A Separate Justice for Sikhs?

A_Sikh_Metropolitan_Polic_001.jpgSikh victims of crime will now be given the option of requesting a Sikh police officer to work on their case. Well, in London at least. The goal of this new service, offered by the Metropolitan Police, is to make use of the “special” knowledge officers have in regards to Punjabi culture to help address issues such as forced marriage and honor crimes. Many police officers believe that crimes have gone unreported and unsolved within the Punjabi Sikh community due to a lack of cultural understanding by police officers from a “white” background.

Palbinder Singh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Sikh Association (MPSA) said: “It’s about understanding and appreciating difference. I don’t believe a white officer is ever going to be fully conversant with a Sikh for example. We have got evidence in the most serious type of crimes where Punjabi culture itself is the issue, that they haven’t been properly investigated.” [link]

Cringe.

When the British Sikh Police Association (BSPA) was set up, a spokesman suggested that the organization represented an important move towards social cohesion and integration, just like ‘other support networks within the police’. The BSPA did an excellent job at setting up an online service to allow women to report honor-based violence. It’s a completely valid effort to address the needs of minority communities – and something which should be celebrated. However, while I am a huge advocate for providing culturally and linguistically relevant services in all public sectors, I’m not sure that the solution proposed by the Metropolitan Police in England is necessary a good thing. Instead of providing diversity training to all members of the police force, this policy divides justice across ethnic lines.

A writer at The Centre for Social Cohesion agrees,

Singh probably doesn’t deserve the demonization he will receive amongst certain sections of the blogging classes, nor the defense he will receive from others, he merely articulates a pervasive rot that has set in to our public discourse. Its treatment can only come when we cease to speak of ‘communities’ and cease to treat them as a political entity. We should remember that a truly liberal society has only one political building block- the individual- who has neither gender nor colour nor creed. [link]

While I understand that this new policy is a choice and Sikh crime victims are not forced to choose a Sikh officer, could it could potentially lead to a separate justice system for Sikhs? What will happen when Sikhs believe that working with Sikh officers provides them with positive outcomes and working with non-Sikh officers, negative outcomes? There is no guarantee that a male Sikh police officer will be more understanding of a female Sikh victim of crime versus a female non-Sikh officer. Rather than investing in diversity programs and ensuring that all police officers can recognize issues affecting minority communities, these institutions in England are opting out of multiculturalism efforts in lieu of convenient solutions masked as community-conscious initiatives. That can never be a good thing for social cohesion.


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10 Responses to “A Separate Justice for Sikhs?”

  1. Harvy says:

    Sundari,

    I'd like to discuss a few points in your posting.

    Firstly, the British Sikh Police Association that you refer to, a different organisation from the MPSA has only recently been set up, but the MPSA has been working on crimes specific to the Indian community for some time including those of honour based violence. You can find out more about their activities at http://www.sikhpolice.org. Whilst the BSPA should be rightly commended for their activities and announcements it is interesting to note that they are very much following in the lead that the MPSA has taken in these endeavours.

    Secondly, much has been made of this announcement in the last week, but it has really been taken out of context. The idea is not that a victim of a crime can pick up the telephone and dial 999 asking for a Sikh police officer, rather that where a crime of quite particular circumstances has occurred, a suitably informed police officer would be drafted in to utilise their specialist knowledge. There are a few obvious examples of this; sensitive cases involving honour-based violence, incidents at a Gurdwara etc. How does this differ from say a SOCA officer being brought into a case involving money-laundering? Or in a different avenue, how different is this from the British and American intelligence services employing more people from a muslim background after the events of 11th September, 2001?

    I agree that Palbinder Singh and the MPSA have not done enough to explain just how this service will be put into operation or to dowse the flames that have emerged in the blogosphere and opinion columns since the announcement. But I would expect Sikhs who are all too often the victims of unsolved crimes in the UK to welcome such a decision. The recent case of Surjit Kaur Athwal lay dormant for almost a decade before Sikh officers were drafted in – within 2 years there were numerous leads in the investigation and 2 convictions in the court of law. Perhaps if a Sikh officer is drafted in to the Bow Road Gurdwara case, we might find a similar outcome.

    This should not be looked at as an attack on non-Sikh officers, rather it should be welcomed as a service that will enhance convictions in EXTREME cases where the criminals who walk the streets of UK society will not be able to hide amongst their community, dodging the uninformed police officers of their host nation. I once again stress, that the MPSA should come out and further clarify the details of the service that was announced, but as somebody who read the press release in detail and came to this understanding, I am disappointed that you have not done the same and have opted instead to simply follow the diatribe of the right-wing media in the UK.

