– 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.

NSO – A tribute to Rt Hon Fiona Mactaggart MP

We are truly sorry to hear Fiona Mactaggart the MP for Slough is standing down at the forthcoming election.

Slough has the highest percentage of Sikh residents in the UK and for the last two decades she has been nothing short of a champion for the community, and indeed, all minority communities across Britain.

Aside from her annual appearance at the Vaisakhi Nagar Kirtan, she has frequently raised important issues on behalf of the Sikh community in parliament.

These include the call for better recognition of the Sikh contribution to the Great Wars, advocacy for Sikh faith schools, and speaking out against human rights violations in India.

Lord Singh who first met Fiona at the Communities Faith Forum whilst she was a government Minister said, “At the time, despite poor health, she threw herself into her new role with enthusiasm and vigour in promoting community understanding and engagement.”

He went on, “I join many others in the Sikh community in wishing Fiona health and happiness in her well-deserved retirement from frontline politics.”

Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO)
London UK

The Times of India – Expel MP: UK gurdwara writes to Labour Party

I am no fan of the previous Gurdwara pardhan Himmat Singh Sohi, I am no fan of the present pardhan Gurmail Singh Malhi nor of committee member Harjit Singh Sarpanch or Virendra Sharma MP. I have lived in West London for about 13 years and I know that there are excellent people in the local Sikh community. Why are these not elected as MP, or member of the Gurdwara committee ?
Man in Blue

Chandigarh, 25 April 2017. There is a different fervour to snap general election campaign in Ealing-Southall this year with Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Southall, passing a resolution seeking expulsion of incumbent Member of Parliament, Virendra Sharma, from the Labour Party of Britain.

This resolution is a result of a social media messaging controversy involving some committee members of the gurdwara. Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Southall, is the largest gurdwara out side India with about 10,000 registered members. The controversy has become a talking point in the local Sikh circles.

Sharma on his part says that the campaign against him is politically motivated and is being stirred up by a small number of people driven by religion and the regions they come from. He insists the protests don’t represent the community’s feelings.

He had also written to the gurdwara’s general secretary, apologising for sharing a What sApp message that was against the gurdwara’s management committee.

It is alleged that during the annual Southall Baisakhi Nagar Kirtan earlier this month, Sharma passed on messages on social media that were allegedly defamatory and malicious that targeted some of the gurdwara management committee members, including its president Gurmail Singh Malhi.

Expressing concern during a specially convened executive committee meeting, gurdwara vice-president Harjit Singh Sarpanch said, “It is more serious because it has been done and being done by a public person like Sharma in collaboration with his supporters to spread hatred in the community”.

Sarpanch alleged that Sharma was not capable of representing the diverse people of Southall and Ealing and that he had been dividing communities.

“This is an act of political criminality. He has sent messages on WhatsApp relating to me and my colleagues’ personal matters. He must be suspended as an MP by the Labour Party”, claimed Manjit Singh Buttar, the gurdwara general secretary, who is also a Councillor in the London Borough of Hounslow.

The management committee has since passed a resolution planning to take action against Sharma.

The executive committee unanimously condemned “malicious, conspired, character assassination on the day of Nagar Kirtan to cause maximum harm to the reputation and character of our key committee members.” It was also resolved that the case be reported to the police and further civil action be initiated as per legal advice.

It was also decided that the committee would report the matter to the Leader of the Labour Party calling for action to expel Mr Sharma MP from the party as well as to approach the Speaker of the House of Commons requesting him to take appropriate action against him.

Sharma said, “The argument with Buttar and the gurdwara is all product of a misunderstanding. There is no real conflict between us and I have offered to meet with everyone concerned to clear up the issue.”

The April 20 letter written to the gurdwara general secretary by the MP, a copy of which has been provided to TOI, Sharma said, “On the 9th April I received a WhatsApp message from an unknown number.

This message contained numerous allegations about a number of highly respected members of our local community and people I consider to be pillars of society. I will not waste space on the scurrilous rumours and gossip in the message, but I told the sender that it was wrong to make such allegations anonymously…”

He added in the letter that when the first accusations were followed by further accusations, he shared the number and message with very few friends to try to ascertain the identity of the sender.

“In doing so I realise that I spread the gossip further and I would like to wholeheartedly apologise for this, and any accidental credence I lent the allegations, this was not my intention,” he said. – 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.

