New Socialist – Fascism without Borders: Britain and the BJP


21 August 2017

In May 2015, as campaigning for the general election in Britain was underway, a flyer surfaced online urging “Dharmic voters” (a catch-all term intended to encompass Hindus, and those who the Hindu Right sees as part of its religious “family”, including Sikhs and Jains) to vote for the Conservative party.

The document accused Labour and the Liberal Democrats of branding every “Dharmic” person “today and forever as being born casteist”, and exhorted members of those religious communities to vote Conservative,the only party willing to not pursue the matter of including caste as an axis of discrimination in the Equality Act 2010.

This ought not to be too surprising, given that in 2015 the Conservative government was already voicing discontent with anti-discrimination legislation they were mandated to enact under European law (a prelude to the Brexit that was to come), and that the most vocal opposition to anti-caste legislation has often come from the demographic of wealthy or middle-class upper-caste British-Indian votes they have sought to woo.

In 2015, British-Indians were a key voting bloc for the Conservative Party, with an estimated 615,000 migrant Indian voters in the UK, and 1.4 million people of Indian origin living in the UK.

This group has historically voted Labour, but the Tories have made significant inroads over the years, and by the election in 2017, a post-election survey showed that the Tories enjoyed an 8% advantage over Labour among British Hindus and Sikhs.

It is easy to see why, for one, Corbyn’s social democratic offer alienated aspirational middle-class Indians; Theresa May has repeatedly emphasised the importance of India as a trading partner; and Corbyn has long been a supporter of the Dalit rights movement in the UK, and serves as honorary chairperson of the Dalit Solidarity movement.

Further, Corbyn supported a motion in the House of Commons that called on the Secretary of State to reinstate a ban on the then-Gujarat Chief Minister (now India’s Prime Minister) Narendra Modi’s travel to the UK, given his alleged role in and failure to prevent the communal massacres of 2002 that claimed the lives of over a thousand Muslims in the state of Gujarat (including British nationals) and displaced thousands more.

Still, the British-Indian love affair with the Conservatives was by no means inevitable. Despite the ploys made by the Tories to scupper anti-caste legislation, including Bob Blackman’s manifesto pledge to keep it out of the Equality Act in the 2017 election campaign, the major draw that Labour has held for middle-class Indians has been their comparatively progressive policies on both race and immigration, areas normally key to a migrant community’s vote.

Several Labour Party members have also extended a warm hand to Narendra Modi, chief among them is Barry Gardiner, a man whose star has risen among Corbyn supporters after his performance during the election, who invited Modi to address the House of Commons, describing it as a “culmination of several years of engagement between senior representatives of the Labour Party and Modi”.

Gardiner, in his role as Chairman of Labour Friends of India, has been one of Nahrenda Modi’s most vociferous champions and in an interview with the Times of India he revealed a warm admiration for the man himself, describing him as ‘a secular leader who has the overwhelming support of all communities in Gujarat…proven time and time again in state elections”.

He added, “I have met politicians from across the world and I rank him on the pinnacle of all political leaders I have known. His competence to govern is unbelievable.”

During Modi’s state visit to Britain in 2015, several other senior Labour MPs (Keith Vaz, Virendra Sharma, Seema Malhotra, and Steve Pound) pledged to donate their pay raises to the dazzling event held at Wembley Stadium with David Cameron, which was highly attended by the British-Indian community.

The three-day state visit resulted in more than £9 billion in signed business deals, and David Cameron heralding a “new and dynamic partnership” between Britain and India, one that was no longer “imprisoned by the past”.

The visit certainly did mark a change from the days when the US had repeatedly denied Modi a visa to enter, and the UK government had a working policy to have no contact with the Gujarat state government, over concerns regarding the bloodshed in Gujarat in 2002.

The death toll was estimated to be over 1,000 persons (over 2,000 by some other estimates), largely perpetrated by organised groups of Hindus targeting Muslims, often with the tacit or explicit support of state forces.

Mass rape, the burning alive of people, homes and small businesses, and the widespread destruction of mosques raged across the state for several weeks.

Modi has been widely held responsible by civil rights groups for the Gujarat government’s failure to act swiftly to respond to the violence, and the National Human Rights Commission reported numerous incidents of state collusion and a refusal to pursue justice against the perpetrators of violence.

The state government steadfastly refused to pay compensation to victims, or provide anything but the most basic of relief to those displaced by the violence (of whom there were over 200,000), many of whom have not returned to their villages or towns to this day.

Narendra Modi has neither personally apologised for the violence nor expressed any regret, and went on to appoint key figures accused of instigating the violence to high-level government positions.

When the United States government under George W Bush denied Modi a visa, citing the National Human Rights Commission report on the 2002 violence, Modi and his party reacted with outrage, variously labelling it an act of “racism”, an “insult to the entire nation”, an “insult to the Constitution”, and claiming it did not need “lessons in religious freedom from anyone in the world”.

There are strong reasons to reconsider the reversal of this approach, even if Modi is now the Prime Minister of the country, and even if he was elected to that position.

Since the ascendancy of Narendra Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to power there has been a growing climate of hate and fear that targets marginalised groups, silences those that dissent from the government’s enforced jingoism by branding them as “anti-national”, and further emboldens the militant Hindu fundamentalist elements within the party and their ferociously anti-Muslim politics.

To those who have know the origins of the BJP and its ideology, this will seem an almost natural outcome of their politics, they are linked to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist group whose founders consider Indian national identity to be narrowly identified with Hindu culture and beliefs: religious minorities must pay allegiance to the Hindu nation and refrain from practicing their faith in the public sphere.

