London: A major independent review, commissioned by the British government, says Sikh extremism and Hindu nationalism are on the rise in the UK and pose significant challenges to the country’s social cohesion.
The wide-ranging report was authored by an independent advisor, Colin Bloom, and commissioned by the Boris Johnson government in October 2019. It considered “how government can best celebrate the contribution of faith groups, while tackling harmful practices”. The report is based on 21,000 public responses and interviews with experts, politicians, academicians and officials.
Bloom advised that a better understanding of faith would equip the UK government to “tackle issues such as forced marriage, of which there are estimated to be thousands a year in the UK; radicalisation in prison; and faith-based extremism, including the ongoing challenge of Islamist extremism, and the small but growing trends of Sikh extremism and Hindu nationalism”.
In the chapter pertaining to faith-based extremism, the report deals extensively with Sikh and pro-Khalistan extremism. It also has a few observations about the rise of nationalist movements in the British Hindu diaspora.
“Despite the overwhelmingly positive contribution of Sikh communities to our society, the evidence gathering process for this review revealed some key areas of concern within small pockets of Sikh communities,” Bloom writes.
He said respondents were concerned about divisions between some British Sikh communities “which is caused by an extremist fringe ideology within the pro-Khalistan movement”. Bloom says that while “the promotion of Khalistan ideals is not itself subversive, but the subversive, aggressive and sectarian actions of some pro-Khalistan activists and the subsequent negative effect on wider Sikh communities should not be tolerated”.
The report describes how members of the British Sikh community expressed their growing concern over a small but extremely vocal group “hijacking” the Sikh faith to push a subversive pro-Khalistan narrative.
A “small, extremely vocal and aggressive minority of British Sikhs who can be described as pro-Khalistan extremists” is promoting an “ethno-nationalist agenda,” where some extremists are “known to support and incite violence and intimidation in their ambition to establish an independent state called Khalistan.”
The review’s publication comes at a time when diplomatic tensions between UK and India run rampant and strong. Recently, New Delhi alleged that London had not done enough to curb the Khalistani movement in the UK. Earlier in March, the pro-Khalistani activists had taken down the Indian flag from the Indian High Commission building in London during a protest.
In an April 13 phone conversation between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his UK counterpart Rishi Sunak, the former raised concerns about “anti-India elements” in the UK and urged for strong action to be taken against them.
New Delhi has also expressed displeasure over the activities of certain groups, such as the Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), who have been trying to conduct a referendum on Khalistan in the UK, the US, Canada, and Australia.
The report also said that the UK government “should clearly define and investigate extremist activity and identify where this exists within the Sikh community, taking steps to develop a more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of subversive and sectarian Sikh extremists today.”
The UK government should also “ensure that unacceptable and extremist behaviours are not inadvertently legitimised by government or parliamentary engagement.” In fact, it should include “reconsideration of previous decisions regarding the activity and legality of certain groups.”
The report said, “By circumventing democratic order, some groups compete for power by masquerading as human rights activists, presenting a false appearance of legitimacy.” This “subversive way of working” has also been seen in Canada, and the UK government should have a “more comprehensive understanding of the tactics and methods some Sikh activists employ to divert public attention away from their subversive agenda”, it added.
The review has urged the All Party Parliamentary Group for British Sikhs, chaired by Preet Kaur Gill, the UK’s first female Sikh MP, and with Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, the UK’s first turbaned Sikh MP, as its vice-chair, both of whom belong to the Labour Party, to ensure that organisations promoting extremist views are not able to exert undue influence in parliamentary affairs.
The report says that after discussions with academics and political figures, there is ground to suspect that “there is at least overlap of membership between some Sikh groups operating in the UK and proscribed (or previously proscribed) groups”. Admitting this might be difficult to prove, Bloom recommends that the UK government should “steps to define and deal with the subversive and sectarian behaviour described in this chapter, which in the opinion of this reviewer should be viewed as harmful extremism, to ensure it cannot continue or be emulated by other faith-inspired ethno-nationalist groups”.
According to the report, some groups have “sought to artificially inflate their influence and legitimise dubious positions or tactics by using the ‘Sikh’ label to lobby political bodies”.
These subversive, sectarian and discriminatory activities do not reflect the true nature of the majority of British Sikh communities, who, for the most part, are the ones adversely affected by this behaviour, the report notes.
Bloom recommended that the UK government “should clearly define and investigate” extremist activity within the Sikh community, taking steps to “develop a more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of subversive and sectarian Sikh extremist activity”.
‘Rising Hindu nationalism’
Among other forms of religious extremism, the report also categorically warns of nationalist movements within the British Hindu diaspora, which it says has become “more prevalent” in recent years. It states: “This can be seen in the sophisticated though ultimately small mobilisation of Hindu nationalist activists who reportedly targeted public figures and politicians they considered hostile to their agenda in the 2019 UK general election, and the recent tensions in Leicester.”
The UK government should be aware of such developments and assess if they risk fracturing the stability of British Hindu communities, Bloom wrote.
“In contrast to earlier generations of British Hindus, it appears a small minority are now becoming more passionate about their identification with Hindu political interests in India,” adding that such misplaced nationalist movements might incite prejudicial views and destabilise British society.
The government should “be much more alive to the very small but growing phenomenon of extreme Hindu nationalism and Buddhist nationalism”, Bloom recommended.
Kalrav Joshi is an independent journalist based in London. He writes on politics, culture, climate and technology.