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Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence


34.Memorandum submitted by the Sikh Community Action Network (S.C.A.N.)

BRIEF DESCRIPTION

  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 "ACTUAL TERRORIST THREAT"

  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 OF MINORITY GROUPS PUBLICLY ASSOCIATED WITH TERRORISM

  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 OF ANTI-SEMITISM, ISLAMAPHOBIA AND OTHER FORMS OF PREJUDICE

  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 the BNP.

  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

  http://www.sikhlionz.com/almuhajiroun.htm

D.  MEDIA COVERAGE OF THESE ISSUES

  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 ISSUES

  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

=countries%5cindia

  http://www.sikhcoalition.org/HumanRights.asp

  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 upon request.

  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





 
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