Business Sandard – Sikhs can continue to carry Kirpans despite tough new UK weapons bill

The bill had been amended late last year to ensure that it would not impact the right of the British Sikh community to possess and supply kirpans, or religious swords.

London – UK, 18 May 2019. A new Offensive Weapons Bill aimed at tackling rising knife crime in the UK completed its journey through Parliament to become an act of law after receiving the Royal Assent of Queen Elizabeth II this week.

The bill had been amended late last year to ensure that it would not impact the right of the British Sikh community to possess and supply kirpans, or religious swords.

“We have engaged closely with the Sikh community on the issue of kirpans. As a result, we have amended the Bill to ensure that the possession and supply of large kirpans for religious reasons can continue,” a UK Home Office spokesperson said.

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for British Sikhs had led a delegation to the UK Home Office to ensure that the kirpan remains exempt when the new bill becomes law.

“I am pleased to see the government amendment, which reflects the importance of not criminalising the Sikh community for the sale or possession of large kirpans,” said Labour MP Preet Kaur Gill, Chair of the APPG for British Sikhs.

The new law would therefore maintain status quo in continuing to legally safeguard the sale, possession and use of large kirpans.

Fellow Sikh MP, Tan Dhesi, had also made an intervention during the Offensive Weapons Bill debate in the Commons to seek “assurances about the kirpan, given the Sikh community’s serious concerns”.

Large kirpans, with blades over 50-cm, are used by the community during religious ceremonies in gurdwaras as well as for ceremonies involving the traditional Sikh Gatka martial art. They would have fallen foul of the new bill on the possession of large blades without the amendment, which has now been agreed.

The Offensive Weapons Act covers new offences around possession of certain offensive weapons in public and enforces new restrictions on the online sales of bladed articles and corrosive products in attempt to crackdown on rising knife and acid-related attacks in the country.

“These new laws will give police extra powers to seize dangerous weapons and ensure knives are less likely to make their way onto the streets in the first place. The Act will also see the introduction of Knife Crime Prevention Orders a power the police called for,” said UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid.

The act is aimed at strengthening existing legislative measures on offensive weapons, focusing on corrosive substances, knives and certain types of firearm.

https://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/uk-gets-new-weapons-act-secures-sikh-right-to-carry-kirpans-119051800525_1.html

Dawn – Who was Brigadier General John Nicholson? And what should we do about his monument on GT Road?

It is important to preserve monuments, but also to contest the narrative built around them.

Osman Ehtisham Anwar

Taxila – Panjab – Pakistan, 17 May 2019. My heart would sink at the sight of Nicholson’s Obelisk, towering high atop Margalla Pass near Taxila on the left flank of the Grand Trunk Road as I travelled from Rawalpindi towards Peshawar.

It indicated that my boarding school, Cadet College Hasan Abdal, was only 30 minutes away and I would have to part with my parents, who would accompany me and my brother on the drive back to our college after vacations.

I remember asking my father once if he knew what that monument was. He had remarked that it was named after a British brigadier general. My father, being an alumnus of the same college, had frequented that road many times.

I knew very little at the time of who Brigadier General John Nicholson was, but assumed he must have been a very distinguished and remarkable man to have a towering structure in his remembrance.

It wasn’t until recently that I read about the moveable column (a tactical military formation) that he led during the uprising of 1857, the atrocities he committed and his extremely prejudiced, racist hatred towards the people of the Indian subcontinent and Afghans that I realised how important it is for us to recognise this British-era relic as an embodiment of our colonial subjugation.

William Dalrymple in his book The Last Mughal recounts that by the time the uprising started against the British in Meerut in 1857, Nicholson had already developed a very strong hatred for the people here:

“Nicholson loathed India with a passion (‘I dislike India and its inhabitants more every day’) and regarded only the Afghans as worse (‘the most vicious and bloodthirsty race in existence’). These views he had already formed before he was captured during the disaster of the 1842 Afghan War.

By the time he was released, only to discover his younger brothers dead body, with his genitalia cut off and stuffed in his mouth, his feeling about Afghans, and indeed Indians and Muslims of any nationality, were confirmed: he felt, he said, merely ‘an intense feeling of hatred. Only his wish to spread the Christian Empire of the British in this heathen wilderness kept him in the East”.

Dalrymple goes on to add that when Sir John Lawrence, the Chief Commissioner of the Punjab at the time, gave Nicholson a mixed-race Anglo-Indian subordinate, Nicholson felt insulted and humiliated:

“Nicholson’s response was to threaten to murder Lawrence, or, as he put it, ‘commit justifiable homicide. Individuals have their rights as well as nations’”.

