for Sikhs and non-Sikhs.
Man in Blue

Sarbpreet Singh, Contributor, Playwright, commentator and writer

Boston, 21 April 2017. On 26 December 2014, The Union Home Minister of India, Rajnath Singh visited Tilakvihar, a poor and blighted neighborhood in Delhi, also known as The Widow Colony where the wives and children of Sikhs who were murdered in 1984 had been settled.

Speaking about the violence that had raged in Delhi after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, which in an insidious game of semantics that had lasted for thirty years, had been disingenuously characterized as a ‘riot’, he said : “It was not a riot, it was genocide instead. Hundreds of innocent people were killed..”

On 6 April 2017 government of Ontario, Canada passed a motion declaring :

“In the opinion of this House, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, should reaffirm our commitment to the values we cherish, justice, human rights and fairness, and condemn all forms of communal violence, hatred, hostility, racism and intolerance in India and anywhere else in the world, including the 1984 Genocide perpetrated against the Sikhs throughout India, and call on all sides to embrace truth, justice and reconciliation.”

Particularly in the light of Rajnath Singh’s pronouncement in 2014, the response of the Indian government and the Indian media is extremely troubling and bears examination.

The official response to the motion was to reject it and call it misguided, suggesting that it was “based on a limited understanding of India, its constitution, society, ethos, rule of law and the judicial process”.

This response is problematic for many reasons, perhaps the most significant being the suggestion that somehow the Indian judicial process had adequately addressed the horrific violence of 1984, which even the most casual observer will recognize as newspeak.

The equally important and I would say subtler issue with this response is the suggestion that the ethos of Indian society condones the mis-characterizing of horrific sectarian violence and the rejection of justice. I know for a fact that this suggestion is patently false!

How can I say this with such confidence?

For the past two and a half years, I have been traveling the world with Kultar’s Mime, a play about the 1984 genocide, created and directed by J Mehr Kaur. Our travels have taken us to India twice, where the play has been presented in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Chandigarh and Amritsar.

In the cities outside the Punjab, our audience was mostly non-Sikh. Kultar’s Mime is a powerful and emotional play that pulls no punches as it tells the story of the 1984 Delhi genocide from the perspective of four young Sikh survivors.

It also unflinchingly draws attention to the organizers of the violence, who have been named in reports produced by unimpeachable Human Rights groups and intrepid journalists.

In the Fall of 2014, when the play was presented mostly on the East Coast in the US and Canada, we talked about the possibility to taking it to India. All of our well-wishers tried to dissuade us, suggesting that an attempt to draw attention to the 1984 genocide would be met with hostility or worse in India.

I have to confess that when we landed in Delhi in October 2014 and prepared to present for the first time in India on October 31, the thirty year anniversary of the genocide, we did so with great trepidation. I was convinced that we would be discredited as trouble makers, intent on reopening the wounds of the past.

I was delighted to be proven wrong! The play was met with an outpouring of support and empathy, eliciting positive coverage in newspapers such as The Hindu, The Telegraph, The Times of India, The Indian Express, The Pioneer, The Tribune, Mid-Day and many more.

Even more heartening was the response of young Indians, born after the horrific events of 1984 who had absolutely no prior knowledge of the genocide.

The important lesson that I learned when we took the story of the 1984 genocide back to India was that humanity of the common man is alive and well as is his ability to empathize. Nobody felt a need to vilify us for drawing attention to the horrific events of 1984.

Nobody accused us of having “… a limited understanding of India, its constitution, society, ethos, rule of law and the judicial process” even though we were absolutely willing to lay the responsibility for the massacre where it belonged!

Why then this response to the Ontario motion? Why is the government of India so afraid of any attempts to draw attention to a dark chapter in the nation’s history, while common people seem to have no issue acknowledging it and responding with compassion?

My question is of course, rhetorical.

This brings me to the second topic that I would like to address in this article : the bugbear of Khalistan.

As I was reading the coverage of the Ontario motion in the Indian press, I was struck by a common thread that ran through most of the coverage.

After reporting on the motion and the Indian government’s official response, most of the stories turned their attention to ‘pro Khalistan’ groups which allegedly played a significant role in getting the motion introduced and passed.

Captain Amarinder Singh, the newly elected Chief Minister of Punjab went so far as to label the Defense Minister Of Canada, Harjit Singh Sajjan, a much decorated war hero as a ‘Khalistani supporter’.

The powerful in India, particularly those affiliated with the Congress Party, responsible for perpetrating the 1984 genocide, have raised the specter of Khalistan over and over again every time attention is drawn to the fact that thirty-two years after one of the most heinous crimes perpetrated in independent India, those responsible continue to stalk the corridors of power with impunity.

This canard is particularly toxic because it immediately draws attention away from the victims and perpetrators by focusing it on a ‘threat’ that is so deeply rooted in the nation’s psyche that the mere mention of it is sufficient to banish empathy and supplant it with fear.

As a Sikh leader who has traveled extensively and participated in many Sikh fora over the last several years, and is somewhat aware of what is happening in the community at large, let me go out on a limb and say this.

This notion of a present day ‘Khalistani threat’ is utter nonsense! It is about as credible as the ‘Northwest Territorial Imperative’ to carve out an Aryan homeland in the US and Canada!

The fact that Indian press knows this, as does Captain Amarinder Singh only underscores the brazenness of their position!

I recently had a first hand encounter with the effect of this cynical propaganda that I would like to share with my readers.

On April 9, just three days after the Ontario motion was passed, the Harvard Pluralism Project presented Kultar’s Mime at Harvard University as part of a program designed to address the current climate of fear and uncertainty, wrought in no small part by the lingering effects of the US Presidential election.

After the performance, Dr Diana Eck, Harvard Professor and the Director of The Pluralism Project moderated a discussion with the audience, in which J Mehr Kaur and I participated.

