Thursday, 27 June 2013

British Sikhs are the best example of cultural integration

A comment post by Conservative MP Gareth Johnson about the Sikhs written in March 2013.

All parties are often guilty of focusing too heavily on the negative aspects of immigration and multiculturalism but I believe British Sikhs should be recognised - not only for their great success in fully integrating themselves into British society, but also for their extraordinary contributions.
Yesterday, I hosted a Westminster Hall debate about the success story that is the British Sikh Community and of how that success has evolved. This does not just involve good community relations but also educational achievement, business acumen, military service, and a respectful attitude to their neighbours and the rule of law.

Sikhism is a 500 year old religion with over 20 million followers worldwide. It is ranked as a major world religion, with even more followers than Judaism (which has about 13 million worldwide).
In my Constituency of Dartford, Sikhs make up the largest ethnic minority. What is particularly noticeable is how well they have integrated themselves in to the local community- not just through business, but also through charity work and the hospitable nature of the local Sikh Temple.
The local Gurdwara Haragobin (their place of worship) is a lively, bustling and welcoming place. I mentioned it in my maiden speech to Parliament in 2010 because of its unique situation. Its location next door to a Baptist church, with both congregations enjoying very cordial relations, is testimony to the good race and religious relations we have locally.

On a personal note, I recently attended a Sikh wedding at Gravesend in Kent, at the invitation of a local Dartford Councillor (a Sikh himself). The ceremony was held at the Gurdwara Guru Nanak which is the largest Temple outside India. What struck me about the building was not just its beauty but also the manner in which it was built. Carpenters and bricklayers from the Sikh community all spent their spare time building this magnificent communal monument together, to have a religious home that their Sikh community could be proud of and worship in together. Anybody who is looking for an example of the Big Society in action need only go to this temple.

Sikh business is also disproportionately successful - in part because British Sikhs have a deserved reputation of having a strong work ethic. Indeed Sikhs are second only to Jews in how financially productive they are as a religious group. This belief in hard work and the importance of the family has been the reason why Sikhs have been so successful in the UK.

A cursory look at the Sunday Times rich list throws up a disproportionately high number of Sikhs. There is a clear determination amongst Sikhs to strive hard and be successful in business which is a trait that is very much to their credit.

Another claim to fame that the Sikh community can call on is the extraordinarily low crime rates associated with Sikhs. In a previous employment I was a magistrate's legal adviser and I accompanied a group of magistrates around Feltham young offenders institution. The question of religious worship was raised and it became apparent that there were no facilities for Sikhs.

This concerned some of the magistrates who challenged this and were met with the response that we rarely get Sikhs here. I don't know if that is still the case but certainly there has always been a culture of Sikh complicity with the law that should be celebrated and emulated in local communities.

Other examples of the contribution that Sikhs make to the UK are witnessed in the British Army where many Sikhs have served with distinction.

We have recently witnessed the sight of the first guardsman to wear a turban rather than a bearskin. This throws up a difficult debate between respect for the turban and respect for the traditions of the guards. What is clear though is the respect that the British army has shown for the turban in allowing it to be worn without a bearskin. Indeed, turbans have been allowed as an alternative to military headdress since the first world war.

Of course, we have to ensure we do not become complacent. In 2010 I raised the issue of the searching of turbans in British airports with the secretary of state in the Commons chamber.
Whilst we need to preserve security on aeroplanes we should also recognise the significance of the impact that the searching of a turban has on a Sikh. We need to ensure that security staff use all other available measures - such as scanning - before doing so. EU regulations on this issue haven't been appropriate in the past and I praise the Department of Transport for tackling the issue with the seriousness it deserves. Fortunately on this issue, common sense was able to prevail.

Clearly, challenges remain for the British Sikh community. Prejudices based on caste are still a widespread problem. This can often go much further than classism and is a deep rooted bias of the most unpleasant kind. The sad aspect of this of course is that this is not a problem born just from outside Sikhism but often from within it too.

It is also true that ignorance of the Sikh religion is what often lies behind many prejudices. The typical response to the Kirpan (a ceremonial dagger carried by baptized Sikhs) illustrates this very well. Maybe hundreds of years of Englishmen fearing Scotsmen with their Sgian Dubhs have lead to an instinctive fear of the Kirpan. Clearly we should see the Kirpan in its correct context and be less obstructive towards it.