BBC News – Anti-Brexit pact possible in Northern Ireland

Belfast, 19 April 2017. Sinn Fein and the SDLP have not ruled out entering into an anti-Brexit electoral pact to fight the general election.

Both party leaders have said they are open to talking to other parties about a way to protect Northern Ireland from a hard Brexit, after Northern Ireland voted to remain by a majority of 56% to 44% in last year’s EU referendum.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: “If Theresa May wants an election about Brexit, let’s show her that people in Northern Ireland don’t support a hard Brexit.”

Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill said the party wanted to fight the election “very strongly” on the ground of anti-Brexit and anti-austerity policies, so would be “up for discussions” about a possible electoral pact.

However, Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong ruled out entering into any pact.

“That is not how we operate,” she said. “People know if they vote Alliance, they will get Alliance.

“We are standing on our own two feet and putting forward a constructive vision which we believe the public will back.”

I am very interested in what is going to happen in Scotland and Northen Ireland, which both voted against Brexit. There are Sikh communities in both countries.
Man in Blue

ITV Report – Vaisakhi celebrations underway in Gravesend

Gravesend, 15 April 2017. The annual celebrations to mark the Sikh festival of Vasiakhi are underway in the Gravesham area of Kent.

Historically ‘Vaisakhi’ marked the spring harvest for the farmers and communities in the Punjab area of Northern India. The organisers of today’s events say that most of the Sikhs in Gravesham originate from Punjab, signifying the importance of the celebration to Sikh communities in Kent.

The religious festival marks the Sikh New Year*, and the birth of the religion in its current form. In a tradition of togetherness, members of other communities are also invited to take part in the festivities.

“On behalf of the Management Committee I would like to invite all the residents of Gravesham to attend the festivities which will be taking place at the Gurdwara and in the Town Centre.

The Sikh community has a long and proud history here in Gravesham and we always welcome and appreciate the support of all our partners and the local community in making Vaisakhi such a colourful and inclusive spectacle for all to enjoy.”

– Davinder Singh Bains, President of the Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara

The Sikh faith, as it is practiced today, was created on Vaisakhi Day in 1699 by the 10th Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, who established the Khalsa Panth (the community of committed Sikhs).

The walk through the streets is called Nagar Kirtan. Nagar means town, and kirtan is a process of singing hymns from the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib. The procession began at the Gurdwara and passed through the town centre of Gravesend.

“The Vaisakhi celebrations in Gravesham are some of the biggest in the Country and it is a great testament for all concerned that they have evolved from just being a Sikh celebration to one involving all communities regardless of faith. With recent atrocities still fresh in our minds Vaisakhi is a wonderful example of how faith can bring diverse communities together to celebrate as one all that binds us together as a community in Gravesham”

– Gurvinder Sandher, CEO, Kent Equality Cohesion Council

More celebrations will take place on Sunday.

*The Sikh year does not begin with the month of Vaisakh ! Man in Blue – ‘Death holds no fear for us’: A Sikh soldier’s insights into the horrors of World War I

Jangnamah, a genre of poetic writing, can also be a rich historical resource, as a work from WWI reveals

Published 10 April 2017

Nand Singh, an Indian poet and soldier who witnessed World War I fighting under the British in Aden, opens his Jangnamah Europe verse with the assassination of the Shehzada of the Austro-Hungarian Empire by the Serbians.

His poem then goes on to talk about the events which led to the German invasion of Belgium and how “the compassionate British Government, stood with Belgium and France against the arrogant Germany who broke all the agreements”.

Nand Singh’s work and other Jangnamahs of the British period in Punjab are valuable literary and historical narratives providing rare subaltern perspectives about the colonial wars and conflicts.

Even prior to World War I, Punjabi soldiers had fought under British in the Second Anglo-Afghan war, Anglo-Egyptian war, Second Opium war, Boxer Rebellion in China and multiple campaigns in the North West Frontier.

There was very little documentation of this period “from below”, and of this limited historiography Jangnamah poetry holds a vital but largely forgotten position. Nand Singh finished Jangnamah Europe on June 7, 1919, and is arguably the first work in Punjabi discussing the European and Middle Eastern people, empires and politics.

Jangnamah, a genre of historical poetic writing which documented the events of a war, entered Punjab in the late 16th century as a literary response to the Persian epics.

