Challenging Misinformation about Sikhi on BBC Radio

Guest blogged by Naujawani Sardar

bbcAsianNetwork.jpgSikhs in the UK celebrated a victory of sorts today with the news that the national broadcaster, the BBC, ‘regretted’ comments made by a presenter on their digital radio station, the BBC Asian Network. On 13 March, DJ Nihal Arthanayake had suggested on his daily call-in show that Sikhi was “made up from other religions i.e. Islam and Hinduism” [see related article]. When corrected by a listener who texted in to challenge the presenter’s comments, Nihal showed shocking arrogance in asserting that he himself was correct and replied that he knew “more about your religion than you do”. But today’s news is only a victory of sorts with Lord Inderjit Singh of the Network of Sikh Organisations describing it as “not a very good sorry” and in this writer’s humble opinion, a mere bone to keep us from tackling the real problem.

The daily call-in show on the BBC Asian Network has been steadily gaining in notoriety over the last 18 months fuelled largely by an increasing move towards discussions that court controversy. From 1pm-3pm, Monday to Friday, listeners tune in to hear the presenter, callers and occasionally guests debate a topical issue that is usually relating to a section of the South Asian community, followed by a sparse selection of music and further, more light-hearted discussion. Sometimes the initial debates have been incredibly engaging and informative, on other occasions they are needlessly provocative and disparaging.

In recent months, I have been called upon as a contributor to the show a handful of times, speaking live on air as a Sikh voice and I have publicly commended the production team of the show on two separate occasions for talking about challenging issues that are otherwise ignored by mainstream media. Following a discussion show about the recent Immortal Productions release ‘Jaago’ , a show to which I contributed by a pre-arranged telephone call, I took to Twitter to voice how fair I thought the production team had been in allowing Sikhs such as myself to make our voices heard about the rife corruption, inequality and poverty prevalent in the Indian State of Punjab over the last sixty years. Having been in Sikh political circles for over two decades now, I was unsurprised by the immediate level of hate I received from fellow Sikhs for being seen to ‘support’ Nihal and the BBC Asian Network on that occasion, but it did make me realise that Nihal in particular seemed to be drawing much of the ire. Whilst this is to some extent deserved, it would be foolish to reason that replacing the presenter might provide scope to change direction. But this is a difficult reality to impart upon a very unforgiving Sikh diaspora. I made the mistake of trying to explain to a young Sikh female on Facebook that a presenter of a call-in show usually acts in accordance with the briefing given to them by the production team, who in-turn are loosely guided by the direction given to them from the station controller or management, and that if she did have any complaints here they ought best be directed towards the BBC as well as the individual. She proceeded to reply that I must be a blind fan of Nihal’s and was planning on giving him a siropa. Oh the joys of ‘debating’ on social media(!)

It troubles me deeply that Sikhs like so many other community groups are becoming akin to Shelley’s raging mob, unwilling – or I dread to think, incapable – of analysing an issue, deliberating over it and then drawing a conclusion from a broad range of possible choices. If we had done so, then it might become clearer to see that Nihal, whilst not without responsibility for some of the very inaccurate and insensitive remarks made about the Sikh way of life, is essentially perpetuating ideas that exist about Sikhs in both the political establishment and mainstream media of this country. Those ideas have gone unchallenged for too long at the influential levels of western society from where they might lead to change. Not only are those who speak on our behalf responsible by their failures, but so are we as a Panth. Government ministers, newspaper editors and broadcast media producers take their lead on issues from a variety of sources, but give credence to those who speak with a respected authority such as authors, academics and researchers. The UK Sikh community is factional and largely has been since the dying days of the then powerful national Sikh network of the early 1990s, but the gravest result of this is only now being seen, as an over-zealous attitude for photo opportunities and insignificant public discourse has become de rigger at the cost of vibrant think-tanks, funded research programmes and encouragement of individual scholarly achievement in the field of Sikh studies. This last year I taught Naujawani.com’s Sikh Studies course to students from five different London universities, but failed to register any interest amongst students from Kings College London. This is the same Kings College London that is home to the India Institute – a partnership with Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru university providing research and teaching on contemporary India – the contrast in investment made into research and policy is startling and that is only one small example of where we are lagging behind those who wish to define Sikhi to suit their own agenda. If we are to see a change in the way we are defined, then we must invest in academic study, reputable publishing and professional public dialogue. Long term change on this issue will not come through reactionary gesturing in the popular Punjabi media, lobbying MPS or building yet more marble-clad Gurdware.

Today’s news report brings with it some hope though, that as we saw with the Rajoana issue over the last two months, young generations of Sikhs in the west who for so long have been derided as uninterested and disconnected to their roots are anything but. The fact that so many young Sikhs here knew that Guru Nanak established a unique way of life, not derived from the Hindu dharam or Islamic faith, is a positive sign especially when one considers how freely certain interest groups have been promoting Sikhi as being intrinsically connected to Hindu dharam in recent years. But the focus of energy towards one individual or even one media outlet, without connecting the proverbial dots and moving on to battle the real foe, will mean that we will come back to face this very situation again, in years if not months to come.


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9 Responses to “Challenging Misinformation about Sikhi on BBC Radio”

  1. G Singh says:

    hey paaji, nice article, btw it was me, who sent that txt into nihals show and who nihal insulted by insinuating that he knew more than me about sikhi, pathetic! Im a nihal fan, as he has a hard job being impartial, but after that outburst of his he went down in my estimation.

  2. robert emery says:

    they need to do a special on the Sikh religion to correct the misinformation!

  3. pnrk says:

    i used to think sikhi's foundation was sanatan dharam/eternal path – i was wrong – nor of course is any other path the foundation – hinduism's history shows they'll lie down and take anything that comes their way from anyone –

  4. HINDU says:

    Comment deleted by Admin

  5. pnrk says:

    according to certain sects of Sikhi the 10th Master survived – the conventional view may be what hindoo says however some view the 10th Master as having survived – He went into exile and will return.

  6. pnrk says:

    certain sects of sikhi are sure that our 10th Master survived and went into exile: Burma – and He will return.