Perhaps the brigadier general did attract some unsuspecting admirers amongst the population during his time and was called “Nikul Seyn”, possibly as a mark of respect. But Charles Griffiths, writing in 1910, suggests in his account of the Siege of Delhi that the word ‘Seyn’ (saeen) in Nicholson’s case implied more than that:

“Many stories are told of his prowess and skill, and he ingratiated himself so strongly amongst a certain race that he received his apotheosis at their hands, and years afterwards was, and perhaps to this day is, worshipped by these rude mountaineers under the title of “Nikul Seyn”.”

However, others contest this. The young Lieutenant Edward Ommaney who accompanied Bahadur Shah Zafar to exile in Rangoon was “one of the few who remained immune to the hero worship of this great imperial psychopath”, according to Dalrymple, and was shocked by Nicholson’s absurd viciousness directed not only towards the ‘mutineers’ (from his perspective) but also towards the unfortunate cook boys.

Dalrymple recounts in his book:

“‘He shows himself off to be a great brute,’ Ommaney wrote in his diary on 21 July. ‘For instance he thrashed a cook boy, for getting in his way in the line of the march (he has a regular man, very muscular, to perform this duty). The boy complained, he was brought up again, and died from the effects of the 2nd thrashing’”.

In another incident, he hung all the regimental cooks. As the officers in the mess waited for their dinner, Nicholson walked into the mess tent and announced:

“‘I’m sorry gentlemen to have kept you waiting for your dinner, but I have been hanging your cooks’. According to Nicholson he had discovered through his spies that the regimental cooks had just laced the officers’ soup with aconite. He first invited the cooks to taste the soup, then, when they refused, force-fed the hot liquid to an unfortunate monkey.

It writhed for a few seconds, then expired. Within minutes, as one of the officers present put it, ‘our regimental cooks were ornamenting a neighbouring tree’”.

The history of the subcontinent has other, more infamous generals who were of course celebrated by the British as saviours of the Raj.

With the recent centenary of the massacre at Amritsar, everyone in India is already familiar with General Reginald Dyer, who on April 13, 1919 led and ordered his soldiers to open fire on some 20,000 people, including women and children, who had gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh, mostly to celebrate the Sikh festival of Baisakhi.

In 2015/16, there was an unsuccessful campaign in Oxford to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes; the protesting students did not want his imperialist legacy to be celebrated. The Rhodes Scholarship is administered through his will. Although I support the preservation of Nicholson’s Obelisk as a part of our history, what I contest is the narrative that is built around it.

For example, a news report from 2016 about the first ever archeological survey conducted in the federal capital concludes with a remark about Nicholson: “His life and career became a source of inspiration for a generation of British youth seeking adventure in emerging colonies, especially the Indian subcontinent”.

A lot more needs to be added as to who he was and how prejudiced and despicable his views and actions were. The British wanted to pay homage to Nicholson’s imperial achievements. To us, it should serve as a reckoning of our past. It is imperative for us to know the man for who he was as opposed to what the colonial empire wanted to remember him as.

Today, the road leading up to my alma mater brings back fonder memories; my heart still sinks at the sight of this obelisk though, but for different reasons now. Globally in academia, there is a strong student-led movement to decolonise curriculums. It is all the more important for us in Pakistan to do the same.

When students at a premiere boarding school aren’t taught anything about a monument that is in such close proximity to their campus, it points to a systemic issue. We ought to engage more openly and critically with our history, so that we know our past better than I did when I was in school.

Osman Ehtisham Anwar is retracing the footsteps of one of the greatest travellers of all time, Ibn Battuta. You can read more about his journey at A Wandering Within.
He tweets @OEAnwar.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1482872/who-was-brigadier-general-john-nicholson-and-what-should-we-do-about-his-monument-on-gt-road

Sikh24.com – Sikh Council UK: Mass resignations leave in doubt future of the organisation

By Sikh24 Editors

London – UK, 03 May 2019. Sikhs in the UK are left without a united voice after 68 delegates resigned before the Sikh Council UK’s General Assembly meeting last weekend.

Allegations of a takeover by a rival group, Sikh Federation UK, is most prevalent among what is being discussed over social media. These allegations, although dismissed by Sikh Federation UK, have been rife over the past few weeks and some of those who have resigned have broken their silence.

In a statement seen by Sikh24 issued from amongst the 68 members that have left Sikh Council UK, the resigning members have said the Sikh Council UK is no longer a collective and representative voice of Gurdwaras and Sikh organisations.

The former members who resigned last week represent some of the largest Gurdwaras and Sikh organisations across the country.

Has Sikh Federation UK taken over Sikh Council UK?

The resigning members have alleged Sikh Council UK has effectively been taken over by the Sikh Federation UK and said many of the top posts in the new Executive Committee of Sikh Council UK announced at the General Assembly meeting at Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara Southall on Saturday 27th April have been given to members or supporters of Sikh Federation UK.

The resignation letter states, “This is a decision we have reached with a heavy heart and after several months of attempting to reach a resolution on a way forward for the Sikh Council UK following the last six months of turmoil.