Not much has changed for the contemporary avatars of Hindu nationalism. It remains a project committed to reducing religious minorities to second-class citizens, consolidating a muscular iteration of what it sees to be “Hinduism” (often a distillation of upper-caste practices and beliefs) through a cultural and electoral absorption of castes and tribes that have historically been excluded from Hinduism.

The results of this are visible nearly everywhere across the country today, mob lynchings of Dalits and Muslims are on the rise, often accompanied by allegations that the victims were are carrying beef or transporting cattle for slaughter (as the cow is considered by some Hindus to be a sacred animal); the state gives credence to spurious claims that inter-religious marriages are a plot by Muslim men to “steal” Hindu women and there have been numerous attacks on non-governmental organisations and universities that criticise the government.

In January 2015, Priya Pillai from Greenpeace India was scheduled to travel to London to testify on the effects of Essar Energy’s mining before she was deplaned.

The Indian government claimed that she was not allowed to travel as her testimony would project a “negative” image of the government at an international level, never mind that the abuses of the UK-registered coal mining company were being inflicted on its own indigenous citizens.

It later emerged that the Central Government had also had a hand in events at Hyderabad Central University where a Dalit student who was involved in student politics, Rohith Vemula, was stripped of his scholarship and subjected to institutional persecution until he committed suicide in January 2016.

The then-Minister for Human and Resource Development had received a letter accusing the student group of engaging in “anti-Hindu” activities and it was this that led to the suspensions.

Subsequent events at Jawaharlal Nehru University in February 2016 advanced this assault on students, after student groups held protests to mark the hanging of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri separatist who the state claims had a hand in a 2001 Parliament attack though this has been widely disputed, three students were later arrested and charged with sedition for allegedly shouting ‘anti-national’ slogans.

For those who believed that Modi’s affiliation with the RSS, which began in his boyhood, would be tempered by high office, that the moderate elements in his party would win out, or even that the trend to authoritarian religious nationalism would be a price worth paying for economic progress and development, none of these promises have been borne out.

The debacle that was “demonetisation” (an overnight move taken by the Government that rendered 86% of currency notes invalid) has had lingering financial effects; surveys have indicated that unemployment is at a 5 year high; whilst investment in improving social welfare and government employment schemes has so far been negligible.

For all the bluster of the government, their constant unveiling of new plans and slogans, there is only so much that can distract from the ground reality of economic pressures, religious polarisation and jingoism can only carry them so far electorally.

And yet, this is precisely the strategy they are employing. In a move that stunned many, Yogi Adityanath was made Chief Minister of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, in March 2017.

Adityanath is a man widely seen as representative of the most violent elements of the BJP, having been involved in drives to mass “convert” religious minorities to Hinduism, engaging in murderous anti-Muslim rhetoric, and calling on the Indian government to adopt a ban similar to Trump’s ban on citizens from 7 Muslim-majority countries from entering the country.

Under ordinary circumstances this should be more than enough to give pause for thought, but not in the post-Brexit era. Britain is desperate for allies outside Europe for the uncertain years that lie ahead, as was made clear when Theresa May made her first trade mission visit to India in November 2016.

In many ways, the Conservative Party has made its own compromises with the far Right in the United Kingdom, adopting its racist and xenophobic line on migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers, and British governments have hardly minded turning a blind eye to the actions of its friends in the past.

But the sanitisation of Hindutva (as Hindu nationalism is called by its adherents) in British politics marks a dangerous turn, far from being uneasy bedfellows, it marks a willingness to completely disregard all prior apprehensions about Narendra Modi’s record to leap into trade arrangements and business deals.

The controversy around the inclusion of caste in the Equality Act also demonstrates that Hindutva has a role to play in British politics too: in consolidating an identity around Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs, and in opposing mechanisms of justice being made available to Dalit and Bahujan diaspora by calling caste a product of colonialism and arguing that legislating it would entrench it.

Besides, Hindutva groups are active in the British-Indian community beyond lobbying against anti-caste legislation – the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) is the overseas wing of the RSS and is a UK-registered charity, and the Hindu Student Council has a similar ideological outlook.

The HSS was investigated for hate speech by the Charity Commission after a speaker engaged in anti-Muslim and anti-Christian rhetoric at a camp, and has been told to distance itself from the RSS.

Meanwhile, Priti Patel has openly expressed her admiration for the RSS and Narendra Modi’s “vision”, whilst Bob Blackman has publicly attended HSS events where the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, was in attendance.

The international wings of the RSS actively fundraise and funnel their money into their activities, fuelling their campaigns of religious communalism including military training for their recruits in camps that teach them to fight for the “Hindu nation”.

The untrammelled rise of Modi to power has meant that he has received little international scrutiny for either his actions or those committed and enabled by his government, party, and groups affiliated to it. If Corbyn’s Labour party is serious about furthering transnational solidarities based on social and economic justice, they must refuse to engage in the cynical electoral and economic ploys of the Conservative Party.

Opposing Modi’s government, questioning his human rights record, and continuing to support the struggle to enact anti-caste legislation must form part of a singular strategy to combat a government that enables and intensifies the persecution of minorities, this is the internationalism needed in this era to counter fascism.

The Black Prince

The Black Prince

Posted to Facebook by Amandeep Singh Madra

22 July 2017

The Black Prince is pure entertainment, I get that, and I am sure that it does entertain brilliantly. But film does have a massive influence over perceptions of historical figures. This film, and many other fan-boy biographies have cast Duleep Singh as a tragic hero, a Punjabi nationalist, a good family man and (absurdly) even a proto-anti-imperialist.

