An article published by Outlook India on February 1st used an unverified source to suggest Sikh ethos humanitarian aid group Sikh Relief’s SOPW project (Sikh Organisation for Prisoner Welfare) ‘is indirect support for terror’.
Here we share a summary of a response from Sikh Relief in regards to this most heinous and self-admittedly unsubstantiated allegation that would not be allowed to run in nations such as the United Kingdom where Sikh Relief was founded. India unfortunately does not seem to have measures to ensure media reports must be based on fact, and not unfounded accusations. We share this now as we will no longer wait for Outlook India to do the decent thing and allow a right of reply to members of the Sikh community who are labelled with inflammatory tags to tarnish Sikh activism which highlights issues of human rights breaches by the Indian state.
See more on the work of Sikh Relief here. For further comment, please get in touch via Media@SikhPA.com.
Sikh Relief have rebutted what they call ‘defamatory and libelous assertions’ made against them by Ushinor Majumdar in an article published in Outlook India magazine on 1st February 2018. The full response can be found below this summary.
Sikh Relief point out that they are a UK registered charity that engages in nothing other than humanitarian work in a transparent and open fashion rebutting several specific allegations made in Majumdar’s original article.
The article quotes an unnamed ‘intelligence agent’, which we as the Sikh Press Association feel is a highly dubious source. Surely, if Majumdar was actually speaking to an officer with verified information, they would have no issue with giving their name to give the quotes state accreditation. However, anti-Sikh articles stemming from Indian media usually gloss over the fact their sources/information are legally unsubstantiated (a recent example being the so-called confessions of Scotsman Jagtar Singh Johal in India being called ‘inadmissible in court’). Sikh PA have also found that rarely (in fact never) do Indian media speak to any Sikh activist organisations to seek their side of the story before running anti-Sikh articles. This is why the article in question did not include anything to highlight the fact the Sikh Relief SOPW project runs freely in India.
The source in the article states that Sikh Relief support for the families of those arrested in Punjab constitutes ‘indirect support for terror.’ In response, Sikh Relief quote the Geneva Convention prohibiting collective punishment and asking why an entire family should suffer due to the actions of an individual who ‘has been accused of a crime against a widely recognised corrupt state?’.
The charity highlights the case of its chairman, Balbir Singh Bains who was arrested and tortured in India in a false case that was described by the judge as a ‘balloon of falsehoods’ and led to his acquittal.
The article goes on to claim Sikh Relief’s SOPW project is the subject of a probe by India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA). Sikh Relief clear this issue by stating the ‘lengthy investigation’ by the NIA ‘has brought absolutely nothing of note whatsoever’. It is noteworthy regarding this point that the NIA recently tried to transfer Jagtar Singh Johal out of Punjab despite having no legal basis to do so, leading to the NIA admitting in court that its application was extra-judicial.
Sikh Relief further remark that of the over 200 ex-convicts who Sikh Relief have helped, not one has ‘reoffended or joined any kind of militant organisation’ since their release.
Sikh Relief summarized their position with the SOPW project by stating: ‘We will help anyone who approaches the charity with humanitarian aid, be it legal assistance, or medical or educational. This is not illegal and we offer this service with pride.’
The rebuttal stresses that Sikh Relief has applied for accreditation as a registered charity to the authorities and ends by stating, ‘we have invited various government departments to engage with us. Change must come, either from the ground up or with the assistance of those in charge. But to wage war on your own populace and defame those who attempt to heal the wounds is simply not an option.’
Rebuttal of defamatory and libellous assertions made against Sikh Relief
Although articles defamatory of the Sikh community authored by Indian journalists is nothing new and sadly will continue, we are particularly dismayed by the inclusion of Sikh Relief in this latest article.
The assertions made are a crude attempt to lump all Sikh organisations in one basket and create a narrative of a radical and extremist global Sikh gathering which is a threat to the existence of the Union States of India.
Sikh Relief is a UK registered charity and is engaged in nothing other than humanitarian work. To allege or accuse Sikh Relief of any other purpose is false, defamatory and outrageous. This article should have ended with a footnote informing readers that it had not approached Sikh Relief Chairman Balbir Singh Bains.
In light of that, we now invite the author to approach Mr Bains and engage him in dialogue and Sikh Relief welcomes an article written after an honest attempt to garner the full facts and information regarding our work and projects.
Facts like the arrest, severe torture and implication in a totally false case of Balbir Singh Bains in 1999, the Indian police accused him of being a terrorist in possession of RDX explosive. Yet the judge presiding over the case and hearing the evidence for himself, Special Judge, M.L. Sahni said of the police fairy-tale in his final judgement:
“A balloon of falsehoods…the prosecution story stands falsified…It is well said that a lie does not have legs to stand on…Accordingly, I acquit the accused of the charges framed against him.”
