In Ancestral Village, UK MP Tanmanjeet Dhesi Talks Manipur, Hate Speech and Trolls

The negativity, vitriol and hatred on display is damaging the reputation of India globally, he said.

Jalandhar: Calling the Manipur incident involving video footage of two women being paraded naked and sexually assaulted “very traumatic,” British Labour party MP from Slough, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi said that the human rights abuse of the two women is “shameful not only for Indians but people across the globe.”

“It was shocking to see that humanity could be sent to such depths of deprivation and depravity,” Dhesi said.

The British MP said that people across the globe were “very, very shocked” to see what happened in the state, which has seen ethnic violence for over three months now. He called for action on human rights abuses.

“My request to the government and the administration is that prompt action be taken and the perpetrators be booked to justice,” he said.

The MP’s visit to Punjab with his family on August 4 made headlines after he was stopped by immigration officials for over two hours at the Amritsar airport. During his stay, the MP met with Punjab government officials and legislators and held meetings on the state’s development agenda. He also visited the flood affected region near the Sutlej river and met Rajya Sabha MP Baba Balbir Singh Seechewal to assist him in ongoing rescue work.

Who is Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi?

Dhesi (44) is the first ever turbaned Sikh MP of the British parliament. He hails from Raipur Pharola village in Jalandhar.

Born in Berkshire, Dhesi spent his formative years in Slough. He completed his primary education in Punjab and came back to the UK, when he was nine years old.

The MP’s father Jaspal Singh Dhesi has served as the president of Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar in Gravesend in the UK. His paternal uncle Paramjit Singh Raipur is a Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader and a Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee member.

Visiting his village with his wife Manveen Kaur Dhesi and two sons, Dhesi said that it was necessary for him and his family to be connected to his roots.

“I took my children to our ancestral farm. They had a great time at our tube well in the fields. Despite the sultry weather, my sons enjoyed it a lot, and they keep on coming here. These are the memories which I truly treasure,” he said, urging other non-residential Indians to stay connected to their roots too.

‘Police should protect whole community’

Speaking to The Wire on the sidelines of a function at Government Senior Secondary School in the village, Dhesi hinted that he may raise the Manipur violence issue in the UK parliament.

“At the moment the UK parliament is in recess. It will reconvene back in September and depending on the developments then, appropriate action will be taken,” he said.

In July, the European Parliament had adopted a resolution on the Manipur incident and held a debate, asking the Indian government to protect religious minorities. “Such interference in India’s internal affairs is unacceptable, and reflects a colonial mindset,” the Ministry of External Affairs had said.

Also read: Full Text: What European MPs Said During Debate on Manipur Violence

Dhesi said when people “engage in ethnic cleansing or religious hatred or hate crimes,” they should be condemned. “That is where one expects the police and the administration to be taking action, so that they protect the whole of the community, not just sections between them,” he said.

The Supreme Court has, in its directions to the special investigation teams formed to look into the violence, asked police to not favour a community over the other. 

Recently, the Punjab and Haryana high court, while stopping the demolition drive in Nuh after communal clashes, had asked if the drive was an “exercise of ethnic cleansing” by the state. The state government told the court that it was not ethnic cleansing.

In 2021, Dhesi had raised the farmers’ protest in the UK parliament, inviting sharp criticism from the Indian government.

‘Hate crimes’

The MP also expressed concern over the communal tension in Haryana’s Nuh.

“We are expecting, all of us, not just people within India but across the globe that we need to move away from communal hatred. We need to have that narrative that binds people together. That community cohesion is extremely important. India is a land which is famed for its diverse people, culture, and religions and that is something that needs to be preserved and promoted.”

On the rising hate crimes in the country and attacks on minorities, the MP said that those who engage in hatred – whether it is faith-based hatred or caste-based hatred or gender-based violence – are acting in a manner that is “abhorrent.”

“I think we as a society need to make sure that we raise our voices against it and then request the government to be taking strong action against it,” he said.

Notably, the Supreme Court on August 11 ordered the Union government to work on forming a committee to look into hate speech cases in the country.

Airport ‘harassment’

The Slough MP said that when he came to India last year, he felt the love of people, whether it was from the farmers’ unions, civil society bodies or prominent personalities. 

Dhesi said he was aware that there were “certain hate-consumed individuals, who were busy making complaints” against him.

“These people were asking that my visa be cancelled. And I am aware that the two and half hours that I was made to wait at Amritsar airport on my arrival from London, I had all the appropriate documentation. I had my passport, visa and ticket,” he said.

When asked if the immigration authorities informed him of the reason behind stopping him at the airport, the MP said that he was told upon landing that his visa had been suspended based on the “complaints that had been received.”

“I was told that until they get clearance from Delhi, which could take some time, I will have to sit at the airport,” he said.

The British MP said that his request to the government and the administration was that before taking action against any individual, before suspending or cancelling anybody’s visa, they should make sure that due diligence on what that individual’s conduct was like, along with their standing in the society and whether they were practicing medicine or law or were a parliamentarian like him.

“I think all of those checks were important because to be misled by individuals who make vexatious allegations, I think that then harms the perception of how welcome the people would feel upon coming here,” the British MP said.

He also that there are “certain individuals whose job is to make allegations.”

“But I think it is the job of the government officials to make sure that they do not be misled by such vexatious claims,” he added.

Social media onslaught and media’s role:

Dhesi speculated on why there had been “complaints” against him:

“Many of us are aware that because of the various statements that people were putting out in the media and social media, especially when I raised my voice about farmers protest, there were certain elements who termed me as anti-government, anti-national and anti-India which is off course a lot of nonsense. But these individuals are hell bent on misleading Indians here.”

The MP urged, “Our job is to raise our voice on human rights. I think that is the job of not only people like me but people in the media, people like The Wire, people who are responsible citizens of the country to make sure that we stand firm on democratic principles, on the freedom of press and on the respect of human rights.”

He also said that those individuals who term anybody as “anti-national” were in fact, the most anti-national. “It was because of their actions that people then began to become fearful, especially those who were outside India,” he said.

Dhesi said that the treatment he got would inspire doubts and fear. “[It] increases their fear of whether they should or should not be coming to India, bringing their children or coming here for holiday,” he said.

Also read: ‘It Is Very Painful That Whenever Sikhs Protest They Are Branded as Khalistanis’: UK MP

On Khalistan

On being branded as a “Khalistan supporter by BJP,” Dhesi said that he had raised the issue in the UK parliament, taking to task “the Rs 2-a-tweet troll factory, and the innumerable fake accounts” which engage in “vicious trolling.”

“I know that whenever I raise human rights issues, I am trolled, I am termed as anti-national and anti-India. These individuals have nothing better to offer than trolling and their negativity has been fathomed by the international media,” the MP said.

The BJP Punjab leadership had termed Dhesi a pro-Khalistan supporter for his vocal backing of the farmers’ protest during his visit to India in April 2022. The Labour MP had close ties with Khalistani groups, they had claimed.

The MP said, “But what these individuals do not realise is that through fake accounts, through their vitriol, not only are they displaying this to Indians but also to the international media.”

Dhesi said that when the international media, whether it’s in the UK and elsewhere, saw trolling taking place, they investigated and “learnt that these were fake accounts, that it is in essence, a factory.”

“That is something which damages the reputation of India as well. So, we must not let these individuals overwhelm the narrative. The narrative is one of positivity. A lot of us want UK-India relations to be improved. We want those shared values to be enhanced, for example, press freedoms, human rights, more power for democratic institutions, so that democracy can flourish and that ties and trade and other mutual cultural contact is increased,” he said.