In reality Duleep Singh was like every other Indian royal of his generation; spoiled, disconnected from people, deeply self obsessed, grotesquly self-indulgent and politically naive in the face of Imperial Britain.

Here, with his wife and six children, he is the complete family man. However, in reality, very shortly after the event depicted in this scene Duleep Singh completely abandoned his family in London without any means to maintain them. He moved into Parisian apartment with one of his ongoing mistresses.

His family, now penniless, was reduced to begging for money from the government. His wife (Bamba) who was completely unsupported turned to alcohol for relief, old friends took in the now confused children, while Bamba, neglected, humiliated and totally abandoned by everyone around her drank herself to an early death within a year.

Duleep Singh the family man ?

Any reading of his letters betrays his total obsession on the return of his wealth as opposed to some kind of desire for a return of Punjabi rule. He bankrupted himself in England and only at that point turned to an agenda for the return of his wealth and property. Duleep Singh the frustrated King ?

His return to the Sikh faith was short-lived and undoubtedly purely political. He was used by the deeply political Sandhanwalias who had lost their position of nobility and influence with the end of Sikh Raj (remember these were the same cousins who treacherously murdered Duleep Singh’s brother Sher Singh and his son).

His Khalsa initiation in Aden was part of his hopelessly naive attempt to return to India. When he returned to Paris he clearly abandoned his very brief interest in being Sikh; he cut his hair, drank and never wrote a word about his faith. He died leaving a will that quite clearly demanded to be buried. Duleep Singh the Sikh ?

If there is a golden thread that runs through his life, it is that he was used by those around him; by his mother for her own legitimacy, by his cousins as a rallying point for their political ambition, by the British as a fig-leaf for their humanity, by evangelicals to Christianise India, by Queen Victoria to humanise imperialism, by British nobility as an Indian bauble, by his cousins to regain their status, by Fenians and Russians to poke Britain in the eye.

Even after his death his rotting body, buried (as was his wish) is being used by a Sikh ‘heritage’ group for a grand political tamasha by retuning his decomposed body to Amritsar for cremation. He continues to be used even in death.

The real Duleep Singh is much more interesting than the very simplistic, anodyne character depicted in art.

The one very serious objection I have of this film is the choice to cast Bamba using a white actress while the real Bamba was mixed race. Duleep Singh met Bamba when she was 15 years old, she was the illegitimate child of a German and one of his Somali/Eritrean servants.

Bamba was dark skinned, half-caucasian half-Somali, and the film makers have very deliberately chosen a white actress because they couldn’t stomach their hero being seen to marry a dark skinned half-African.

Depicting Duleep Singh as a political hero is an artistic decision, casting Bamba as white underlines Indian racism towards Africans, and I think is completely inexcusable.

Published in: on August 15, 2017 at 4:55 am  Comments (1)  
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Dawn – The untold story of Sophia Duleep Singh, who advanced human rights in the subcontinent

“What I discovered about Sophia rocked my world,” says biographer Anita Anand about the subject of her book

History owes Anita Anand for writing Sophia

Mehr F Husain

With her book, she uncovers perhaps the most unsung hero of the suffragette movement, sheds light on the sole person who brought the advancement of women to the subcontinent and reveals the person who did justice by her royal lineage as she single-handedly took on the British (who tried their best to wipe her family and her out of history having stolen their identity).

Princess Sophia, the youngest of Duleep Singh’s children from his first marriage and granddaughter of Ranjit Singh must be recognised nationally and internationally for her work and status. Sophia is one of the most extraordinary history books to be written in recent times.

Anand painstakingly pieces together bits of information to produce one glorious book documenting the lives of Maharajah Duleep Singh and his family.

The biographer delves deep into uncovering a mysterious figure who despite having the esteemed position of being Queen Victoria’s goddaughter is buried by the British.

She exposes how this youngest child of Duleep Singh transformed from being an airy society figure to someone who’s politics were stoked whenever she witnessed indignity of any kind.

Most importantly, the Princess emerges as a figure who knew how to manage both her worlds, an alien history with India and her own life in Britain, so that she transformed herself into being more than just another Indian ‘native’ or British ‘subject’.

It’s no wonder then that such a book was the Winner of the Eastern Eye Alchemy Festival and was shortlisted for the Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize.

When asked how she discovered this hidden but crucial historic figure, Anand who worked as a journalist and is Punjabi herself says, “I didn’t discover her. She found me. I’d had a baby and was on maternity leave and so, in an effort to get the baby to sleep, there was no television, no radio and I read like crazy.

One magazine, the type I wouldn’t usually have read, had an editorial about the suffragettes. There was a picture with the piece, of a suffragette selling militant propaganda newspapers outside Hampton Court Palace. It was pretty provocative; There was something about this woman.

I thought she’s Asian, she had a very hawkish, very Punjabi look and I thought ‘she looks like my aunty’. So I started looking into who he she was. What I discovered about Sophia rocked my world.”

As Anita scratched under the surface, what she found floored her, this suffragette simply labelled as Sophia was actually Princess Sophia, daughter of Maharajha Duleep Singh and goddaughter to Queen Victoria.

For the next four years Anita would go on to unearth one of the greatest colonial secrets that the British had buried.

