By Priyanka Mogul (@PriyankaMogul)
Several British Sikh organisations have warned against potential hate crimes targeting Sikh men in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. Concerns were raised following incidents of Sikh men being mistaken for terrorists in the US as fears spread over the Islamic State (IS) attack in France on 13 November.
Sikh leaders noted a possibility of similar incidents of hate crime occurring in the UK as Sikh men are visibly identified by their turbans. Many pointed out that while most people are aware of the difference between Muslims and Sikhs, some remain less knowledgeable, resorting to cases of “mistaken identity”.
“The Paris attacks have put the Sikh community on alert,” Gurjeet Singh from the Sikh Federation UK told IB Times UK. “As turban wearers Sikhs are one of the most visible communities, whenever terrorist incidents linked to Islamic groups occur, Sikhs are subject to hate crimes that can range from verbal abuse to physical attacks on individuals and gurudwaras (Sikh places of worship).”
Many Sikhs in the UK agreed that hate crimes against Sikhs worldwide had increased following 9/11. Jagmeet Singh from the Basics of Sikhi, an organisation that educates people on Sikhism, said that the UK had already begun to see Sikhs being subject to hate crimes after the Paris attacks. He noted an incident shortly after the Paris attacks where a Sikh woman was accused of being an IS member when travelling on the Tube, despite her not wearing a turban. Singh said that this showed how “anyone with brown skin could be a target”.
“With the Sikh male identity being so visible, practising Sikhs are likely to be obvious targets,” said Singh. “Sikhs need to engage more with the media and the general public to show who the men in turbans and with beards actually are. We also need to make it apparently that this isn’t about trying to single out Muslims from Sikhs. It is about removing the perception that brown people could be terrorists. Anyone is capable of bad, no matter a person’s race or religion.”
Other British-Sikh groups echoed Singh’s views, saying that the increase in hate crime was not only a problem for Sikhs. They noted that people with “brown skin, uncut beards, and turbans” have all become synonymous with terrorists. Varinder Singh Bola, a member of the Sikhs Against the EDL group, said that attempting to make a distinction between Sikhs and Muslims would only play into the hands of far-right groups.
“The Sikh community across Europe might find itself more vulnerable to xenophobic and racist attacks than other BME (black and minority ethnic) communities due to their distinct physical appearance,” said Bola, who is also a Councillor in the London Borough of Redbridge.
“However, asking for special treatment from openly racist and Islamophobic groups at the cost of other faiths would not only be politically naïve, but morally wrong and against the teachings of Sikhism. Nobody should have to be a victim of crime due to their gender, race, religion or sexual orientation.”
Meanwhile, City Sikhs referred to the rise in “abhorrent” crimes against British Muslim women following the Paris attacks. Chair of the organisation Jasvir Singh said that although there had been “growing anxiety” among British Sikhs, all hate crimes based on religion must be condemned.
Lord Singh of Wimbledon has reportedly echoed concerns of possible hate crimes against British Sikhs after the Paris attacks. According to the Network of Singh Organisations, Lord Singh has raised the issue with the UK government. While the Home Office said that it was unable to comment on private correspondence, it noted that crime motivated by hatred over a person’s religious beliefs was “deplorable”.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “We will work with the police to provide a breakdown of religious based hate crime as part of the data recorded by the police. This will ensure that in the future there is accurate data on crimes committed against people because of their faith and race, including crimes committed against Sikhs.”
If you or someone you know has been a victim of hate crime in the UK, you can report it online atreport-it.org.uk.