I don't claim to be an expert on the Sikh religion but I have seen over the years how much of a positive impact Sikhs have had not just in my constituency but across Britain.

There are still many issues to be resolved, from citizenship and integration to understanding Sikhism and its cultures and traditions. But I also feel the time is right to pay tribute to British Sikhs in all that they have achieved. Their contribution amounts to so much more than their numbers, and I was honoured this week to have had this opportunity of hosting a debate that recognises this.

Gareth Johnson is the Conservative MP for Dartford

Taken from

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Giving Blood - an act of seva

Seva is usually thought as something one does for ones own community, or maybe in a Gurdwara, or for ones family. Rarely is seva done for a complete stranger or when one doesn't know who the recipient will be. Giving blood is exactly that - an act of kindness for a complete stranger.
national blood week
Recently it was national #BloodWeek and I just happened to have already booked in my regular blood donation session for Monday the 17th of June ( a day after) and I thought to myself what are the reasons that people don't give blood. After discussions with others these are the reasons we came up with: - don't know how to sign up - scared of needles - think they don't have time Regarding not having time - any successful person thinks they never have time but they make the time to accomplish their goals. To be successful at kindness you sometimes have to plan it and book it into your diary. On more of a practical ground, giving blood takes about an hour - no more no less, and you can donate every 13 - 16 weeks (3 - 4 months). Those of you who are scared on needles: take someone with you, do ardas, or simran. I'm not saying the needle doesn't prick when it goes into your vein but it's not uncomfortable once it is in and doesn't stay in for very long. If at any point it is too uncomfortable, you just let a nurse know and they will either adjust the needle or take it out depending on your wishes. For me the worst bit is the day after when you remove the plasters - but that may just be because I'm a wimp. Lastly, how to sign up: visit and you fill out an online application form where it says register. Or you can call 0300 123 2323. 20130623_210849 20130623_210901                               Once you've registered and signed up to a blood donation session local to your home, work or study you will receive a confirmation letter in the post with a health questionnaire. The questionnaire asks questions to see if your blood can be accepted - ie. if you are on long term medication or have been outside the country sometimes your blood cannot be accepted. Remember to take this questionnaire with you when you are going along to the donation session. In the session the first thing that happens is a nurse confirms your name and takes your questionnaire. She/He then asks you to drink some water which is provided and read a blood safety booklet. This usually doesn't take too long so its always worth taking a book/magazine or playing on your phone while you wait for stage 2. Stage 2 is when another nurse takes you into a booth to check your iron levels via a small prick on your finger blood test and asks you some health questions. Once your iron has been checked and the nurse has confirmed you can donate she/he will check your arms and see which one has the best vein. They look for the largest vein as it means the donation takes less time. Stage 3 is then giving the donation. You get asked to lay on a bed while the nurse cleans your arm where the needle is to enter. Then you feel a sharp prick as they insert the needle and you sit there squeezing and un-squeezing your hand to allow your blood to flow out of your vein into a bag. The maximum time allowed for a donation is 15 minutes so if your blood is coming out too slowly a nurse may come and give you a ball or something to squeeze to help you along. Some nurses may also ask you to squeeze your legs or buttock muscles alternatively as this helps blood flow too. 20130617_185101 Once the donation is done, plasters are applied and the nurse asks you various questions on how you are feeling. You then go to another area where you can have a drink (tea/coffee/water/juice/etc), biscuits and get a sticker! You can then book in another appointment for their next session or book online later. ....and all that takes an hour. Its nothing to be afraid of and its a small act of kindness which could save someones life. So ign up today at   Fancy doing something more -- ever thought about organ donation?   20130623_210955

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Happy Fathers Day!

In October 2010, I was blessed with Amrit and on leaving Gurus Darbar that night my worldly father said to me 'you are no longer my daughter, you are Guru Gobind Singh Ji's daughter' and this line has stuck with me ever since that day.

Most of the time, everything I do, everything I say is to make my worldly father proud of me but since 2010, I've had to work extra hard to make my spiritual father proud of me too. This shabad below sums it all up.

So to both my worldly father and spiritual father - Happy Father Day and thank you for being there with me through my ups and downs.


Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Its National #BloodWeek .....

national blood week

Are you 17 or over and generally in good health? 