It was even more shocking when shortly afterwards, an internal investigation conducted by the Intelligence Bureau (I.B) proved that the RDX explosives allegedly ‘found’ on Balbir Singh’s person were, in fact, from an operation unit of the police. It’s in these circumstances that Sikh Relief has today accomplished what it has.
- “….supporting the families of those arrested in Punjab for terror activities—covering their education needs, livelihood and legal costs. “This is indirect support for terror. We have had some bank accounts seized and the NIA has filed an FIR against the Sikh Organisation for Prisoner’s Welfare (SOPW),” says the officer.”
For this article to make such an absurd claim whilst quoting an anonymous ‘intelligence agent’ is simply outrageous.
There is no better response to this totalitarian thought than international human rights laws, accepted and agreed conventions. “No protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.” This is the wording of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibiting collective punishment. So how has an intelligence officer decided that meeting the humanitarian needs of the families of prisoners of conscience constitutes “…indirect support for terror.” Should the families of under trials and convicts be ostracised by society? Should they dwindle and eek out their existence in poverty and be denied an education for their children? Should they be denied the charitable medical assistance offered to millions across the poverty stricken land of economic power that is called India simply because a member of their family has been accused of a crime against a widely recognised corrupt state?
We think not and as such will continue to work within the law and our humanitarian beliefs to help any unfortunate family who has become the focus of a vindictive state of mind, where the family is considered as guilty as any one of its members.
- “The taint hardly touches all Sikh support organisations: some are purely humanitarian, andplay straight.”
This singular sentence is worthy of contempt and nothing more. No attempt has been made by the author to explore the work done by Sikh Relief in Nepal following the earthquake in 2015, in Kashmir after the floods the year after, our support of schools, our environment projects or our self sufficiency projects like the Learn to Earn centres that teach skill to the most poor people and gifts the tools of the learned trade to each student upon graduation. This is the Kirat Kamai project and is run as a direct result of the teachings of Sahib Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji Maharaj, the founder of the Sikh faith.
- “The UK-based Sikh Relief, for instance, runs a programme called the SOPW, which is currently under an NIA probe. Parminder Singh Amloh, who runs SOPW’s Punjab wing, has been summoned thrice to the NIA HQ in Delhi. A former stuntman, he was arrested in 2008 under the Arms Act for carrying bullets meant for Gurmeet Ram Rahim—he spent four years in jail.”
While it is true that our SOPW project has been the subject of an NIA probe, the lengthy investigation of our activities, projects and financial management has brought absolutely nothing of note whatsoever and only serves to highlight the very totalitarian mindset that we are attempting to shelter innocent families from. This article has unwittingly exposed the collective punishment of those families is being extended to those who attempt to support them. The article is itself a vehicle of such an oppression and only part of an all encompassing system of malignment and misinformation designed to slander and criminalise those the state wishes to silence. To mention Bhai Amloh’s time in custody whilst declining to mention the reality of Sikh Relief having helped over 200 Sikh prisoners to not only leave prison, but to rehabilitate and integrate them back into civil society as self employed examples of what a genuine justice system should produce when functioning properly. This article has engaged in a crude attempt to tarnish the name and work of Sikh Relief by implying and insinuating that the SOPW project is ran by a criminal without mentioning the fact that of the 200 plus ex convicts who Sikh Relief have helped have not reoffended or joined any kind of militant organisation since release.
- “Including Jaggi? “We help those who approach us and verify who really needs help,” says Parminder. “The NIA is yet to close the FIR. It should go and talk to Bains in the UK to clear things up.”
Up to this point the author has failed to articulate who or what Sikh Relief has been supporting, so desperately mentions the Scottish national Jagtar Singh Jaggi as a potential recipient of our support. Bhai Amloh’s answer is sufficiently clear, we will help anyone who approaches the charity with humanitarian aid, be it legal assistance, or medical or educational. This is not illegal and we offer this service with pride. The NIA has not closed it’s investigation and has not approached Bhai Balbir Singh Bains either, this vacuum allows shoddy journalism and conjecture to roam free in an environment awash with institutional corruption and political violence. Who does such an environment benefit? Certainly not those who are in the service of humanity.
- “At the bare minimum, SOPW Punjab is caught in a regulatory tangle. “We applied for registration and were told categorically there were ‘instructions from upstairs’ that it would not be permitted. There’s no option but to approach the High Court,”
This maybe the only accurate element to Sikh Relief in the lengthy article. Sikh Relief has not only applied for accreditation as a registered charity to the authorities, but we have invited various governmental departments to engage with us and work together to eradicate the environment the country finds itself in. Change must come, either from the ground up or with the assistance of those in charge. But to wage war on your own populace and defame those who attempt to heal the wounds is simply not an option.