Sophia grew up in the shadow of tragedy, watching her father abandon them in his pursuit to reclaim a lost kingdom, a mother who drank her life of misery to death, the death of her beloved baby brother Prince Edward, poverty, alienation, resistance from the British and so much more.

Consequently, she knew very little happiness or peace with her family and became somewhat of a recluse refusing to talk or look at anyone.

Anand documents how she was eventually “saved by her godmother Queen Victoria”, who sent her to live with an adopted family in Brighton restoring sanity in her life. This was where she developed some form of stability and the seeds of compassion and kindness were sown.

Despite having suffered so much interestingly out of the three princesses Bamba, Catherine and Sophia it was Sophia who bore no hatred towards anyone, not even the British, choosing to live a life of overwhelming love for all, working for the betterment and emancipation of all.

Undoubtedly her personal story created this attitude. But it was also a trip to India, an act of defiance to the British, where she saw what had been stolen from her father and the levels of poverty in India, coupled with the horrendous treatment meted out to her sisters and her by the British.

Anand says of Princess Sophia, “I found her to be the strongest [emotionally]. Princess Bamba was hurt, reacted with rage. She saw her father’s treatment by the British and she hated them.

Bamba spent most of her life fighting for recognition and compensation. Catherine preferred to be away from it all, living in Germany. Sophia dedicated her life to fight for women, regardless of their colour.”

And while Bamba inherited her father’s sense of stolen identity and anger, Sophia’s relationship with her father was tricky.”Bamba became obsessed with Duleep Singh’s cause, which was claiming the Sikh kingdom.

But Sophia never did. She had no romanticised version of him and knew he was a flawed creature. She spoke about him with respect but not the passion of her eldest sister. He had abandoned them all after all.”

Duleep Singh had ditched his first family and remarried another woman, Ada and had two children with her, Irene and Pauline. Yet despite being conflicted about her absent father and his legacy, it was Sophia who reached out to them time and time again with love and maturity.

Bamba again reacted with hatred. “Sophia was the one who looked after everyone. She looked after Bamba who lived in Lahore and Catherine who was in Germany. She took on her responsibility towards her step siblings. She acted like a little mother,” says Anand.

Disillusioned with empty society life consisting of parties and dog-breeding, Sophia made the most of her time with opportunities life presented her, dedicating her life to not just looking after family but also the lost Indians in Britan.

The lascars (lashkars) of Britian were Indian seamen who worked on the ships used by the East India company. Anand writes about how horrendously they were treated and in the cruelest manner possible, including being beaten with chains and starved, pigs tails forced into Muslim Indians’ mouths, their meager wages unpaid.

Eventually cold, hungry and beyond poor they were abandoned at the banks of the Thames unable to return home or find shelter.

Aware that her father had taken on their cause, Sophia took the fight further. She galvanised support and raised money through her society friends and set up a respite home for those who survived and landed on British soil.

Although it was not a political cause, she was making her soft spot for India and its people known. It would not be the last time she would look after Indians on British soil.

Later during World War I, she would again galvanise support and raise money to ensure Indian soldiers who fought for the British in a fight that wasn’t really theirs but were sent off to the trenches.

While the lascars and the Indian soldiers’ care were undoubtedly noble causes, the greatest cause she took on was on female suffrage.

Anand documents the suffragette movement and Sophia’s incredible role in it beautifully.

She describes how Sophia battled against the British in a most principled manner while they tried every dirty trick in the book to undermine her efforts, disillusion her and eventually bury her name for fear that anyone should credit the Sikh Princess for being a part of female empowerment in Britian or in India where Gandhi was inspired and influenced by the suffragette movement.

Tragically, even in the subcontinent Princess Sophia’s name is nowhere to be seen amongst feminists whether in India or Pakistan.

“Sophia was born to be an outsider. The British just wanted to bury her role. The last thing they wanted their colony to know was that an upstart Punjabi princess defied them in their own land. She might have caused an uprising.”

Years before, it was Duleep Singh who had tried to start an uprising with an army through Russia and Afghanistan and failed.

The nationalists and freedom fighters of India including Gandhi and Jinnah never acknowledged Sophia’s role despite her being politically active before any other Indian woman for freedom and human rights.

According to Anand, “Gandhi mentions only a handful of people including the female poetess, Sarojini Naidu. Although inspired by the suffragettes, he divorced them spiritually due to their violent tactics. Neither Gandhi nor Jinnah had time for royals and less so for those who weren’t really properly connected to new India.”

The fact that this Princess who could have opted for a lavish life risked everything for female equality went completely unnoticed.

Despite her fight against the British for the betterment of poor Indians on British soil and universal female empowerment, Sophia retained Britain as her home unlike her sisters. Even though she visited Lahore, she still felt more at home in Britain most probably because she felt ‘needed’ there.

“Britain was her home. She felt most useful when she was doing something and Britain gave her the time and opportunity to take up causes. When she had nothing to do she felt sad and lonely.”

One could be forgiven for thinking why didn’t she take up her father’s cause to reclaim the Sikh Kingdom or at least ask for the Koh-i-Noor from her godmother. “Unlike Bamba who fought for recognition as Maharani of Punjab, for Sophia the matter was done and dusted.

As far as she was concerned he [Duleep Singh] had lost everything, dying broken and alone. The family also had a lot more to deal with than the loss of the Koh-i-Noor. Sophia just didn’t give a toss.”

Sophia is a crucial part of British and Punjabi history and culture and she must be recognised as such. She alone personified the entire family and rose out of tragedy after tragedy in the utmost dignified form.

