Who vandalised the Sikh soldier statue in Birmingham? Many Sikhs say: 'one of our own'
By Barfi Culture Team
11th November 2018

On Thursday night, a group of men with covered faces entered the grounds of Smethwick Gurdwara in Birmingham and vandalised a memorial dedicated to South Asian soldiers who fought in World War 1.

The story was first covered by HuffPo's Amardeep Bassey, who reported that West Midlands police had classified it as a 'racial hate crime' and were investigating.

But many say it was unlikely the vandalism was committed by far-right racists.

The graffiti itself offered some clues. Whoever committed the vandalism had crossed out "the Great War" and sprayed "1 Jarnail" instead. It is widely assumed its a reference to the Sikh leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who was killed in the 1984 assault on Harmandir Sahib (the Golden Temple). The vandals had also added "sepoys no more" - likely a reference to the British referred to Indian soldiers at the time.

The memorial had been unveiled just a week earlier.

It was the first full statue of a turbaned World War 1 soldier in the UK, to honour and remember the hundreds of thousands of Hindu, Sikh and Muslim soldiers from India who enlisted in the war.

Anger and criticism

The Guru Nanak Gurdwara president, Jatinder Singh, told Birmingham Live he was really disappointed. "What makes this incident particularly distressing, is the complete disregard and lack of respect for the significance of the statue and inscriptions installed recently to commemorate the losses felt by many South Asian families who lost their dear ones during the First World War and to mark 100 years since the end of the Great War."

The Sikh Federation UK called it a "senseless and cowardly act of vandalism".

There was widespread criticism by Sikhs on social media too.

'One of our own'

"Extremely disappointing. Most likely one of our own (Sikh person) did this," wrote user faultymango on the Reddit Sikh forum. "Extremely sad someone would do this. These men are our forefathers, they went to wars which might not have been theirs to fight. They were small in numbers but showed extreme courage, acts of bravery and valour in the theatre of war," they added.

User Smokyzen wrote: "Especially with the '1 Jarnail' bit. A lot of 'decolonialists' and others were adamant against the statue, so it could well possibly be one of those."

The Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail also posted a few tweets with the same assumption:

On the Lions of the Great War FB Page, Gurcharan Singh wrote: "If there is no footage something funny is going on.. this was not done by no racist. Look at the language used."

There were numerous other tweets also making the same point. No one has yet owned up to the act of vandalism.

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