We have repeatedly raised our concerns and attempted to pursue dialogue with you but unfortunately all our efforts have remained fruitless with some of the Board of Jathedars point blank refusing to meet with members of the Sikh Council UK Executive Committee in recent weeks.”

Sikh Federation UK, however, rebutted these allegations. “The Sikh Federation (UK) is a large national organisation that has more than 20 branches across the UK with local and national leadership. We therefore have extensive links to Gurdwaras with local members and supporters involved in voluntary work (seva) in over 100 Gurdwaras,” Sikh Federation UK representative Jasvir Kaur told Sikh24.

Undertones of sexism by those in power

However, there is more to the allegations than just a takeover by those affiliated with the Sikh Federation UK.

At an Executive Committee meeting of the Sikh Council UK on 23rd March at Guru Nanak Gurdwara in Willenhall, in the presence of the Board of Jathedars, which consists only of men, the Executive Committee decided to implement its constitutional power and remove Dabinderjit Singh and Baldev Singh Bains as joint Secretary Generals following what has been termed as a ‘controversial’ letter they had sent to Government Ministers on behalf of Sikh Council UK.

A source close to Sikh Council UK told Sikh24.com: “They had gone outside their remit and were defending the position of the Sikh Federation UK in their letter to the Government, which differed from what Sikh Council UK wanted to achieve in regards to the Offensive Weapons Act. The Board of Jathedars said that both would be investigated, but everyone knew that that was unlikely to happen.”

The Executive Committee then unanimously proposed its first woman leader in Bibi Paramjit Kaur Matharu as the new Secretary General.

Jagtar Singh, the third joint Secretary General at the time, and of the previous administration, voluntarily agreed to step down to make way for the first woman leader. They decided in the interest of transparency that a meeting of the wider executive would be called on 27th April where the proposal would be agreed in unity with everyone.

Sikh24 further told that “some of the Board of Jathedars present at the meeting members got angry and aggressive at the decision to remove the existing Secretary Generals and proposing a woman leader.

It was a very nasty situation to be in if you were a woman; seeing some of the elders telling everyone it was their way only and basically making clear a woman couldn’t be selected as a leader by the Executive Committee. Other Board of Jathedars agreed it was our right to make the decision under the constitution, so there was a clear conflict between them as well.

We’ve never had a woman leader of a major Sikh organisation and this felt like another example of men not being able to accept women can do more than just help, they can lead.”

The source went on to say “There are less women in the new Executive Committee announced by the Sikh Council UK on 27th April than even the previous Committee. There has never been a female senior office bearer in Sikh Council UK in nearly a decade since the inception of the organisation back in 2010″.

Chaos as new election process is used to elect new members

Newly elected members of the Sikh Council UK

The Board of Jathedars responded to the decision of the Executive Committee by announcing they were dissolving the entire Executive Committee interim structure and set up a new process for selection which would involve a ‘parchi’ system, which has been described as pulling names out randomly.

The resigning members described this decision as “unconstitutional” and allege the Board of Jathedars had no power to make this decision.

We have learnt from sources that some of the Board of Jathedars did not agree with all that announced in their name and they called for the General Assembly meeting to be cancelled and did not attend the General Assembly meeting called in Southall.

The Board of Jathedars who wanted to use the ‘parchi’ system said that process of drawing the ‘parchia’ would in the Darbar Hall in the presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib and the first ‘parchi’ drawn would be accepted and respected as the ‘Guru’s wish’.

The sources disclosed that the Board of Jathedars members who attended the meeting failed to follow their own process. The meeting actually took place in a meeting room instead of the Darbar Hall, therefore not in the presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, and that there was chopping and changing of some of the names of those whose ‘parchia’ were initially picked out not taking up the roles including for the role of the Secretary General.

In response to an email sent by a Sikh, Sikh Federation UK stated that the resignation letter was sent shortly before the General Assembly meeting and shared with “a controversial anti-Panthik journalist to publish” in order to “damage the Sikh Council UK” but that it had had the “opposite effect”.

Sikh Federation UK said “some” members had resigned to “hide their own failings and avoid disciplinary action”.

In response to the question of whether the office bearers were selected in the presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Sikh Federation UK responded that “all faith was placed in Guru Maharaj” and that it was “fair to say the 5th Administration of the Sikh Council UK was selected by Guru Sahib Ji.”

On claims that Sikh Federation UK had taken over Sikh Council UK they said the “allegation against the Sikh Federation (UK) of too much influence prior to the parchia system of selection makes absolutely no sense.”

Sikh Federation UK stated that “Mangal Singh was the only Sikh Federation (UK) delegate who was selected in one of the 15 key roles as the Chair of the Indian sub-continent subcommittee.