“She became most like Ranjit Singh. He was secular, choosing not to destroy mosques or other places of religious worship. She believed in the equality of all people. She was also much like Jindan, her grandmother, who openly defied the British, much to her cost.”

Anita Anand cannot be credited enough for writing about Princess Sophia. It is time Princess Sophia be given credit too.

BBC News – UK South Asian women ‘hiding cancer because of stigma’

Amber Haque

London, 9 August 2017. A number of UK women from South Asian backgrounds who have cancer hide it because of a perceived stigma about the disease, the BBC has learned.

One woman chose to “suffer on [her] own” through chemotherapy for fear of her family’s reaction, and questioned whether God was punishing her.

Experts said others were seeking help too late, causing preventable deaths.

In one case a woman sought treatment only when her breast was rotten. She later died as the cancer had spread.

‘Very dark days’

Pravina Patel, who told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme about her own experience, stumbled upon a lump in her breast when she was 36.

She grew up in a strict Indian community where even talking about the disease was considered shameful. When she was diagnosed, she decided to hide it.

“I just thought if people hear the fact that I’ve got cancer, they’re going to think it’s a death sentence,” she said.

She remembered worrying that people would say she had lived a “bad life” and God was punishing her for it.

Ms Patel continued to keep the disease a secret when seeking treatment, saying she felt “extremely lonely” during chemotherapy.

“I was going through chemo sessions on my own… I had some very dark days,” she explained.

Pooja Saini, the lead researcher at CLAHRC North-West Coast, a research arm of the NHS that looks into health inequalities, said her own review into the issue “really surprised” her.

“Some women went to the extent of not even having treatment because, if they went, people would know as they’d lose their hair,” she explained.

She added others “feared it might affect their children because no-one would want to marry them”.

It is difficult to say how widespread the problem was, because little information has been collected on ethnicity and mortality.

But in 2014, research from Bridgewater NHS found Asian women between 15 and 64 years old had a significantly reduced survival rate for breast cancer of three years.

Ms Saini said her research suggests the influence of men in the family and elders in the wider community may be contributing to the issue.

“If they didn’t think women should go for screening, then they didn’t go,” she said.

Cultural expectations

The stigma surrounding cancer in South Asian communities spans different forms of the disease.

Ms Patel said there was a reluctance for women to go for a smear test because they did not want to be “defiled” or be considered “no longer pure”.

She has now completed her chemotherapy and is in remission.

Ms Patel and her husband got divorced during her treatment, something she says was partly because of cultural expectations about how a wife should be.

Some experts are concerned that women are suffering unnecessarily.

South Asian women are more likely to be from poor, deprived backgrounds, meaning their levels of awareness of cancer are likely to be lower.

National screening statistics show people from ethnic minority communities do not go for screening as much as their white counterparts.

Madhu Agarwal, a cancer support manager who has worked in the field of cancer for more than 30 years, fears this is leading to South Asian women dying unnecessarily.

“Because of the ignorance of not presenting early, not examining the breasts… the disease has already spread [when they do seek help] and it’s very difficult to manage it with treatment.

“Then the mortality is high, so there is a stigma attached, that when you get cancer you’re going to die.”

She said one of her patients had come for treatment so late that her breast was “fungating” and “rotten”.

She recalled: “It was smelling so much that you couldn’t even sit next to it.”

The woman, who had young children, died because the cancer had by then spread to other parts of her body, Ms Agarwal explained.

The Victoria Derbyshire programme has heard several other accounts of the effects the stigma surrounding cancer can have.

Samina Hussain said one of her family told her to wear hijab to hide her cancer, saying “you can cover this up now”.

Iyna Butt said her aunt refused chemotherapy as she felt “God had given [cancer] to her”.

‘Help save women’

Ms Saini is now calling for more data on screening uptake by ethnicity to be recorded, so findings can be used to provide more tailored support to communities.

Public Health England’s screening director Anne Mackie said when Ms Saini’s research is published it will look to implement its suggestions.

“We’ve got every reason to believe that will help save women from [South] Asian backgrounds’ lives as well as others from deprived backgrounds,” she said.

The Times UK – The Golden Temple’s long-buried secrets

Whitehall’s drift towards keeping files classified fuels conjecture about our role in the Amritsar massacre

Ben Macintyre

London, 5 August 2017. Thirty-three years ago Margaret Thatcher sent an SAS officer to advise the Indian government on its efforts to expel Sikh militants from the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Four months later, in June 1984, the Indian army launched Operation Blue Star, an all-out assault on Sikhism’s holiest place, in which hundreds died.

The name of the SAS officer has not been released. The extent of British involvement remains a matter of conjecture and wild conspiracy theory. Despite Sikh demands for clarity many of the key files remain sealed.

It has now emerged that the Foreign Office is withholding almost a third of its files on India from 1985, part of a deeply disturbing trend towards historical concealment.

Official secrecy ebbs and flows in a way that is unique to Britain, with its long-running ambivalence over what should, or should not, be made public.

A generation ago secrecy had seeped into the very soul of government. Partly as a result of wartime discretion officials felt little obligation to release records. What happened in Whitehall stayed in Whitehall. Merely to report the colour of the carpets inside MI6 was to risk prosecution under the Official Secrets Act.

For a brief time that culture appeared to be over. The Freedom of Information Act in 2000 reversed the presumption of secrecy in favour of disclosure wherever possible.

Now the tide is flowing back in the opposite direction. Last year government departments applied to keep nearly 1,000 files secret, more than twice the number for 2013.