The discussion progressed like many others before with the audience responding emotionally to what they had experienced, expressing both shock and empathy as we pondered the larger issues relating to sectarian violence organized by state actors.

And then a hand went up int he audience. It was a young woman, a recent immigrant from India who wanted to know what my opinion was of Jarnail Singh Bhinderanwale and what I thought of the recent resurgence of the Khalistan movement! It was an unexpected question that left me nonplussed for a moment!

It is important here to set some context for those of my readers who are not intimately familiar with the history of the events of 1984. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, in June 1984 launched an attack on the Golden Temple in Amritsar, ostensibly to flush out a band of Sikh militants under the leader of the charismatic Sikh preacher, Jarnail Singh Bhinderanwale, who had sought refuge in the complex.

Punjab had been wracked by violence for several yeas preceding the attack, which was attributed by the Indian Government and the Press to Sikh militants, who were agitating for the creation of a Sikh state called Khalistan.

The violence continued for almost a decade after 1984 and with the benefit of hindsight we now know that a plethora of actors, that included criminals, state police and paramilitary agencies, rogue government-sponsored vigilantes and Sikh militants contributed.

Unraveling the complex political realities of the Punjab from the mid seventies to the mid nineties is a subject worthy of discussion but far beyond the scope of this article. It is a well accepted fact that militancy in the Punjab was snuffed out by the mid-nineties through the crushing use of force by the government.

Suffice it so say that Jarnail Singh Bhinderanwale was a polarizing figure who to this day is variously described as a knight errant whose only agenda was to rid modern day Sikhism of various corrupt practices that had set in, a bloodthirsty terrorist who ordered the killing of innocent Hindus with impunity, a dupe of Indira Gandhi’s political party who used him to play electoral politics in the Punjab, a simple minded village preacher etc. based on one’s viewpoint and worldview.

Why do I even bring this up?

The Sikh genocide of 1984 in inexorably linked to the political history of the Punjab in the eighties, which if one is not vigilant, can give credence to an extremely toxic narrative which goes roughly as follows:

The Sikhs were at odds with the Indian government and embraced militancy and the movement to create Khalistan to further their political demands, exemplified by the rise of Jarnail Singh Bhinderanwale.

That caused Indira Gandhi to launch an assault on the Golden Temple and resulted in her assassination by her Sikh bodyguards. That in turn prompted retaliatory attacks against Sikhs, which were unfortunate but somewhat understandable. The Sikhs after all, in a certain sense, had ‘asked for it’.

That is the narrative that all right thinking people need to reject! As well as the implication that anyone who draws attention to the gross injustice of the 1984 genocide must somehow be a follower of Jarnail Singh Bhinderanwale or a supporter of Khalistan!

This is the cynical game that The Indian Government and the Indian Media are playing in their response to the Ontario motion. Amarinder Singh is playing exactly the same game when he dubs Harjit Singh Sajjan a ‘Khalsitani’.

The young woman who asked the unexpected question, I am sure, did so with no malice at all! It is simply the effectiveness of the carefully crafted narrative speaking!

Let me say this! I honestly do not know who Jarnail Singh Bhinderanwale was and in the context of the 1984 genocide, I do not care. Nor should anyone else!

No matter who he was or what he did or did not do, nothing can every justify the savagery of the 1984 Sikh Genocide. Trying to link the two is a thinly disguised attempt at justifying the killing of thousands of innocents and the unleashing of terror that continues to haunt an entire community thirty two years later, as it seeks acknowledgement and justice.

Those who seek to make this connection need to be ashamed of themselves. Those who allow themselves to be seduced by a Goebbelsian narrative to justify such savagery need to introspect.

The government of India needs to understand that acknowledging the 1984 Sikh genocide and making an honest attempt to address its festering wounds will only strengthen the ‘largest democracy in the world’. Embracing the Ontario motion rather than vilifying it can only enhance India’s reputation in the community of nations.

There is nothing to be afraid of!

Sarbpreet Singh is a playwright, commentator and poet, who has been writing while pursuing a career in technology for several years. He is the author of Kultar’s Mime, a poem about the 1984 Sikh Genocide. His commentary has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition and Worldview, The Boston Herald, The Providence Journal, The Milwaukee Journal and several other newspapers and magazines. He is the founder and director of the Gurmat Sangeet Project, a non-profit dedicated to the preservation of traditional Sikh music and serves on the boards of various non-profits focused on service and social justice. He is very active in Boston Interfaith circles and serves as a spiritual advisor at Northeastern University. – Giani Gurmukh Singh dismissed by SGPC

Sikh24 Editors

Amritsar Sahib-Panjab-India, 21 April 2017. A day after Giani Gurmukh Singh exposed Sukhbir Badal’s role in granting pardon to Sirsa cult chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim, the SGPC today dismissed him from his services.

Notably, Giani Gurmukh Singh had unearthed the whole chapter of pardon granted to Sirsa cult chief before the media on 19 April.

Sikh24 has learnt that the head Granthi of Sri Muktsar Sahib Giani Harpreet Singh has been appointed in place of Giani Gurmukh Singh.

It is worth mentioning here that Giani Gurmukh Singh had earlier refused to participate in meeting of SGPC appointed Takht Jathedars at Sri Akal Takht Sahib. He had also raised objections over the closed door meetings of SGPC appointed Takht Jathedars.

He was learnt to be upset over the allegations of acting as a middleman to facilitate pardon to Sirsa cult Chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim for which he had sought constitution of a ‘Maryada Committee’ to probe the entire episode of granting pardon to Sirsa cult chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim by the Takht Jathedars on 24 September 2015.

Giani Gurmukh Singh had accused the SGPC appointed Takht Jathedars of always taking decisions under political influence.