However, he had the humility to step back and allow Gurmail Singh Malhi to take on that role and he became his assistant. The only other Sikh Federation (UK) delegate selected via the parchia system was Narinderjit Singh Thandi who is an ordinary member of the 30-member Executive”.

What does the future hold?

Sikh Council UK’s moto is “a united voice” but the mass resignations make it apparent that the organisation is no longer a uniting force for the Sikh community of the UK. It appears to have become a shell of its former self and now just another organisation.

The organisation’s fall from grace is a great shame for those who shared a vision for a common place to bring the Sikh community together in the UK in the pursuit of the key common goals and objectives. What is for sure, Sikh Council UK no longer represents a united voice for Sikhs in the UK.

Sikh Council UK: Mass Resignations Leave In Doubt Future Of The Organisation

Birmingham Live – ‘Ban the police’ – Watch cops forced to leave Vaisakhi as tensions flare with Sikh activists

West Midlands Police made to pack up its recruitment stall at the annual event in Handsworth

This is the moment cops were forced to abandon a recruitment drive at a city park after being confronted by Sikh activists.

Tensions flared at the annual Vaisakhi event in Handsworth Park on Sunday (April 28) as members of Sikh Youth UK protested against the police presence.

West Midlands Police was holding a stall to recruit worshippers into the force when they faced a barrage of chants – which were all caught on camera. Watch the video of the confrontation above.

Footage above captures as the crowd shout: “No justice no peace, ban the police.”

Inspector Iftekhar Ahmed can be seen making his way through the gathered officers to deal with those protesting.

Activists can also be heard giving the officers their marching orders, saying: “Pack your stall and go.”

An officer eventually gives in, saying: “Give us ten minutes or so, we will pack up.”

Vaisakhi festival in Birmingham – thousands flock to spectacular city celebration

The recruitment stand was shut down, as it was during a identical protest at Diwali celebrations at Guru Nanak Gurdwara in Pleck, Walsall last year.

The group has been angry with the local police since the September counter-terrorism raids .

They claimed West Midlands Police and Indian intelligence were targeting Sikhs, after such claims emerged in the Indian media.

Deepa Singh, a member of the Sikh Youth UK, said: “They had a stall there and there was a protest. Tensions were running very high.

“We were protesting because within an investigation from West Midlands Police, they raided homes of the Sikh community, passports were taken and information was leaked with the Indian authorities.

“Now we are a target and because of that, our lives are at risk – all five of us activists.”

West Midlands Police confirmed they had closed the stand in order to avoid tarnishing the peaceful family event.

https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/ban-police-watch-cops-forced-16202284

Birmingham Live – Mayor Andy Street in TV gaffe after calling Sikh gurdwara a mosque during Vaisakhi

West Midlands Mayor later apologised for ‘muddling my words’

Ashley Preece

Smethwick – West Midlands – UK, 29 April 2019. The Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street has issued a public apology, after stating a Sikh gurdwara was a mosque on live TV.

The embarrassing gaffe was aired during an interview with Akaal, a Sikh TV channel, as vibrant Vaisakhi celebrations unfolded at the huge Guru Nanak Gurdwara in Smethwick on Sunday.

When interviewed about Vaisakhi, Mr Street said: “It’s brilliant to be able to join the nagar kirtan here from the Guru Nanak Mosque in Smethwick, which is my opportunity to say a huge thank you to the Sikh community for their brilliant contribution across the West Midlands.”

The religious blunder was uploaded onto social media – and the 55-year-old was criticised for calling a gurdwara a mosque

Jay Singh-Sohal, though, defended the Mayor, saying: “Can we afford to not forgive those who’s mistakes are genuine?”

Following the live broadcast, Mr Street apologised for what he described as muddling his words.

He said: “Vaisakhi in Birmingham and Smethwick was yet again an amazing experience.

“All places of worship and festivals of all religions should be respected.

“I’m sorry I muddled my words.

“I hope no offence was caused, particularly as the Guru Nanak Gurdwara has always offered me a characteristic warm welcome.”

Mr Street’s gaffe comes in the week of heightened tension between the Sikh and Muslim communities after an event to celebrate Vaisakhi at Birmingham’s central mosque had to be cancelled.

The Vasaakhi at the Mosque event, a first for the UK, had been arranged for April 24 by anti-fascist campaign group Hope Not Hate.

The event was cancelled due to concerns over the safety of attendees.

https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/mayor-andy-street-tv-gaffe-16197148

Gulf News – Why UK never said sorry for Jallianwala Bagh

Sometimes in the history of nations, remembrances are as important as the apology itself

Ravi Menon

Dubai – United Arab Emirates. 25 April 2019. The Jallianwala Bagh massacre saw British troops fire on thousands of unarmed people in Amritsar on 13 April 1919. Recently the country marked the 100th anniversary of this terrible tragedy, possibly one of the worst atrocities of British colonial rule.