It found patronage in the hands of Punjabi Muslim poets like Maulvi Rukundin, Hamid and Shahjahan Muqbal who honed this craft commemorating the 7th century Islamic wars of Karbala, Badr and Uhud.

Afghan invasions, the crumbling Mughal Empire and rise of the Sikh power in late 18th century created another period of great turmoil and conquest in Punjab. This brought war as a tangible phenomenon to the Punjabi poet and led to a renaissance in the Jangnamah literature.

It shifted from religious metaphorical style to a historically accurate poetic description of war as witnessed by the contemporary poets.

The Magnum Opus of this genre is about the final war of the Sikh empire of Punjab. Jangnamah Hind Punjab, or Singhan Firanghian (Sikhs and British) as it is variously titled, was composed by Shah Muhammad, a Punjabi Muslim from Gurdaspur in the central Punjab.

It chronicles the events which built up to the First Anglo-Sikh war in 1845, from the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the treachery and politics that followed in his court and finally the battle which the Sikhs lost.

In the British Raj, specifically during the mutiny of 1857, defeated Sikh chiefs heralded the British call to “retrieve their characters” by taking service in the British Indian Army. Most of those who signed up subsequently served in the North West Frontier, which remained the constant theatre of war under the British.

The bleak, bloodthirsty passes inspired a great deal of poetry ranging from the romanticised ballads of Rudyard Kipling to the folk Pashto legends of Malalai of Maiwand, who died rallying the Afghan Ghazis to fight the “British infidels” in the battle of Maiwand during the second Anglo-Afghan war.

At least half a dozen Jangnamahs were composed in this period; the most notable are the ones about the siege of Delhi during the Mutiny and the expeditions of Chitral, Tirah and Malakand in the North Western Frontier during the last decade of 19th century.

Havildar Nand Singh, who composed the Janganamah Europe giving an empirical account of the First World War was a Sergeant in the Malay State Guides. His regiment was raised in 1896 with its headquarters in Taiping, Malaysia. It had its origins in the Perak Sikh police force and composed mainly of Punjabi Sikh and Muslim soldiers.

The Guides had offered overseas service multiple times but it was not until World War I that the regiment was baptised by blood in Yemen. On September 26, 1915, they left Taiping to join the Aden Field Force.

Nand Singh talks about the recruitment that how everyone from the weaver, the bard to the teacher, the clerk and even Pundits and Maulvis were drafted into the service and trained in digging bunkers, shooting rifles and saluting the officers.

One distinctive aspect of the work is that the poet repeatedly returns to talk about the misery and longing of the women left behind in their homes.

For them, both local officials and Germans turn villainous, they lament the local police constable who threatened their sons with false accusations to force them to enlist and loathe the Zaildar and village heads who ‘took’ their sons, brothers and husbands away from them.

With the progress of war they start receiving messages of soldier’s deaths from Regimental stations and they moan and wail at Germany for its cruelty, for killing their sons in the unheard lands of France and Basra.

In contrast to most other Jangnamahs of this period his tone is not of flattery, for example he uses word Sahib once only for Lord Kitchener. However, he recurrently stresses “Namak Halali” (loyalty) whether it be of the 14th Sikh Regiment who fought almost to their last man at Gallipoli or as a virtue for new recruits to uphold.

His work thus provides a measured outlook of the war and an insight into what Regimental honour and loyalty meant to the native soldiers.

Adulation is more frequent in British-sponsored works like Qasim Ali’s Zafarnamah-i-Kabul which is considered a rendering of the first Afghan war which favours the British to counter the popular Jangnamahs of this war composed by Hamid Kashmiri and Mohammad Gholam Gholami.

Similarly, the Jangnama of Chitral, in which Subadar Wadhawa Singh of 23rd Sikh Pioneers Regiment sketches the dramatic murder of the ruler of Chitral by his brother Amir-ul-Mulk, the siege of the fort and then finally the relief under Major General Sir Robert Low, also suffers from a British eulogising style.

It was presented by the poet to his Colonel S V Gordon in 1896 and seems to have then been used as an instrument to firm the fidelity of the native troops.

Nand Singh discusses multiple theatres of action ranging from Gallipoli, Kut-al-Amara and Baghdad to the battle of Verdun on Western Front.