Many of the withheld files relate to defence sales to India and Saudi Arabia. Under existing legislation all government documents should be routinely passed to the National Archives after 30 years (new rules will reduce this to 20) unless government departments apply to have them withheld.

Officials are doing this more often, on flimsier grounds but with greater success. The Advisory Council on National Records and Archives, which adjudicates on such cases, found that a significantly larger proportion of applications to censor material were invalid, reflex requests for secrecy to which officials “had not given enough thought”.

Increasingly, not as matter of policy but through a reactionary instinct, your government is becoming more secretive. The impact of this is twofold: it makes officials feel less accountable but at the same time gives rise to conspiracy theories that are frequently baseless.

Nothing illustrates that more clearly than the continuing battle over the 1984 assault on the Golden Temple, a pivotal moment in Sikh history and the source of continuing anger in the Sikh community.

Among the Foreign Office files that remain sealed is one labelled “UK/Indian relations: situation in Punjab; activities of Sikh extremists”. An investigation ordered by David Cameron stated that although a British military officer had provided advice there was “no evidence of UK government involvement in the operation itself”.

That bland conclusion did nothing to damp down the belief of many Sikhs that the level of co-operation between Britain and India over Operation Blue Star was much greater than has been admitted, and was covered up.

The secrecy has merely added fuel to a conspiracy theory that is almost certainly wrong. Rather than backing the military assault on the temple Britain was under pressure from India to provide other help, notably furnishing intelligence on Sikh militancy in the Punjab and Britain.

The royal family faces an analogous situation with its Windsor archives. By refusing to release files relating to links between the royals and the Nazi regime successive royal archivists have successfully fostered the legend that those contacts were far more extensive and significant than they really were.

Allowing historians access to the Golden Temple files is the only way to lance the boil of conspiracy that claims Britain played a central role in the operation, just as releasing the royal archives would finally put paid to the myth that every Windsor was an enthusiastic fascist.

Avoiding embarrassment, protecting privacy, easing international relations and covering up cock-ups are not sufficient justifications for hiding the past.

After 20 years all aspects of government behaviour should become transparent, with the exception of those with a direct impact on national security. These are rare. MI6 cannot function without confidentiality but even in intelligence the need for secrecy erodes with passing time.

Some civil servants argue that their freedom of action is curtailed by knowing whatever they say and do will be subject to public scrutiny in their lifetimes. On the contrary, most civil servants (except spies) will do their jobs far better knowing that within 20 years they may have to justify their actions.

After three decades the files relating to the Golden Temple assault cannot have any impact on national security.
Britain should release all its files and so should India. This would be a symbolic demonstration of openness and understanding to mark the 70th anniversary of Indian independence. Because the more you hide as a government, the more the public assumes you have something to hide.

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“Sikh Federation (UK) federation” <>

New Statesman – “They tried to take it off at school”: Tan Dhesi on being the first Sikh MP with a turban

The Labour MP for Slough on integration, standing out, and his reservations about Europe

London, 1 August 2017. “The first ever turbaned Sikh to the British Parliament, indeed, I believe, the first ever to be elected to any European Parliament.”

This is how Tan Dhesi, the new Labour MP for Slough, described himself in his maiden speech to the House of Commons. “A glass ceiling has truly been broken,” he said.

“I, for one, Mr Speaker, am very much hoping that these brightly-coloured turbans will act as a magnet as you repeatedly point towards the Member for Slough to make his invaluable contributions to proceedings in this House.”

Standing out for his turban had a very different effect when Dhesi, now 38, was growing up in Kent’s Gravesend. “At school, you get discriminated against,” he recalls. “One student tried to take off my turban then. Thankfully such instances haven’t scarred me, but I’ve always taken any negativity as a challenge.”

I speak to him over a cup of tea in Parliament’s Portcullis House. Today he is wearing a deep red turban, and looks relaxed in a checked blue shirt with no tie. It’s a few days until recess, and Parliament has an end-of-term feel.

“Only 1 per cent of the population is Sikh in the UK,” he tells me. “Anyone wearing a turban, you’re always going to stand out, you’re going to look different to others.”

For the first time, British Sikhs who wear turbans have someone in Parliament who doesn’t look different from them, and Dhesi is proud of that, but he says he will work to serve everyone, in the Sikh spirit of sarbat da bhala. “Working for the betterment of all, regardless of background, colour or creed,” he explains.

Dhesi has been a Labour councillor for almost a decade, and was Mayor of Gravesham in Kent in 2011. He was born in Slough and spent his early years there, where his father worked at the Ford factory in Langley and his mother worked for a local petrol pump company. Both his parents emigrated to Britain from the Punjab.

Work dried up in Slough after a few years, so they moved to Kent where Dhesi’s father started a construction company. As a 16 year old, Dhesi spent his school holidays as a labourer on a building site. He worked his way up from sweeping to operating dumpers and diggers and then to drilling.

“If someone is pushing a broom all day, you can’t tell them what to do unless you’ve been there, on the other side, doing that [yourself],” he says. “You don’t quite appreciate how hard people have to work.”

At the age of four, Dhesi was sent to school in India for four and a half years, returning at nine years old to Gravesend rather than Slough. He speaks eight languages: Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, French, German, Italian, Latin, “and a bit of English”, he smiles.

Dhesi recalls turning up as Mayor to the French town twinned with Gravesham and surprising locals with a speech in fluent French. “I don’t think they were expecting a turbaned guy, coming over from England, to be giving them a ten-minute speech in French,” he says, with a chuckle.

