34.Memorandum submitted by the Sikh Community
Action Network (S.C.A.N.)
SCAN (Sikh Community Action Network) is a voluntary
organisation; a small yet highly dedicated network of Sikh activists
who share the following aims:
To proactively represent Sikh-related
issues where relevant and appropriate.
To encourage and further the already
positive integration of British Sikhs into mainstream British
society through Spiritual, Social and Political awareness.
A. REGARDING THE
1. Ideologically speaking, Sikhs are strongly
against any person(s) who cause the death of innocent individuals;
therefore 9/11 and the recent Chechen incident are obviously cases
of clear-cut terrorism. Any such causes that such individuals/groups
wish to progress, from a Sikh perspective, lose validity when
the senseless murder and maiming of fellow human-beings is used
as a threat or is actioned. There can be no justification for
such actions whatsoever; such means can never justify any ends.
2. However, any nation which is suffering
at the hands of terrorists ie America, the former Soviet Union,
must also ask honest and piercing questions of itself. It is for
these nations to accept that many such terrorist actions, although
absolutely beyond the pale, are in many cases, reactions. Therefore,
future peace will only prevail if both sides, having accepted
their actions, agree to negotiate and prevent future bloodshed.
Such a mature and spiritually-motivated approach would be in keeping
with Sikh philosophy, whereby the good of all is the central aspiration
(Sikhs refer to the good of all as sarbat da bhalla).
B. THE STIGMATISATION
1. The first person killed by an American
in retaliation for the events that took place on 11 September
was a visible Sikh; a turban-wearing, bearded male. His name was
Balbir Singh Sodhi. It appears he was "associated with terrorism"
simply because of his de facto Sikh appearance.
Please refer to: http://cfrterrorism.org/policy/hatecrimes.html
2. Sikhs with their visible Dastaar, (turban)
which signifies spiritual sovereignty and keeps their long uncut
Kesh (hair) manageably intact, have been given special attention
by those who have a grudge against Bin Laden and other Muslim
extremists associated with him or his cause. The fact that these
extremists wear turbans and have beards seem to be the main reasons.
3. Sikhs get called "terrorist"
and other such names very occasionally; terms such as "terrorist",
"rag-head", "Bin Laden" etc are the ones most
frequently used. Before September 11, SCAN (which has detailed
anecdotal evidence) cannot recall British Sikhs being called such
names or being stared at so much as they walk about and conducted
their daily affairs.
4. Most of the many Sikhs that SCAN regularly
communicates with have been through similar experiences regardless
of where they live in the United Kingdom. Therefore this issue
is endemic and not localised geographically speaking. Violent
acts and assaults have also taken place both against Sikh persons
and Sikh Gurdwaras (Sikh place of worship).
C. THE INCIDENCE
1. Islamaphobia and attacks upon Sikhs should
be tackled via awareness-raising through positive media representations.
2. Extremist fascist groups such as Al Muhajiroun
should be kept in check and prosecuted where possible because
of their vitriolic, unashamed and ideological attacks upon all
non-Muslims. It is SCAN's opinion that along with ignorance, it
is groups such as this who unwittingly create a climate where
Islamaphobia flourishes. Their perverted interpretation of Islam,
blatant anti-Semitism, homophobia and general prejudices against
all non-Muslim British communities makes them no different to
3. Community cohesion is suffering because
of groups such as the BNP and Al Muhajiroun; just as impressionable
angry, young, white men are targeted by the BNP for recruitment,
so too does Al Muhajiroun target angry, young British Muslims
with a potent admixture of "religious" fanaticism and
extremist socio-political doctrines.
Please refer to: http://www.webster-dictionary.org/definition/al-Muhajiroun
D. MEDIA COVERAGE
1. There was not enough media coverage related
to the specific issues facing the visible, turban-wearing Sikh
community in the UK.
2. Also, at the Ministerial level, there
was a conspicuous lack of comment or representation made regarding
the "Sikh experience" during the period after September
11; this was evident from the lack of such representation projected
by the mainstream media. This has left the sizeable British Sikh
community with the feeling that they are ignored and not noticed;
even when they are being persecuted.