And yet no apology has come from Britain. And perhaps never will!

Nanak Singh, who survived the massacre of April 1919 writes: ‘At Dyer’s command, those Gurkha troops, gathered in a formation tight, my friends. Under the tyrant’s orders, they opened fire. Straight into innocent hearts, my friends. And fire and fire and fire they did, some thousands of bullets were shot, my friends.

Like searing hail they felled our youth. A tempest not seen before, my friend.’ Now, cast your mind back, close your eyes and imagine; Nanak Singh almost recreates that moment: Thud, thud and thud! After this searing experience, barely 22 and left for dead, he crawls back to life to become one of the best-loved Punjabi writers; penning 59 books. An irony of many parts.

Meanwhile, Sergeant W J Anderson who witnessed first-hand the brutal massacre writes, “When fire was opened the whole crowd seemed to sink to the ground, a whole flutter of white garments, with however a spreading out towards the main gateway, and some individuals could be seen climbing the high wall.

There was little movement, except for the climbers.” Sergeant Anderson was the bodyguard of Brigadier General R H Dyer, who gave that infamous order to shoot at sight.

This barbarous act was not an arbitrary step taken by Dyer, he was within his right to do so, under the notorious Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919, also called the Rowlatt Act, a legislation that sanctioned the use of emergency measures for indefinite detention, incarceration without trial and judicial review.

In public debates in India the demands for an apology from Britain have grown and Britain over the years has made a series of gestures to acknowledge that this massacre was monstrous (Winston Churchill in 1920 termed it monstrous). Since then, in 1997 Queen Elizabeth II laid a wreath at the site, Prime Minister David Cameron in 2003 called it deeply shameful and Prime Minister Theresa May as recently as 2018 said it was a shameful scar on British-Indian history.

Yet the word “apology” has never been uttered; to wrench a “sorry” from Britain, a one-time imperium is perhaps a word too far.

Why so?

Lively discussion

Before we get to that, an extraordinary event took place recently when the main protagonists (two generations removed) faced off each other, not with pistols drawn, but to relive that tragedy, a 100 years on, through poetry readings and some lively discussion.

Nanak Singh’s grandson, Ambassador Navdeep Singh Suri, and Sir Sidney Rowlatt’s grandson, Justin Rowlatt sat on the dais to give us renditions of the poem Khooni Vaisakhi as well as to tell us how far removed Imperial Britain was from its realm, the jewel in the crown, the Indian people.

This poignant poem by Nanak Singh takes us back to that horrifying afternoon of April 13, 1919, as the troops massed and fired mercilessly on a crowd that had gathered there not to start a rebellion but to celebrate Vaisakhi, a summer festival. Dyer and Rowlatt and the entire British establishment thought otherwise.

They were convinced this was an uprising as deadly and serious as the 1857 mutiny, when British India was on the verge of collapse. A tragedy, my reader, deep and dark, mired in misconceptions and fear: A tragedy, my reader, which could have been averted if only the occupier and the occupied understood each other.

Back to why an apology will never come?

“Never” is a word to be used sparingly and with trepidation. History is replete with strange twists and turns. But it is history that is at the heart of this obdurate refusal to say sorry. In Britain, the understanding of colonial history is shallow, but rich in English history.

Schoolchildren are taught about King Harold, the Stuarts, and the Tudors and the great wars, but the Amritsar massacre is but a minor footnote. The British public is unaware of what happened in India (at least the current generation) despite its great love for the country.

And as we saw, Britain felt then and even now that the Rowlatt Act was justified. This is what High Commissioner Dominic Asquith said recently: “You might want to rewrite history, but you can’t.” Easily said, but does that go far enough?

When asked this question, Ambassador Suri handled it with aplomb and finesse: “What is worth an apology if it is a wrench, it should come spontaneously from within, as an expression of remorse.” He then added tellingly: “Remembrances, my friend, are as important as apology. How many of us, Indians, know our history, my friend!”

Ravi Menon is a Dubai-based writer, working on a series of essays on India and on a public service initiative called India Talks.

https://gulfnews.com/opinion/op-eds/why-uk-never-said-sorry-for-jallianwala-bagh-1.63522844

Huffington Post – Not understanding impact of Anti-knife Crime Legislation on Sikhs shows Government officials lack knowledge of Sikh way of life

In a welcome bid to tackle the menace of knife crime, government officials almost criminalised all Sikh families simply for possessing the large kirpan blade, required for religious purposes.

Blog on Huffington Post by Dabinderjit Singh, 24 April 2019.

The Offensive Weapons Bill has completed its nine-month progression through Parliament and is expected to receive Royal Assent in the next couple of weeks. I along with many others from the Sikh community welcome the new legislation aimed at young people and to tackle the menace of increased knife crime and acid attacks.