Find out how to sign up and give blood near where you live, work or study. It will only take maximum of an hour out of your day.  


calling O and A


Monday, 10 June 2013

10 June - Day 10 #10DaysOfTerror

10 June

On the 10th June 1984 after 10 days of terror, the guns finally fell silent. The last Sikh fighters who had been holding out from the 1st June, were killed. Giani Puran Singh's account gives an accurate description of this incident:

"There were 4 Singhs in the basement of the Bunga Jassa Singh Ramgarhia who were giving a tough fight to the forces. They had also pulled down 3 personnel of the army who had ventured too close. The authorities wanted these people to surrender but they wanted a mutually responsible person to mediate. I was then asked to mediate but first of all I asked the army officers of a guarantee that none would be shot only arrested and later law would take its own course. They were not ready for this and wished me to talk to the Brigadier who too was noncommittal. They then asked me to inquire if the three army personnel were alive. The reply received was that no live personnel were there in the basement. At this the Brigadier asked me to leave and that they would themselves deal with them. These men in the basement fought the whole day, the whole night and also the next day when Giani Zail Singh came to visit the ruins of Akaal Takht. Some thought that they had also aimed for Giani but it was not so. These people did not know that Giani was coming. If they knew before hand, they would have definitely put a bullet through the 'tyrant' but they were totally cut out from the outside world. A colonel of the commandos attempted to flush out these men in the basement with a gun and light arrangement but as soon as he entered the basement, a burst of LMG wounded him and it was later learnt that he had succumbed to the injuries in the hospital. Two cannons were reemployed to fire at the Bunga, gaping holes were formed on the Parikrama end but the men within were safe. I saw from the roof of Harmandir Sahib that two grenadiers had been put on the grenade shooter and a continuous barrage of grenades was being used but they still survived. Burnt red chilly bags, chilly powder and smoke granades were thrown in; one of them came out to be greeted with a hail of bullets while the others finally were silenced on the 10th."

Thus, on the 10th June the battle of Amritsar was officially concluded as the guns finally fell silent. The military operation was unprecedented in Indian history, as the might of the Indian Army was unleashed, complete with full fire power and heavy artillery on its own people.

Government Propaganda

Following the battle, the government was embarrassed, General K.S Brar on the 2ndJune 1984 had stated that "we shall see to it that they are on their knees in just two hours"; The Sikh Unrest and The Indian State, R.N. Kumar.

Yet it took 10 days for the army to completely defeat the Sikh fighters. Other than pride, this was damaging for the Indian Government as the operation was supposed to happen under the cover of darkness, or rather a complete media blackout. This would have ensured that no one would have known what happened between the inner walls of the complex.

However, as the fighting lasted over a week, word began to spread, rumours spread throughout villages in Punjab and army bases across India, which resulted in a huge outpouring of grief and anger from Sikhs across the world.

Soon after the massacre the government disinformation campaign went into overdrive to create legitimacy for the action. The goal of this disinformation Campaign, according to Subramaniam Swami (Indian politician, academician and an economist) was to 'make out that the Golden Temple was the haven of criminals, a store of armoury and a citadel of the nation's dismemberment conspiracy; Creating a Martyr - Imprint (1984), Subramaniam Swami, p 7.

One of these myths that was propagated by the State media, was that the fighters were highly trained and possessed sophisticated weaponry, courtesy of Pakistan. In regards to this the Daily Telegraph, London (June 15, 1984) wrote, "The Government is now energetically insisting that the Sikh insurrection in the Panjab was a deep-seated conspiracy of a certain foreign power or when pressed, claims that some of the terrorists were trained in Pakistan. This is the first time that such a claim has been made, and it smacks of Mrs Gandhi's playing the familiar old Pakistan card for all it is worth. After all, there is an election looming on the horizon and a touch of war fever may not do any harm. But in the long run this sort of propaganda will not solve the Panjab's underlying problems."

In regards to the weapons that the Sikh fighters actually had a retired brigadier, then a lieutenant colonel, recalls: "My unit was sent to the Darbar Sahib complex after the Operation was over to assist in post-operation duties. I reached Amritsar on June 10th. On the basis of my personal knowledge, I can say that the government White Paper's list of arms recovered does not accurately reflect the arms in the possession of the militants. I would put the number of actual combatants on the other side at around 200"; Politics of genocide: Punjab, 1984-1998, Inderjit Singh Jaijee.