E. CIVIL LIBERTIES/POLICING
1. Due to terrorist-profiling and general
lack of information about the Sikhs, turban-wearing, bearded Sikhs
have faced more scrutiny generally speaking. This has led to civil
liberties being encroached upon.
2. A Sikh was arrested in New York after
September 11 and his picture, depicting the arrest, was splashed
across the pages of the US and British press throughout the following
day. The crime: he was visibly wearing a Kirpaan (short sword),
which is an obligatory article of uniform representing Sikhs'
duty to defend those who are oppressed, which is worn by both
male and female practising Sikhs. Although Sikhs are legally able
to do so, ignorance, short-sightedness and perhaps an element
of misplaced fear meant that he was dramatically arrested for
no good reason whatsoever. His arrest and the subsequent media
representation gave the direct inference that: "all people
who look like this are potential terrorists and may be linked
with the September 11 terrorist actions" (he being, and therefore
"looking like", one of the many tens of thousands of
law-abiding Sikhs who live in the UK).
3. Security personnel (both private and
public sector) as well as airport staff etc should receive cultural
awareness training which specifically focuses upon Sikhs for these
reasons. It is for these reasons that SCAN provides cultural awareness
training to Thames Valley Police.
4. In this post-September 11 environment,
it is worth noting that the Indian authorities have much to gain
by not only linking the indigenous Sikh population but also linking
the overseas Sikh diaspora with terrorism and acts of terrorism.
The post-1984 era saw civil liberties in Punjab (which has an
overwhelming Sikh majority population) suspended and whole-scale
state-sponsored atrocities carried out against Sikh men, women
and children. Sikhs also feel that they were politically and economically
marginalised by a centrally-run government which wished to oppress
them in every which manner it could do so; both legally and illegally.
5. As a response, this era saw the rise
of several Sikh militant groups who, feeling they as Sikhs had
tried every lawful method to obtain justice but had been prevented
from receiving it, assassinated key figures within the Indian
government/policing authorities who were directly linked to these
abuses. Consequently, the general Sikh movement for the self-determination
of Punjab, not only militant but also non-militant (the non-militant
movement being by far the most prominent of the two) was halted
through mass human rights abuses. In a country where human rights
agencies such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch
are not allowed to enter, such occurrences are committed outside
of the view of the international community.
Please refer to: http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/engASA200032003?OpenDocument&of
6. The upshot is that India has since used
every imaginable opportunity to declare Sikhs as both a potential
and active "terrorist community". A current case of
which involves a British Sikh resident, is a perfect example of
such blind hatred expressed through vilification. In June 1999,
this individual was falsely arrested, incarcerated, tortured and
held for over three years before his case saw the light of day.
He had been arrested for allegedly conspiring to carry out terrorist
actions against the Indian State. The case was swiftly quashed
by a Judge who declared it "a balloon of falsehoods".
A consequent government inquiry proved that the explosives recovered
from "upon his person" were in fact planted upon him
and taken for this specific and clandestine purpose from the Indian
authorities' own recovered store! This individual is currently
involved in a court case against the Indian authorities and will
soon be arriving back home to his family, friends and supporters
after his five-year ordeal. Substantial details can be provided
7. Although the Indian authorities' attempt
to paint Sikhs as instigators of terrorism in the Indian mainland
failed miserably as in this case, it is clear that their motivation
to do so remains intact to this present day. The British Sikh
community, especially in the aftermath of September 11, is keen
to ensure that the British authorities have a balanced understanding
of the period of Sikh militancy in Punjab. That is to say that
any analysis must consider the "forces" and complex
socio-political environment which gave birth to it and sustained
it. As law-abiding British Sikh citizens, who enjoy residency
in a country which does not systematically violate their basic
human rights in such a manner, this is a key concern and a point
which cannot be stressed enough.
8. Therefore, British Sikhs ask that any
allegations made by the Indian authorities regarding "Sikh
terrorists' should be treated with both the scepticism and the
acumen such sensitive judicial issues require. Indeed, all such
cases regardless of the communities involved should be treated
very carefully, thereby building trust between diverse British
communities and homeland security agencies. This would also engender
within the diverse British communities the feeling that their
authorities are both transparent and not operating according to
the whims of overseas administrations, who have particular vested
interests. Transparency is of course the key issue here.
19 September 2004