Sikhs came to Parliament yesterday to discuss several community concerns with MPs as part of a Sikh Federation UK organised mass lobby.
The mass lobby saw Sikhs contacting their local MPs in Central Lobby before heading to hear an update on community concerns from MPs. The session in Committee Room 14 in the Palace of Westminster was chaired by SNP MP Martin Docherty-Hughes who is the local MP of Jagtar Singh Johal, the Scottish Sikh currently detained in India at the centre of the #FreeJaggiNow campaign.
Throughout the session Hughes was joined by numerous MPs including Labour’s Preet Kaur Gill and Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, as well as other MPs whose constituencies contain large Sikh populations.
Martin Docherty-Hughes spoke extensively about the case of his constituent Jagtar Singh Johal, who he described as not just a Sikh but a son of the rock of Dumbarton. He voiced concern that activists connected to the #FreeJaggiNow had been targeted in police raids, calling them a ‘grave cause for concern’. He updated Sikhs on how the resignation of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary set back efforts to pressure the government saying, ‘We’ve found ourselves back at the start with the new Foreign Secretary.’
‘The position of British citizens like
Jaggi is undermined by trade deals with India’
That morning he raised a Point of Order with the Speaker, asking his advice on getting the Foreign Secretary to fulfil his commitment to Jagtar Singh. He said that an urgent question will be tabled in upcoming days in the hope that a senior Foreign Office minister is compelled to come to the House of Commons. The MP for West Dunbartonshire said that he was receiving support from the APPG on Deaths Abroad and Consular Assistance, citing as an inconvenience the fact that there is no legal obligation for the government to take specific measures to assist its citizens abroad.
Regarding Jagtar Singh’s case, he said there were now three main points he was pushing for: openness, transparency, and due process. He said: ‘I am not telling the Republic of India how to run its judicial system, but I will hold the UK government to account in its relations with other states […] my duty as Jagtar’s MP is to constantly raise this.’ Docherty-Hughes also mentioned the impact of Brexit, saying: ‘Brexit for me does play a part in this situation. The position of British citizens like Jaggi is undermined by trade deals with India, resulting in a detrimental impact on due process for British citizens in India.’
Hughes said that senior Foreign Office officials were caught in trilemma between advocating justice for British citizens abroad, Brexit considerations, and the rule of international law. The brother of Jagtar Singh, Gurpreet Singh addressed Sikhs from across the country and MPs, reminding them that it has been a year since the Chief Minister of Punjab claimed to have had the evidence against Jagtar Singh. Since then, no evidence has been presented.
‘The Indian government doesn’t have a legal process for Sikhs and other minorities’
In more recent developments, he said it was appearing as if India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) are seeking to take Jagtar Singh’s cases out of Punjab to Delhi. The NIA have for weeks not provided prosecution witness statements to Jagtar Singh’s hearings, leaving them to be adjourned for two weeks at a time. ‘The Indian government doesn’t have a legal process for Sikhs and other minorities there,’ said Gurpreet Singh. He emphasised his thanks to the Sikh sangat, saying that the support he had received was overwhelming. Referencing the #FreeJaggiNow campaign he said: ‘I’ve received the love of a mother and the love of the sister […] for as long as we’re united, we can achieve anything.’
Also in attendance was Josie Fathers, a representative from the charity REDRESS which uses the law to get justice and compensation for tutor survivors. She has been working on Jagtar Singh’s case for the past year and said that REDRESS has been engaging with the UN special rapporteur on torture regarding Jagtar Singh’s testimony of torture. She said: ‘We have been asking for an independent medical examination and an independent investigation for Jagtar. We are calling on the UK government to do more, and are emphasising the obligations on the UK government.’