In an essay contributed to "The Punjab Story", Lieutenant General J.S. Arora writes: "there is a need to correct the picture that has been painted by the media that sophisticated weapons were found inside the Temple..The impression that has been built up in the public mind of foreign governments deliberately arming the terrorists with a view to overthrowing the government is grossly overdone."

The Government of India reacted in a cynical and dishonourable manner. They disseminated lies through State media, which forms the basis of opinion for many, regarding what happened in Operation Blue Star. One example to illustrate this scheme is two reports from different papers after the aftermath of the attack; the first is a newspaper report from London, while the other is an Indian paper;

Telegraph London (June 15, 1984) published the following report from David Graves: "The Akal Takhat looks like it has been bombed. It looks like a building in Berlin after the War. Every building in the complex had been riddled with bullets and there was still a stench of death in the air."

Meanwhile The Times of India (June 10, 1984) headlined on the front page a Press Trust of India report saying, "Terrorists made a desperate attempt to blow up the Akal Takhat, killed a number of men, women and children, and unsuccessfully tried to escape with huge amounts of cash, jewellery and other valuables after their leaders were killed in the action on June 5. The Akal Takhat was not damaged in the Army action."

The Government of India also censored and persecuted any journalist or human rights organisation who tried to report the truth, and thus when Citizens for Democracy published a report detailing the "Oppression in Punjab" in 1985, it was banned and confiscated the next day, the authors were arrested and charged with "sedition" (incitement of rebellion against a government;

Brahma Challeney of the Associated Press (AP) of USA was the only foreign correspondent who managed to stay in Amritsar during the attack, and was one of the first to publish reports that sikh pilgrims were executed after the attack. For his troubles he was arrested and also charged with sedition.

Slowly with research and initiatives like #10DaysofTerror we can challenge the unfounded allegations and falsehoods circulated in 1984. We thank everyone who supported the campaign, and urge everyone to learn more about a very significant and recent part of Sikh Political History. One small step is to read this brief fact sheet which provides a general overview.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

9 June - Day 9 #10DaysOfTerror

9 June

Jodhpur Detainees

After the Sikh resistance had been overcome, only a few snipers remained. Following the execution of pilgrims, immediately after the main battle, those that survived were rounded up, detained by the Army and charged as terrorists:

“379 of the alleged 'most dangerous terrorists' were forced to sign a common confessional statement and thereafter served a common charge sheet that they were all Bhindranwale's closest associates and comrades-in-arms engaged in 'waging war against the State'. They were, therefore, detained under the NSA and are now being tried at Jodhpur under the Terrorist-Affected Areas (Special Courts) Act of 1984. As we were curious regarding the extent of danger these hardcore 'terrorists' posed to the State 'with the intention to establish a State independent from the Government of India to be known as Khalistan", we visited the homes of some of the Jodhpur detainees and met their families or relatives.

The evidence collected established beyond doubt that none of the Jodhpur detainees we succeeded in profiling are 'terrorists' but rather all of them are completely innocent, ordinary persons, whose only crime was that they had all gone to or were coming from the Golden Temple as devotees or pilgrims visiting the Golden Temple for the Guru Purab on June 3, 1984 or farmers gone to the Temple to deliver village donations of grain to the S.G.P.C. or students gone to pay obeisance at their holiest religious shrine, the Harmandir Sahib.”

Source; Citizens for Democracy; Report to the Nation: Oppression in Punjab (Bombay, 1985).

These detainees were detained for up to 5 years, before in the face of worldwide condemnation and protest they were finally released.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

5 June - Day 5 #10DaysOfTerror

5 June

In contradiction of the Government White Paper issued on July 10th 1984 which claims that "the troops exercised great restrain and refrained from directing any fire at Harmandir Sahib" (paragraph 10), Citizens for Democracy records the evidence of Harcharan Singh Ragi, who witnessed his guardian and mentor - the old, completely blind, Head Ragi of Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple), Amrik Singh being shot by an army bullet and dying inside the Harmandir Sahib at about 6.30 a.m.

