British Sikhs are responding after the government issued a swift and full apology to the Government of India after an Indian flag was torn down during anti-Modi protests this week.
The apology came less than 48 hours after the flag was torn down in Parliament Square by individuals during a mass protest about the persecution of minorities in India under Modi’s right-wing Hindu Nationalist government on Wednesday (April 18). The protest saw hundreds of Sikhs, Kashmiris, Bengalis, Tamils and Dalits come together to demonstrate their angst at the Indian state.
The protest also included campaigners of the #FreeJaggiNow campaign who are protesting the detention of Jagtar Singh Johal, a Scottish citizen, who has been held for nearly six months without charge in India.
A statement by the Foreign Office said:
While people have the right to hold peaceful protests, we are disappointed with the action
taken by a small minority in Parliament Square and contacted High Commissioner
Yashvardhan Kumar Sinha as soon as we were made aware. The visit to the UK by Prime
Minister Modi has strengthened our relationship with India and we look forward to working
even more closely together on a number of important areas.
The Indian government issued a strong statement regarding the incident, with Ministry of External Affairs Raveesh Kumar saying:
We’re deeply anguished over the incident involving our national flag. The matter was taken
up strongly with the UK side. They have regretted the incident. The flag was immediately
replaced. We expect legal action against the people who were involved in this.
On Thursday, the Sikh Federation UK issued a statement asking:
Does the removal of the Indian flag in London matter more than the lives of millions of
innocent men, women and children belonging to minorities or lower castes in India who are
being killed, attacked and raped on a daily basis?
It added that by focusing on the flag, the Indian government had ‘completely missed the point’ of the protests which expressed outrage over the ‘intimidation, killings, atrocities and rape’ carried out by supporters of the Indian Prime Minister. ‘Surely Indian politicians are the ones disrespecting their positions, the country they represent, and their flag,’ the Sikh Federation statement ended.
Other Sikhs in Britain have expressed outrage at the magnanimity of the British government over the incident compared to atrocities over which the British government has not issued an apology. The British government has not apologised for the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre, when British soldiers fired on unarmed civilians killing hundreds.
While on a visit to the site of the massacre in Amritsar during 2013, then-Prime Minister David Cameron stopped short of issuing a full apology, even though he acknowledged the ‘deeply shameful’ nature of the event.
The British government has also failed to apologise for its role in helping the Indian Army prepare for Operation Blue Star, the storming of Darbar Sahib (also in Amritsar) resulting in thousands of deaths and the desecration of the site. Far from apologising, since the revelation of this assistance in 2014, the government has taken every possible step to limit the impact of what was an inadvertent release of information.
A review by the Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood, commissioned by Cameron, was branded a ‘whitewash’ by Sacrificing Sikhs, a report commissioned by the Sikh Federation into the provision of British military advice.
An information tribunal is currently considering whether to grant a request for the declassification of UK government files that are thought to contain more information regarding the involvement of the British government in the preparations for the 1984
London Metropolitan Police told the Sikh Press Association regarding the flag incident:
Police are investigating after an Indian flag in Parliament Square was pulled down at 15:00hrs on Wednesday, 18 April. The flag has been replaced.
There have been no arrests. Enquiries continue.
Concern about Indian media reaction to the removal of the flag was also prominent on Twitter, especially about it being linked to support for Pakistan (most notable in a tweet from famed Indian journalist Rajdeep Sardesai to his 8.46million followers) which is seen as an attempt to further malign the minority communities involved in protesting against Modi in the UK.