Several MPs stressed that while they could not intervene in the Indian judicial system, there were questions to be asked of what the British government is doing for the welfare of one of its citizens. Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi assured Sikhs present that Jagtar Singh’s case was ‘not an issue that’s been left to the side’, adding that he was working towards securing ‘fair legal access and representation’ for Jagtar Singh. Pat McFadden, Labour MP for Wolverhampton SE said: ‘There is a legitimate and proper role for UK MPs to ask questions of the government here.’ Emma Reynolds, Labour MP for Wolverhampton NE said: ‘[Jagtar Singh’s torture] really brings home what we’re up against […] we will keep up that pressure on the government.’
‘The Indian government has for too long been allowed to get away with these abuses in Punjab’
Other MPs had harsher words: John Spellar, Labour MP for Warley said: ‘It is simply not acceptable for the Indian government to behave in this manner. We need to be holding India to the standards they proclaim to keep.’’
MP for Birmingham Perry Barr Khalid Mahmood offered the following advice to the Indian government: ‘The Indian government has for too long been allowed to get away with these abuses in Punjab […] If India wants to be seen as the largest democracy in the world it must behave as one.’
Solidarity with the campaign to get justice and truth for Jagtar Singh was offered by other Labour MPs including Valerie Vaz and Kate Osamor. Dabinderjit Singh, advisor to the Sikh Federation, explained a West Midlands Police internal briefing note had come into the possession of The Sikh Federation which contained briefing lines for senior offices regarding the raids on homes of five Sikh activists and their connection to Indian authorities. ‘All five Sikh activists raided by West Midlands Police in September are linked to the #FreeJaggiNow campaign, bringing up the very real question of whether their information was extracted from Jagtar Singh after torture. It seems the Indian government doesn’t have any evidence against Jaggi so are pressuring the UK authorities to find some on their behalf’ said Dabinderjit Singh. For more on this uncovered internal briefing, read here via Sikh Siyasat.
Gareth Peirce, a highly respected human rights lawyer notable for her involvement in the Guilford Four, spoke of the connection between Jagtar Singh’s case and the raids, voicing her concern and citing historical precedent: ‘That combination is a classical reproduction’ before going on to highlight a ‘paper trail’ which showed collusion between Indian authorities and the West Midlands Police. She said that she understands that Jagtar Singh was shown pictures of individuals taken in West Midlands, which could only have come from UK police. She described the warrants of the raids as ‘curious’ for specifying electronic items and data and evidence of sympathy for organisations banned in India, asking ‘What’s that about? What relevance does that have to criminality here?’ She put the questions outlined in the West Midlands Police internal briefing note to the head of the West Midlands Police Counter Terror Unit but has received ‘not a single answer’ from him. You can see more from Gareth Peirce from a video by Raids Organisation UK, a Sikh community led group that work on highlighting anglo-Indian collusion against Sikh activism, stemming back to the 1980s.
There were also extensive discussion regarding the upcoming Offensive Weapons Bill which would have implications for larger kirpans. Dabinderjit Singh stressed that concerns had been raised over the many uses of larger kirpans including as royal insignia for the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh scriptural Guru); ‘its use in gatka (Sikh martial arts) and the Amrit Sanchar ceremony (Sikh initiation ceremony into the Khalsa army); and at nagar kirtans (Sikh processions) and I could go on and on, are all vital parts of Sikh practice and impossible without kirpans.’
Preet Kaur Gill updated Sikhs on progress regarding this, saying that an amendment would be put forward, and that following a meeting with the Home Secretary Sajid Javid there is a willingness to sit down and get an agreed amendment. Updating Sikhs on the census Sikh ethnic box issue, Preet Kaur Gill expressed concern that discourse concerning this issue did not appreciate the provision of public services. She stressed that this move was not about theology, but about the data available for public authorities to provide for Sikhs in each community. She urged Sikhs to write to their MPs and press for them to contact the Cabinet Office minister David Lidington and recommend to him that the government adopts the Sikh ethnic box.
Other issues were raised such as the recent unveiling of the Sikh soldier war memorial in Smethwick and widespread condemnation of its vandalism. Labour MPs also reminded Sikhs that the party is committed to an independent public inquiry into British involvement into the events of 1984 in Punjab.