One young college girl, who was one of the thousands of pilgrims who were trapped, gives her account of the Army entering the Complex in the following words: "They continued the firing till the evening of June 5th and then it was about 8.30 p.m. It was completely dark when they entered [Army into the Temple Complex] accompanied by very heavy firing. The blasting was so severe that I thought that I had reached some other world. We were 40-50 persons huddled together in the room, including women and children. The upper portion of the Akal Takhat had been fired at by the Army... Pieces of the Guru Granth Sahib were flying in the air... The place seemed to have been transformed into a haunted house...There were some among us who were frantic for some water, they came out in the open. In the morning I saw the dead bodies lying in the Parikarma. This was the worst kind of treachery."

Giani Puran Singh, a priest at the Harmandir Sahib and also an eye-witness remembers: "At 10.00 p.m. the tanks started entering the complex and the barrage of shooting became more intense as heavy artillery began to be used. At this stage an armoured carrier entered and stood beside the Sarovar. The lights on this carrier, when switched on, bathed the whole complex in bright light. We were viewing all this perched in the main dome of Harmandar Sahib and thought that probably the fire brigade had come to get water for extinguishing fires raging throughout the city. But we were proved wrong when this vehicle came down to the Parikarma and started firing. From both sides the tanks started closing in; from the clock tower to the Brahm Buta the tanks fired upon and set fire to all rooms, while desperate people collected water from the Sarovar to extinguish the fires. Loud cries and wails of both women and children rented the air."

In Devinder Singh Duggal's words, "The night between the 5th and 6th was terrible. The tanks and armoured carriers had entered the Golden Temple Complex. The firing was such, that its ferocity cannot be described. All through the night we heard the heart rending cries of the dying persons."

Source; Citizens for Democracy; Report to the Nation: Oppression in Punjab (Bombay, 1985) (This report was made by an investigation team lead by Justice V. M. Tarkunde who was a prominent Indian lawyer, civil rights activist, and a distinguished judge. A day after publication of the report it was banned and confiscated, the authors were arrested and charged with "sedition" (incitement of rebellion against a government);

Eyewitness Subhash Kirpekar writes that in total there were approximately "a dozen tanks and a dozen APCs in all" (Armoured Personal Carriers); "Operation Bluestar, an Eyewitness Account" (published in The Punjab Story). Giani Puran Singh recounts how "a vigorous battle ensued between the Army and the 40-50 youth who had been holding the forces fought bravely through the night, until they either they were killed or their ammunition was exhausted".

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

4 June - Day 4 #10DaysOfTerror

4 June

At 3.30am pilgrims were reciting the divine prayers of Sri Sukhmani Sahib, at approximately 4.00am, during the prayers, the Army suddenly began bombing the Sri Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple) Complex using heavy artillery.

"The 4th of June, 1984, was wrongly chosen by the Army for an attack on the Golden Temple because, the 3rd of June being gurpurab (a religious festival), a large number of pilgrims, nearly 10,000 in number, had come to stay in the Golden Temple.
Many of them appear to have been killed in the Army action."

Eyewitness Accounts:

Devinder Singh Duggal - In charge of the Sikh Reference Library located inside the Golden Temple complex. Duggal is an acknowledged authority on Sikh history. Duggal's recollections are vivid, almost photographic:

"At abut 4 a.m. in the early hours of the morning of June 4, the regular Army attack on the temple started with a 25-pounder which fell in the ramparts of the Deori to the left of Akal Takht Sahib with such a thunder that for a few moments I thought that the whole complex had collapsed... Thereafter, every second the ferocity of firing increased…"

Apart from heavy firing from Light and Medium Machine Guns (high caliber guns), the army troops also threw mortar shells and poisonous gas canisters inside the Akal Takhat and other buildings in the Complex.

Meanwhile, according to Duggal, "the helicopter hovered above and continued to fire from above. Some of these helicopters also guided the firing squads of the Army by making circle of light around the targets. Immediately after these circles, the cannon ball would land causing havoc. We saw a large number of boys blown to pieces."

Source; Citizens for Democracy; Report to the Nation: Oppression in Punjab (Bombay, 1985)
(This report was made by an investigation team lead by Justice V. M. Tarkunde who was a prominent Indian lawyer, civil rights activist, and a distinguished judge. A day after publication of the report it was banned and confiscated, the authors were arrested and charged with "sedition" (incitement of rebellion against a government);