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Sikh school protests lead to DfE meeting

The Department for Education (DfE) has confirmed that it will consult with all key stakeholders before deciding the fate of Seva School in Coventry.

Parents of pupils at the school, which has put into special measures by Ofsted, had been protesting against proposed changes, saying that the DfE was ignoring their concerns.

Seva School in Walsgrave is a free school currently part of the Sevak Education Trust. A faith school opened in 2014, it describes its ethos as ‘grounded in the Sikh faith’. In 2016, it was rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted and has been in special measures for the past two years.

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On 26th November, hundreds of parents along with Seva School pupils protested outside the DfE office in Coventry, following notification from the Regional School’s Commissioner that the school would be transferred to another trust, the Nishkam School Trust. Parents and pupils carried placards that read: ‘Save our Sikh Faith School’, ‘DfE Stop Bullying’ and ‘We Deserve Equal Rights’.

One mother at the protest said: ‘I am terribly disappointed to possibly change it into a multi faith school. We worked so hard to keep this school as a Sikh School.’ Other parents have been just as critical; as many as 500 letters have been sent by parents of pupils in opposition to the proposals.

This proposed course of action has opposition from the Sevak Education Trust and many parents of pupils at Seva School. Both the Trust and the Parents of Seva School Action Group have undertaken legal correspondence with DfE, seeking them to pause activities ‘pending further consideration of the issues.’ The Sevak Education Trust have put forward alternative proposals, namely a transfer or ‘re-brokerage’ to Khalsa Academies Trust which already has three Sikh schools across the country. This option is preferred by the Parents of Seva School Action Group who fear that a transfer to the Nishkam School Trust would compromise the existing Sikh ethos of the school.

The Sevak Education Trust had been arguing that its counter-proposal of the school coming under the Khalsa Academies Trust had not even been considered as an option by the Regional School’s Commissioner, who – it is claimed – have refused to engage with Khalsa Academies Trust.

cov sch2Now it has been confirmed by the DfE that all key stakeholders in this matter will be consulted before making a final decision on which school trust Seva School should join.

Notable Sikh figure Kam Singh, who has a child at Seva School, welcomed the news saying: ‘All Sikhs have wanted is to be a part of the process and have equal rights and ensure that the right model is chosen for Seva School. Respect and thanks to all those children and parents that have worked so hard to ensure their voices are heard.’

In an earlier letter to parents, Seva School said: ‘The Khalsa Academies Trust has a religious ethos and values which are closely aligned with Seva School, and would seem an obvious better fit for the purposes of maintaining and developing the positive aspects of this ethos.’

The school acknowledged that it has received ‘an overwhelming response against the DfE’s proposal’ and cautioned: ‘Changes to Seva School’s ethos would cause significant disruption […] and represent a very definite departure from the Sikh faith academy we promised.’ The Khalsa Academies Trust has already engaged with the school which included attending a public meeting on the situation.

 

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Sikhs to lobby MPs over community concerns

Sikhs from across the country are planning to converge on Westminster for a mass lobby of MPs.

The mass lobby has been organised by The Sikh Federation UK on Wednesday 14th November from 12pm in Parliament.

After meeting in the central lobby, attendees will then proceed to Committee Room 6 to hear an update on the raiding of the homes of Sikh activists in Britain in September.

In the run up to the lobby, over 150 MPs have been contacted by Sikhs about five issues of community concern:

  • The need for a Sikh ethnic tick box in the Census 2021
  • Amending the Offensive Weapons Bill to ensure there are no restrictions on the Sikh community on the sale, possession and use of the large Sikh Kirpan
  • The absence of a suitable response to the Sacrificing Sikhs report supporting an independent public inquiry on UK involvement in the 1984 Sikh Genocide and anti-Sikh measures taken against Sikhs in the UK
  • The first anniversary of the torture and imprisonment of Jagtar Singh Johal, the 31-year old from Dumbarton
  • The police raids on the homes of five British Sikh activists in Birmingham, Coventry, Leicester and London

Following a legal case in 1983, Sikhs have been recognised as a separate ethnicity in the UK. There is currently a campaign to have this reflected in the next census so that information on Sikhs is available when it comes to the provision of public services.