“We in England, I think, are famed for not learning or not going beyond English, but it’s important within wider society that we do try to learn other languages as well, foreign languages are important.”

Yet he doesn’t feel “overly attached” to the European Union, citing France’s insistence that Sikhs remove their turbans when going to state school or having an ID photo taken. He calls this “highly disappointing” and “ironic, when more than 80,000 turbaned Sikh soldiers died to liberate [that] very country”.

He adds: “In Britain, I think that people are more cultured, or they’re more aware. The same can’t be said at most European airports. That cultural sensitivity and understanding of people of Sikh background, or Muslims with hijabs or niqabs, or others, I don’t think [that] is there in various other parts of Europe.”

In local politics, Dhesi has focused on community, faith and integration. “We’ve got a common language in terms of the national language of English,” he says. “So it’s important that we push that, but we don’t do it to the detriment whereby we try to obliterate or eliminate other languages and cultures.

“You can be proud to be Sikh… but you can still be proud to be British.”

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

Sikh – Jalandhar Court acquits Daljit Singh Bittu in a case registered under UAPA

Sikh24 Editors

Jalandhar, Panjab, 26 July 2017. Sikh activist Bhai Daljit Singh Bittu and a UK citizen Jaswant Singh Azad were today acquitted in a case registered against them in 2012 under sections of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

Sharing the development with Sikh24, Bhai Daljit Singh Bittu’s legal counsel Advocate Jaspal Singh Manjhpur informed that the Jalandhar police had registered an FIR No. 216/2012 under sections 10, 13, 17, 18-B, 20, 38, 39 & 40 of UAPA against UK citizen Jaswant Singh Azad in 2012.

He added that later Bhai Daljit Singh Bittu was also framed in this case.

Advocate Jaspal Singh Manjhpur further said that the case was purely politically motivated and the Court found no evidence against the accused persons. He informed that such a case against Bhai Daljit Singh Bittu was also registered by the Ludhiana police in which he was later acquitted in May 2016.

He added that this was the last case among 33 cases registered against Bhai Daljit Singh Bittu by the state in which he has been acquitted now.

He stated that the UAPA (after amendments of 2008 & 2012) was proxy of infamous acts like TADA & POTA which is being used by the state and police suppress rebel voices.

In 1967, India had introduced its first “Black Law”, known as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which allowed the State to curtail the following rights of citizens who it deemed were not acting in the national interest:

– Freedom of speech, and expression
– Right to assemble peaceably, and without arms
– Right to form associations, or unions

The Congress Party introduced the UAPA at a time when the State of India was in turmoil. Indira Gandhi’s grip on power was under threat. India had only just emerged from wars with both China, and Pakistan, the economy was in crisis, the political system was in crisis, and the Congress Party itself was in crisis.

There were new strands of opposition emerging, and gaining in strength. The Congress Party could not see how to avoid their inevitable failure at the next election, so they created an atmosphere whereby, anyone who raised a voice was labelled as an enemy of the State, and then could be booked under the UAPA.

In 1985, the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) was introduced, and used to suppress anyone who raised a voice against the Indian State’s actions, specifically in Punjab which gave wide powers to law enforcement agencies for dealing with so called ‘terrorists’.

The Act was scrapped in 1995, but many Sikhs charged under the TADA still remain in prison today.

In 2002, India introduced the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), and after strong opposition in 2004, the Indian parliament removed it. In 2004, the UAPA which still remains on the book of statutes, was given more bite. In 2008, and again in 2012, further amendments were made, which contain many of the provisions of POTA.

Each time such Acts are introduced, the Government gives assurances that there are in-built safeguards against abuse, but given India’s abysmal human rights record, their primary use is to target anyone who raises a legitimate voice against the activities of the police, or the endemic corruption of Indian society.

The Tribune – Debate rages over exhuming remains of Duleep Singh

New Delhi, 24 July 2017. Amid a renewed debate over exhumation of the remains of Maharaja Duleep Singh, former Chairman of the Minorities Commission Tarlochan Singh today said he had taken up the issue with the British and the process to dig the grave and perform a cremation requires permission from various quarters.

As the NCM Chairman in 2005, he wrote to the British High Commissioner in India to allow digging of Duleep Singh’s grave and perform cremation as per Sikh rites, Tarlochan Singh said.

The High Commissioner replied the UK Government had no objection, but the clearance for it must be obtained from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Head of the Church of England since the graveyards were under it.

The Archbishop advised him that permission must be first obtained from the Church authorities. He then informed Sikh organisations concerned to initiate necessary action.

“I have visited Elvedon estate, which was his residence in England. He was buried in the courtyard of the Church in a small graveyard. There are also graves of his wife and children along with some others… I attended the annual wreath-laying ceremony by the Mayor of Thechfort.

The feeling among the Sikhs is to have a Samadhi of Maharaja Duleep Singh in place of a grave and not shift the remains to Punjab…but it is still being debated,” the statement said. (TNS)

The Economic Times – Meet Preet Kaur Gill, Britain’s first Sikh woman MP

Ishani Duttagupta

London-UK, 23 July 2017. Early this week, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, the newly elected Labour Party MP from the UK’s Slough constituency, won praise for his maiden speech in the House of Commons. “Slough, Mr Speaker, is a town of firsts,” the Sikh MP said. “It elected the UK’s first black lady mayor and now, more than three decades later, it has elected the first ever turbaned Sikh in British parliament.”

Dhesi concluded by saying that his propensity to stand out in a crowd may have its own “distinct advantage ..