The Bill however included clauses directly impacting on Sikhs, including extending existing offences of possessing a bladed article or offensive weapon on school premises to cover further education premises and banning the sale and possession of curved swords defined as those over 50 cm both in public and private.

As an Amritdhari or practising Sikh, who is the principal adviser to the Sikh Federation (UK) and regular attendee at government Sikh Roundtable meetings I was however alarmed these proposed changes that would have a huge impact on Sikhs were being introduced without any consultation with the community.

The most disturbing proposed change was to criminalise the sale and possession of the large or 3ft Sikh Kirpan and the effect this would have on Sikh religious practices. The change was justified by overzealous Home Office officials as proportionate in the Policy Equality Statement that was published alongside the Bill.

The Home Office and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) that holds Sikh Roundtable meetings were negligent not to communicate or consult with the Sikh community. This is inexcusable as government officials failed to identify significant unintended consequences of banning the possession of large Sikh Kirpans that are kept by virtually all Sikh families in their homes.

Their logic that the impact was mitigated by the narrower “religious ceremonies” defence introduced in legislation for curved blades over 50 cm in 2008 covering the use of the large Sikh Kirpan in religious ceremonies i.e. Anand Karaj or Sikh wedding ceremonies shows officials lack a basic understanding of the Sikh way of life and religious practices or consult those who also have little or no understanding.

The advisers to the Sikh Federation (UK) were alerted by a Sikh police officer from Leicester on the potential impact on the Sikh community just prior to the Third Reading of the Bill in the House of Commons.

Within 48 hours a group of cross-party MPs led by Preet Kaur Gill MP, Dominic Grieve MP and Pat McFadden MP belonging to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on UK Sikhs tabled an amendment to change the wording in the Bill to the much wider term “religious reasons”.

Simply possessing the large Kirpan would have meant all Sikh families being criminalised and those found in possession facing a prison sentence of up to one year. The Sikh Federation (UK) arranged for constituents to write and lobby over 250 MPs before the Third Reading.

MPs met with Victoria Atkins, the Home Office Minister responsible the Bill and Preet Kaur Gill MP met with the Home Secretary, Rt. Hon. Sajid Javid. They convinced them of the need for a wider government amendment to cover the sale, possession and use of the large Sikh Kirpan for “religious reasons”.

The government amendment was approved at the Third Reading in the Commons on 28 November 2018 and the word Kirpan meaning ‘mercy (kirpa) & honour (aan)’ was included in the Explanatory Note for the first time.

Recently it has emerged some Sikhs learnt of the risk presented by the Bill much earlier but neglected to act. To make matters worse it transpires some of them unscrupulously worked with officials at the Home Office and MHCLG to try and undermine the proposed amendment by MPs.

However, due to the quick thinking and excellent cross-party approach by the APPG they were able to convince Home Office Ministers to address the concerns of the Sikh community. Officials were instructed by Ministers to move to use the broader term “religious reasons” as large Kirpans are kept in Sikh homes for a range of religious reasons, such as to place before the Guru Granth Sahib Ji, the Sikh holy scriptures.

The same Sikhs then showed their naivety by going directly to opposition politicians in the House of Lords to persuade them to table an amendment to seek a change in the law to try and use the Bill to make the smaller Kirpan worn by Sikhs “lawful”.

Unfortunately, those campaigning failed as they did not consult or properly understand the situation and what had been achieved by the APPG, their briefing was inaccurate and the strategy adopted lacked the intellect to convince Home Office officials and Ministers.

Sections 139 and 139A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 provide for offences of having an offensive weapon in a public place or school premises respectively without lawful authority or good reason. However, it is a defence for a person charged with an offence to prove that he or she had good reason or lawful authority for having the article in a public place or school premises.

It is a defence to show that you had the knife or bladed or pointed article for use at work, for religious reasons (e.g. the Sikh kirpan) or as part of a national costume (e.g. the sgian dubh of traditional Highland dress).

Amritdhari Sikhs are required to always wear the Kirpan and have been able to rely on the religious reasons defence in most public places, employment and schools. However, challenges have existed in private establishments e.g. London Eye and complications sometime arise in schools or employment that are often overcome.

The changes in legislation that are about to come into effect now mean the broader “religious reasons” phrase specifically applies to the Sikh Kirpan. What has gone unnoticed is that “religious reasons” now for the first time have been defined in law as a “good reason” for possession.

Many in the Sikh community now realise there is no substitute for having Sikh MPs, like Preet Kaur Gill who connect with the Sikh community and have their fingers on the Sikh pulse.

Dabinderjit Singh is a principal adviser to the Sikh Federation

https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/sikh-kirpan_uk_5cc00b20e4b0764d31da18ee

The Guardian – Amritsar, 100 years on, remains an atrocity Britain cannot be allowed to forget

Hundreds of civilians were massacred by a British general who was later treated as a hero. There has still been no apology

Mihir Bose

12 Aprl 2019. Today marks the centenary of a British general gunning down unarmed Indians who had gathered peacefully in a park in Amritsar. In India you only have to mention the name of the park, Jallianwala Bagh, for everyone to know what you are talking about.