Regarding the Offensive Weapons Bill, many Sikhs have expressed concern that the community has not been adequately consulted with regard to the Kirpan – a sword worn by Amritdhari (Initiated) Sikhs. the Home Office failed to consult representative Sikh organisations in formulating its policy equality statement released in June 2018 alongside the bill.

There has also been a lack of response to ‘Sacrificing Sikhs’ – the report commissioned by the Sikh Federation UK into British government involvement in the attack on Sri Darbar Sahib in 1984. The report contained a number of damning findings include the fact that Parliament was misled. Many in the Sikh community are demanding an independent public inquiry into UK involvement in the 1984 Sikh Genocide, a position which the Labour party has formally endorsed in its manifesto.

Sunday 4th November will mark the one year anniversary of the abduction and detention of British citizen Jagtar Singh Johal in India. He has been tortured and denied both an independent medical examination and private consular access. He has faced trial by media and has had over 60 court hearings, none of which featured any evidence against him. Three UN rapporteurs have formally raised his case with the Indian authorities and at the UN Human Rights Council.

Following the raids on the homes of British Sikh activists in September, many questions have been left unanswered. All of those targeted were campaigning for the release of Jagtar Singh Johal in India. During the raids, family members including young children and elderly relatives were harassed. The personal details of the activists – none of whom were arrested – were printed in the Indian media, along with quotes from an Indian security official saying that the raids were as a result of Indian diplomatic pressure on British authorities.

The Sikh Federation UK have provided a template letter which Sikhs can use to write to their local MP, asking them to take action on the above points.

 

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Arson attack at Edinburgh Gurdwara Sahib

An arson attack at the Guru Nanak Gurdwara Sahib in Edinburgh this morning has caused extensive damage.

At around 5am, a petrol canister with a piece of cloth was lit and pushed through the front door of the Gurdwara Sahib in Mill Lane. A fire started on the other side of the door, inside the Gurdwara Sahib.

While the fire damage is limited, it caused extensive internal smoke damage, including inside the Divan hall. Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji was not in Parkash (but in Sachkhand) at the time of the attack.

Shortly after attack, a passer-by who was familiar with Edinburgh sangat alerted the Granthi Singhs to the fire. Both the police and fire brigade arrived within minutes, along with members of Edinburgh sangat.

Local sevadaars were able to carry out a brief inspection before the police sealed off the Gurdwara Sahib for forensic analysis, but they could not determine much as it was still dark. In this time, a sevadaar rushed upstairs to Sachkhand to check Mahraaj’s Saroops which thankfully appear not to have suffered any damage. Galab Singh, a committee member of the Gurdwara Sahib said: ‘When I heard there was a fire I had to rush here and go upstairs to check Mahraaj’s saroops with my own eyes. I’m quite surprised at this attack, the Gurdwara Sahib enjoys a good relationship with the local community here.’

Police officers are now inspecting the Gurdwara Sahib, and have taken away the petrol canister for forensic examination. The Gurdwara Sahib is hoping to update sangat once the police have finished investigating.

Detective Inspector Clark Martin from Gayfield CID said: “Fortunately, the fire was extinguished relatively quickly and no on was injured, but nevertheless we are treating this incident with the utmost seriousness.

“Anyone who remembers seeing any suspicious activity around the temple, or in the Sheriff Brae area during the early hours of Tuesday morning should contact police immediately.

“In addition, anyone with any further information relevant to this investigation is also asked to come forward.”

Inspector Andrew Johnson from Leith Police Station said that police would be having a ‘high-visibility presence’ in the area while the investigation continues.

