American and British Sikhs are now joining the Gurdwara ban on Indian government officials
By Barfi Culture Team
8th January 2018

A number of Sikh Gurdwaras in Britain and the United States have joined in a boycott of Indian government officials after an initiative by some in Ontario, Canada.

Last week a group of Gurdwaras in the Greater Toronto Area signed a pledge barring the entry of Indian officials on government business, claiming they were "meddling" in Sikh affairs and "undermining" Sikh institutions.

That move prompted calls by Sikh groups in the U.S. and UK to do the same.

The New York-based group Sikhs For Justice sent a press release to Barfi Culture last night claiming American Gurdwaras had joined the boycott of Indian officials.

"Citing 1984 genocidal violence, denial of medical treatment to Akal Takhat Jathedar Jagtar Singh Hawara and labeling of Sikhs as Hindus under Art (25), the management committees of 96 Gurdwaras across America in an unprecedented decision passed a resolution banning the entry of Indian diplomats and of those individuals representing Indian interests in the Gurdwaras and their participation in Nagar Keertans," it stated.

It added that a resolution adopted on 6th January was spearheaded by the Sikh Coordination Committee of the East Coast (SCCEC) and the American Gurdwara Prabhandik Committee (AGPC).

Barfi Culture has not been able to independently verify these claims yet.

However, the press release quoted the AGPC's Avtar Singh Pannu as saying: "Under the cover of 'community outreach', the Indian diplomats are creating an atmosphere of intimidation among the Sikhs who have taken refuge [in] US, Canada, England and European nations from India's constant persecution."

It also released this video on the announcement (in Punjabi)

In Britain there are similar calls by the Midlands-based Sikh Federation UK. Its chair Bhai Amrik Singh said: "Sikhs in the diaspora are fed up with Indian government officials and their agents increasingly interfering in our institutions and Sikh affairs, undermining Sikh campaigns for greater rights and internal matters for the Sikh community."

But as yet these are still at proposal stage. No statement has yet been released jointly by UK Gurdwaras announcing a ban.

When Barfi Culture contacted the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara in Southall (Havelock Road) over the weekend, an official said they were aware of the calls but the Gurdwara had not signed up to an official position yet.

Update: Since Barfi Culture published this article, the UK-based Sikh Press Association has said that 70 UK Gurdwaras have joined in the ban. We have contacted them for more details.

Other British Sikhs are more ambivalent on this issue.

Lord Singh, the only Sikh in the House of Lords, told Barfi Culture he wanted a more nuanced position. "There is an argument for denying them the stage. The reason I would give to deny them [Indian government officials] the stage is not having an inquiry into 1984 by now.

Gurdwaras should be more careful about the context for hosting them, he said. "They can come to the Gurdwara to talk about Gurpurb, and the contributions Sikhs are making," he said. "But they should not be allowed to talk about how democratic India is, because minorities are having a real tough time there."

Others were more vocal in their opposition to the ban.

Kulveer Ranger, a former advisor to Boris Johnson (when he was the Mayor of London) and a former chair of the Conservative Party, told Barfi Culture he thought such a ban would be "counter-productive".

"Sikhs are getting stronger as a community, gaining greater influence across the world, and the only way we get to express our opinion and change things has been and will be through dialogue. We need to look forceful but always act in a sensible way," he added.

On a BBC Asian Network debate this morning, Dinesh Patnayak, the Deputy High Commissioner of India in London, said he was opposed to any such ban but it would make little difference.

"We don't give political speeches at Gurdwaras. We talk about harmony and peace, we have celebrated the birthday of Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh," he said. Indian officials did not come to Gurdwaras to campaign anyway, he pointed out.

One caller to the show who gave his name as Rajvinder said British Sikh groups were "overplaying" the threat to Sikhs in India and exaggerating the anger against the Indian government felt by Sikhs living in India.

But another caller from a Gurdwara in Coventry said they had a ban on Indian officials since 1984. "We have just polished it up again," he added.

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