He vividly describes his own regiment’s multiple confrontations in and near Aden and their bravery which won a Military Cross, an Indian Order of Merit, eight Indian Distinguished Service Medals and praise and appreciation from Major General J M Stewart, General Officer commanding the Aden Field Force.

Even the war’s end did not bring relief for Nand Singh and his fellow soldiers. When the guns and artillery were silenced they continued to lose their lives as they were struck down by the influenza epidemic which eventually claimed the lives of an estimated 14 million Indians (not just soldiers). Nand Singh writes:

“With the telegraphs of armistice, nemesis changed its face/ The deadly fever spread, it takes a man’s life faster than the bullet’s pace”

In 1914 the Guide had initially refused to mobilise. The reasons have been variously linked to the seditious Ghadarite influence, the Komagata Maru incident, and sympathy of Muslim soldiers with Khalifat Movement.

Although they did eventually renew their offer the British were ever mindful of this reluctance and disbanded the regiment in 1919.

The soldiers were either absorbed into other regiments or returned to Punjab with gratuity and pensions. Nand Singh most probably returned home having proved his ‘Namak Halali’ but ironically with a seditious label.

The beauty of the Jangnamah narrative is that it reveals the soldiers’ courage in its most naked form, celebrating their ability brave fear and continue against the odds. Nand Singh sustains this tradition and writes:

“Death holds no fear for us, what honour is it to fall abaft holding the Saber fine?

After raising the Sarkar’s rifle, what honour is it to fright and whine?

Die thyself or kill thy enemy, what honour is it to war without all thy might?

After enlisting on the rolls, what honour is it to fear the death or even its sight?

Seeking to prove the loyalty, what honour is it hold back from the battle field?

Never keep the trader’s heart, what honour is it to blame the fate and yield?”

Raman Singh Chhina is working on an anthology of native histories about the colonial conflicts in the Indian subcontinent. He is a graduate from Delhi Technological University and works as a Credit Risk Analyst. His major interests lie in Public Policy and Socio-Political History. [centre/italics]

This article first appeared on
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The Hindu – India, Britain talk up post-Brexit trade prospects

Governments to back energy, renewables investments, India open to free trade deal

New Delhi, 4 April 2017. India and Britain on Tuesday talked up their prospects of developing a new trading relationship, as their finance ministers met in New Delhi to prepare for the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.

British finance minister Philip Hammond flew in to New Delhi for talks with Indian counterpart Arun Jaitley, days after Prime Minister Theresa May triggered the start of the Brexit process after last June’s referendum vote to quit the European Union.

Mr Hammond played down the risks of a so-called “hard Brexit,” in which Britain would lose access to the markets of the bloc’s other 27 nations if the two sides cannot reach a consensus deal within a two-year deadline.

“We have made the decision that we will not be part of the structure of the European Union, but we’ve also made very clear that we want to negotiate the maximum possible open trade relationship with the European Union,” Hammond told a news conference after a joint economic and financial dialogue.

“We hope to be able to negotiate a deep and special relationship with the European Union that will allow us to go on trading and investing in each other’s economy, but at the same time allow us to rebuild our relationships with our partners and allies around the world.”

In India, the world’s fastest-growing large economy with a population of 1.3 billion, Britain has a massive market opportunity, but also a counterpart not known for favouring free trade.

May met a cool reception on her first visit to India last November, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi stressing the importance not only of trade but also of freedom of movement for his country’s skilled workers.

Still, Mr. Jaitley struck a positive note by saying, “The United Kingdom, post-Brexit, is looking at a different level of relationship with India. And there’s a huge aspiration in India itself also, to add to, and improve on, this relationship.”

No formal negotiations on a bilateral free trade agreement would be possible until Britain has formally left the European Union, but Hammond said the two sides would have a “deep discussion” in the meantime.

In a joint statement, the ministers highlighted a pact for each country to invest 120 million pounds ($149 million) in a joint fund under India’s National Investment and Infrastructure Fund to invest in energy and renewables.

They also discussed efforts to make India’s rupee currency more freely tradeable on international markets, and promote ‘masala’ bonds for Indian companies to borrow in their own currency from investors in the City of London.

The National Highways Authority of India, the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency and the Indian Railway Finance Corporation all plan to issue masala bonds in the coming months, they added.