With two community members of Parliament elected in the polls last month, Sikhs in the UK are upbeat about more visibility in public life and having a greater influence on policy matters.

While there have been Sikh MPs in the past, this is the first time that a Sikh woman, Preet Kaur Gill, and a man who wears a turban (Dhesi) were elected from the Birmingham Edgbaston constituency and Slough, respectively.

Gill and Dhesi are both from the Labour Party. Another turban-wearing Sikh, Kuldip Sahota, also of the Labour Party, lost from Telford constituency by a narrow margin. Earlier this week, Gill was selected as one of 11 MPs on the influential cross-party home affairs committee.

Representing the Community

“The Labour Party reached out to our community and it is a positive development that two of us got elected, considering that the previous government had no Sikh representation, Gill told ET Magazine from the UK.

The Labour Party had also promised in its poll manifesto to hold an independent probe into Britain’s role in Operation Bluestar in 1984, a military operation ordered by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi at the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

“Representation of the community is a real issue in Britain and during my campaign many members of the Sikh community from across the UK, including my constituency, reached out to me,” says Gill.

According to the 2011 census, 5.3% of Edgbaston’s population was born in India with a 5.7% Hindu demographic and 4.7% Sikh.

As a member of Parliament, Gill is focused on working for education and health services and the skills shortages in these areas that the UK is likely to face in a post-Brexit scenario. “I will be addressing issues such as adequate training facilities for young people in areas of skills shortages.

There are many people of Indian origin and from other Commonwealth countries who are contributing in a big way towards the delivery of healthcare services through the National Health Service and other public organisations. We will be reaching out to them.”

The UK-born MP has family in Delhi and Chandigarh and visits India at least once in two years. She had spent nine months in Delhi after her graduation in 1995.

Many Sikh organisations such as the British Sikh Consultative Forum, Network of Sikh Organisations, Sikh Council UK, Sikh Federation UK and the British Sikh Association supported Dhesi, Gill and other members of the community during the campaign.

“We have been looking at the Canadian government which has four Sikh ministers and 19 MPs of Indian origin.

Building stronger political lobbying networks for Sikhs and Indians in the UK is important across all parties,” says Gill.

Dhesi and Gill are not the first Sikhs to be elected MPs. Former lawmakers from the community include Parmjit Dhanda, the late Piara Singh Khabra, the late Marsha Singh and Paramjeet Singh Gill.

“Though there were three of us when I was an MP (between 2001 and 2010), the last government had none. There should be many more Sikh MPs and we can’t get complacent,” Dhanda, who was a Labour MP from Gloucester, told ET Magazine.

While he thinks that a lot remains to be done as far as Sikh representation in government is concerned, Dhanda concedes that gurdwaras in UK have done a remarkable job.

Carrying out a lot of humanitarian work quietly, gurdwaras in the UK are now coming out openly to engage in community service and reaching out to different sections of people.

“While we welcome the Sikh MPs representing their constituencies with many diverse communities, we will also depend on them to play an active role when it comes to issues specific to our community,” says Gurmel Singh, secretary general of the Sikh Council of UK.

Gurpreet Singh Anand, managing trustee, the Central Gurdwara (Khalsa Jatha) London, feels the increased involvement of the UK Sikh community in public life since the mid-90s has resulted in it being seen as one of the most integrated minorities in the UK.

“That is especially important as we also stand out with our unique appearance. It demonstrates that integration is not about appearance, but about values and contribution to the society,” adds Anand.

Making an impact

London-based lawyer Manoj Ladwa, who recently published a book of essays titled Winning Partnership — India-UK Relations Beyond Brexit, reckons that having a larger representation of people of Indian origin in the UK Parliament, including two Sikh MPs, is a celebration of diversity that helps the Indian community to engage with different arms of the British government and also helps people in the UK understand diversity.

“Indians have always been job creators in the UK and have had success in the armed forces, sports and professions across the board. Now the gurdwaras too are helping the community in integrating into the mainstream,” points out Ladwa.

Rami Ranger, who runs a marketing & distribution business and is the deputy treasurer of the Conservative Party, feels the gurdwaras are making an impact because they are seen as community organisations that provide spiritual sustenance.

They also support weak and vulnerable sections regardless of race and religion.

“The British Sikhs have always been respected with a record number having fought for the British empire. Today Sikhs are seen as a hardworking community and 82% are home owners, more than any other community in the UK.

Home owners claim less benefits and pay higher taxes,” says Ranger whose daughter Reena Ranger, a councillor, stood as a Conservative candidate for the Parliament from Birmingham Hall Green. constituency, but lost.

The Hindu – Sikh judge promoted to UK Court of Appeal

London, 22 July 2017. A British Sikh has become the first Indian-origin judge to be promoted to one of the senior-most posts in the UK judicial system.

Rabinder Singh is one of the seven judges to occupy the seven-member UK Court of Appeal after new judicial appointments were unveiled by the government this week.

The 53-year-old High Court judge, known for his characteristic white turbans in court, was born in Delhi before his family moved to the UK.

He won a scholarship to a prestigious school in Bristol and went on to study law at Trinity College, Cambridge University. He then studied at the University of California, Berkeley, graduating with a Masters in Law in 1986.

As he could not afford to study for the UK Bar exam, he served as a lecturer in law at the University of Nottingham from 1986 to 1988 before winning a scholarship from the Inns of Court in London.

He was called to the Bar in 1989 and became a Queen’s Counsel in 2002.