Yet hardly anybody in the UK has heard about Jallianwala Bagh, let alone knows why the event was one of the worst atrocities of British rule in India. Nor do they appreciate why its legacy still lingers, and colours relations between the UK and India to this day.

The Amritsar massacre fundamentally changed how the Indians saw the Raj (the era of British rule, which ran from 1757 to 1947). It led Mahatma Gandhi, who during the first world war had forsaken his pacifism to help recruit soldiers to preserve the empire, to see British rule as satanic.

Indians, having contributed massively to the war victory both in men and money, were confident that the British would reward them with the sort of dominion status they had already given the white people of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa. I

Indians’ hopes were raised when in 1917 the Balfour declaration promised Jews a homeland in Palestine. What they did not know was that the same year the war cabinet had secretly come to the conclusion that it would take Indians 500 years to learn to rule themselves.

Then, after the war ended, instead of liberty the British responded with draconian powers of search and arrest without warrant, and detention without trial.

The Indians called it na dalil, na vakil, na appeal – no argument, no lawyer, no appeal. Tensions escalated, leading to British troops killing about 15 Indians; in retaliation five British civilians were killed, and telegraph wires connecting Amritsar to the outside world were cut. On 13 April 1919, General Reginald Dyer marched in.

Dyer led a small party of soldiers to Jallianwala Bagh, an open area of six or seven acres surrounded by high walls in the heart of Amritsar. There 15,000 to 20,000 had gathered, including women and children, some to discuss politics but most to celebrate Baisakhi, the great Sikh festival.

Without any warning, and just 30 seconds after he entered the park, Dyer ordered his soldiers to fire. They fired for 10 minutes and stopped only because they had run out of ammunition. By then 337 men, 41 women and a baby of seven weeks had been killed, with another 1,500 injured (the Indians claimed more than 1,000 were killed.)

And the carnage could have been even worse. The alley that led to the Bagh was too narrow for Dyer’s armoured cars, otherwise he would have taken them in and used their machine guns.

He also had Indians whipped for not saluting him. But his most novel punishment was reserved for the street where a female British missionary had been assaulted. Any Indian crossing the street between 6am and 8pm had, he said, to “go through on all fours”. The order, enforced by British solders, meant Indians could only proceed “lying flat on their bellies and crawling exactly like reptiles”.

Despite this, the British in India saw Dyer as the saviour of the Raj. Although Winston Churchill, then secretary of state for war, privately said Dyer’s action was murder or at least manslaughter, the cabinet committee felt he could not be criminally charged and, while he was forced to leave the army on half-pay, his friends in Britain presented him as a victim of injustice.

His admirers ranged from Ulster politicians such as Edward Carson to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who called him a “brave, public-spirited, patriotic soldier”.

More astonishing was the reaction of the House of Commons. With Edwin Montagu, the secretary of state for India, portrayed as anti-Dyer, the House debated a motion to reduce Montagu’s salary, a severe form of parliamentary censure.

Among Tories at the time it was not what Dyer had done, but Montagu’s Jewishness that became the central issue.
Austen Chamberlain, then chancellor of the exchequer, wrote, “On this occasion all their English and racial feeling was stirred to a passionate display. A Jew rounding on an Englishman and throwing him to the wolves, that was the feeling.”

The Morning Post started a Dyer fund which gave him £26,000 (£1.15m in today’s money). By contrast, each dependent of an Indian killed by Dyer received 500 rupees (£176 today) per body. When he died in 1927, Dyer was given an unofficial state funeral with his coffin borne on a gun carriage through Admiralty Arch.

In the century since then, the British and Indians have grown further apart when recalling this atrocity. In 1997 the Queen became the first British monarch to visit the site of the massacre, but did not apologise: she merely signed the visitors’ book at the memorial.

Prince Philip, seeing the memorial which spoke of 2,000 being martyred, suggested Indians had doctored history: “That’s wrong. I was in the navy with Dyer’s son”.

In 2013, David Cameron became the first British prime minister to pay his respects at the memorial. But while admitting it was a “deeply shameful event” he felt you could not “reach back into history” to apologise.

Today, Indians are indeed reaching back into history and demanding an apology. Though in the years after independence, India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, stamped on efforts to mark the event, now Indian politicians such as Shashi Tharoor want the British to apologise for the empire and even pay reparations.

It is comforting for the British political class to talk of the Commonwealth as a unique family with many shared memories. The fact is there never was such a family. The British empire was at best a real-life Downton Abbey, the black and brown people occupying the downstairs, while the whites had the upstairs.