Despite some reports to the contrary, Police Scotland have confirmed that no arrests have yet been made.

The timing of the incident is of interest to the police: usually, arson attacks such as this come in the aftermath of domestic terror attacks, at a time of heightened backlash against minority communities. Moreover, the fact that the attack occurred in the early morning rather than late at night is a further indication of premeditation.

Kulbear Singh, President of the Edinburgh Sikh Gurdwara, said: “Scotland’s Sikh community places an emphasis on contributing positively to society and prides itself as a vital part of a modern, multicultural Scotland. As such, hateful occurrences such as this are incredibly disheartening. The gurdwara is the place of sanctuary and learning. We come here every week with our family and children; it is frightening that someone would target us in this way.”

Members of Edinburgh sangat have received numerous messages and gestures of support, both from the local community and national Sikh sangat. Local businesses near the Gurdwara Sahib have offered their CCTV recordings to assist the investigation.

The Church of Scotland has issued a statement expressing sympathy and solidarity with the Sikh community. The Right Rev Susan Brown, moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said: “How sad that a place of worship should be the target of such a hateful act.

“I am glad no one was injured and extend sympathy to the Sikh community in Edinburgh.

“We recognise the actions of a small minority do not reflect the good relations that exist with your local community. There is no room in Scotland for intolerance.”

Sikh PA will bring further updates as they come from the Gurdwara Sahib and Police Scotland. Media enquiries about this attack should be directed to sukh@sikhpa.com

 

 

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One year ago today: the Sikh response to Grenfell

As the nation marks one year since the Grenfell Tower fire, some Sikhs who were among the first to respond recall their experiences that day.

While the nation woke up to pictures of the blaze, local Sikh sevadaars were already on the scene. Nearby resident Satnam Othee was woken in the early hours by the noise of the commotion. He tied his dastaar (Sikh turban) and left his house, buying as many bottles of water as he could from nearby supermarkets to distribute to the survivors and firefighters.

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A few hours later he was joined by Khalsa Aid founder and CEO Ravi Singh. Numerous other Sikh charities including SWAT, MLSS, and Basics of Sikhi arrived throughout the morning as the scale of the seva requirement became clear. There was coordination not just between Sikh organisations, but between all organisations – people of different faiths and backgrounds – who had come together to do as much as they could.

 

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Reflecting on the day, Ravi Singh told Sikh PA:

‘The tragedy of Grenfell touched us all, it was something beyond imagination. The whole country was in shock. The response from the public was simply amazing. It seems we all became part of Grenfell. Out of such a terrible tragedy came hope & humanity, It made me proud to be a Brit!’

While the Central Gurdwara Khalsa Jatha is mere minutes away from the site, at the time of the fire it was undergoing renovation. However, its sevadaars were on the ground, relaying requests to wider sangat via social media. That day a Facebook page was launched to coordinate between different Sikh organisations.

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By the afternoon several donation centres had opened and the Sikh sevadaars present went to each of them to ascertain what was needed.

One of the most pressing needs was for food and water. It is a testament to the fact that langar (the Sikh communal kitchen) can function anywhere, that despite the renovation of the local gurdwara, langar was set up at Grenfell and continued for months afterwards.

 

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Instrumental in this was Bhupinder Singh, who recounted the process to Sikh PA:

‘The first task was to serve volunteers, survivors and family members with food and water. Then we found out lots of donations were arriving. So we helped managed the task, people and arranged for transport and storage.’

The langar, staffed by sevadaars and provided by Sri Guru Singh Sabha (Southall) as well as other organisations, played a greater role than just the food it served: ‘Our langar stall became a night stop for residents that couldn’t sleep.’

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By the end of 14th June 2017, Sikhs and their gurdwaras from across the country had pledged manpower, langar and donations. While so much had been achieved by the community in a single day, this was to be just the beginning of the Sikh contribution to the Grenfell response.

 

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