For Indians, Jallianwala Bagh is a reminder of what they call Angresso ki Ghulami, the slavery of the British. The word slavery will make many British bristle, but they need to understand why the Indians feel this way. For Indians, Jallianwala Bagh challenges the myth that British rule was benevolent.

Both Narendra Modi’s ruling BJP party and the opposition Congress, fighting the Indian elections until mid-May, are united on this issue. And, with Brexit on the cards, a Britain that seeks to boost its trade with India needs to learn quickly that the legacy of Amritsar has to be addressed and not ignored, or, worse still, forgotten.

Mihir Bose is the author of From Midnight to Glorious Morning? India Since Independence

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/apr/12/britain-amritsar-massacre-centenary-1919-india

The Hindu – Jallianwala Bagh: Kerala MPs had sought Britain’s apology

They wanted Parliament to pass a resolution in February

Sobhana K Nair

New Delhi – India, 11 April 2019. It took two Parliamentarians from Kerala, Congress’s Shashi Tharoor and CPI(M)’s M B Rajesh, to demand in the Lok Sabha in February this year that Parliament must pass a resolution demanding unequivocal apology from the British for Jallianwala Bagh.

British Prime Minister Teresa May on Wednesday described the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in 1919 as a “shameful scar” on British Indian history, but stopped short of a formal apology.

“We deeply regret what happened and the suffering caused,” she said.

On February 13 this year, the last day of the 16th Lok Sabha, the House debated Jallianwala Bagh Memorial Trust (Amendment) Bill. Mr Rajesh demanded that the House adopt a unanimous resolution seeking apology from British for the massacre.

His Kerala compatriot Mr Tharoor also called for one.

Calling Jallianwala Bagh tragedy a “cold blooded imposition of colonial will,” Mr. Tharoor said, “This was a great national tragedy and the fact is, it reflected a number of betrayals, the betrayal of the support given by India to the British during the First World War, the betrayal of the promises made of Dominion Status to our country, the betrayal also of the moral compact that binds those who rule and those who are ruled.”

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/jallianwala-bagh-kerala-mps-had-sought-britains-apology/article26809743.ece

Dawn – Fawad Chaudhry endorses demand for full apology from British government over empire’s role in Jallianwala Bagh massacre

Islamabad Capital Teritory – Pakistan, 11 April 2019. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry on Thursday endorsed the demand that the British government apologise for the empire’s role in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and the famine of Bengal in the run-up to the 100th anniversary of the massacre.

“Fully endorse the demand that the British empire must apologise to the nations of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh on Jallianwala massacre and Bengal famine. These tragedies are a scar on the face of Britain,” he tweeted.

The 13 April 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre, in which British troops opened fire on thousands of unarmed protesters, remains an enduring scar from British colonial rule in India.

Colonial-era records show about 400 people died in the northern city of Amritsar when soldiers opened fire on men, women and children in an enclosed area, but Indian figures put the toll at closer to 1,000.

Former British prime minister David Cameron described it as “deeply shameful” during a visit in 2013 but also stopped short of an apology.

A ceremony will take place at the site of the massacre on Saturday.

Decades later, some four million Bengalis starved to death in the 1943 famine. Then British prime minister Wintston Churchill had ordered the diversion of food from starving Indian civilians to well-supplied British soldiers and even to top up European stockpiles in Greece and elsewhere.

When reminded of the suffering of his Indian victims, his response was that the famine was their own fault for “breeding like rabbits”.

“Also the Koh-i-Noor must be returned to the Lahore museum where it belongs,” Chaudhry added, referring to the 108-carat gem which was once the largest known diamond in the world and is now part of the British royal family’s collection.

The diamond, which historians say was probably first discovered in India during the Mughal dynasty, is on public display in the Tower of London as part of the late queen’s crown. The Koh-i-Noor was presented to Queen Victoria in 1852. Its ownership is disputed and claimed by multiple countries, including India, Iran and Afghanistan.

Chaudhry’s tweet comes a day after British Prime Minister Theresa May expressed regret for the Jallianwala massacre, but stopped short of a full apology.

“We deeply regret what happened and the suffering caused,” May told the British parliament on Wednesday. Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, called for “a full, clear and unequivocal apology”.

UK Foreign Office minister Mark Field, during a debate on the massacre, said: “I have slightly orthodox views on Britain’s colonial past. I feel little reluctant to make apologies for things that have happened in the past,” according to a report by The Wire.

He added that “There are also concerns that any government department has, to make about any apology, given that there may well be financial implications to making an apology.”

In 2015, Indian politician and writer Shashi Tharoor’s argument in support of an Oxford Union debate motion, ‘This house believes Britain owes reparations to her former colonies’, went viral and, according to the BBC, has found favour among Indians.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1475365/fawad-endorses-demand-for-full-apology-from-british-govt-over-empires-role-in-jallianwala-bagh-massacre