  2. Harvy says:

    Sundari,

    I’d like to discuss a few points in your posting.

    Firstly, the British Sikh Police Association that you refer to, a different organisation from the MPSA has only recently been set up, but the MPSA has been working on crimes specific to the Indian community for some time including those of honour based violence. You can find out more about their activities at http://www.sikhpolice.org. Whilst the BSPA should be rightly commended for their activities and announcements it is interesting to note that they are very much following in the lead that the MPSA has taken in these endeavours.

    Secondly, much has been made of this announcement in the last week, but it has really been taken out of context. The idea is not that a victim of a crime can pick up the telephone and dial 999 asking for a Sikh police officer, rather that where a crime of quite particular circumstances has occurred, a suitably informed police officer would be drafted in to utilise their specialist knowledge. There are a few obvious examples of this; sensitive cases involving honour-based violence, incidents at a Gurdwara etc. How does this differ from say a SOCA officer being brought into a case involving money-laundering? Or in a different avenue, how different is this from the British and American intelligence services employing more people from a muslim background after the events of 11th September, 2001?

    I agree that Palbinder Singh and the MPSA have not done enough to explain just how this service will be put into operation or to dowse the flames that have emerged in the blogosphere and opinion columns since the announcement. But I would expect Sikhs who are all too often the victims of unsolved crimes in the UK to welcome such a decision. The recent case of Surjit Kaur Athwal lay dormant for almost a decade before Sikh officers were drafted in – within 2 years there were numerous leads in the investigation and 2 convictions in the court of law. Perhaps if a Sikh officer is drafted in to the Bow Road Gurdwara case, we might find a similar outcome.

    This should not be looked at as an attack on non-Sikh officers, rather it should be welcomed as a service that will enhance convictions in EXTREME cases where the criminals who walk the streets of UK society will not be able to hide amongst their community, dodging the uninformed police officers of their host nation. I once again stress, that the MPSA should come out and further clarify the details of the service that was announced, but as somebody who read the press release in detail and came to this understanding, I am disappointed that you have not done the same and have opted instead to simply follow the diatribe of the right-wing media in the UK.

  3. Sundari says:

    Harvy, Thank you for your articulate response. While I was hesitant to take this perspective on the issue, I think it's important for Sikhs to be critical of these types of policies. Like I said, I am a huge advocate for the provision of culturally and linguistically relevant services – however, from what I read about this initiative – it was not clear how this policy would take form. My concern was that it would do more harm than good. Perhaps the Met Police did not do a good job at providing PR for this issue. However, I still believe that the focus should be on providing diversity training to everyone. We live in a global world and it is important that we work to understand each other's cultures rather than expecting minority groups to "take care of themselves."

  4. Sundari says:

    Harvy, Thank you for your articulate response. While I was hesitant to take this perspective on the issue, I think it’s important for Sikhs to be critical of these types of policies. Like I said, I am a huge advocate for the provision of culturally and linguistically relevant services – however, from what I read about this initiative – it was not clear how this policy would take form. My concern was that it would do more harm than good. Perhaps the Met Police did not do a good job at providing PR for this issue. However, I still believe that the focus should be on providing diversity training to everyone. We live in a global world and it is important that we work to understand each other’s cultures rather than expecting minority groups to “take care of themselves.”

  5. Harvy says:

    Thank you for taking the time to reply. Personally, I think the Met Police did an absolutely rubbish job on the PR for this statement. They have allowed it to get to the extent that it has reached newspapers in foreign countries and Sikhs come off looking bad and as a segregated community within society. Perhaps there is some truth to this with regards to the nature of the crimes that this policy looked to address: Gurdwara arson, honour based violence etc.

    Whilst I would like to agree with your sentiments about increasing awareness and diversity training to everyone, in the short-term this just isn't possible and although in some areas of life this might not be a good enough reason to 'police your own' the issues which this policy is intended to relate to involve people dying or being subjected to quite inhumane treatment.

    There are numerous organisations such as Karma Nirvana and the Sikh Women's Alliance who have tried to get our community to take a good look at itself and the practices that we are engaged in behind closed doors, but all too often the people behind these groups are driven by being one-time victims of crime. My reason for backing the MPSA on this issue despite the negative attention this has attracted and their gaping lack of clarity PR since the announcement, is that they have merely tried to instigate an initiative along the lines of Guru Nanak's ideology that would lead to a decrease in these crimes and greater assistance for victims.

    Thanks once again for your reply.

  6. Harvy says:

    Thank you for taking the time to reply. Personally, I think the Met Police did an absolutely rubbish job on the PR for this statement. They have allowed it to get to the extent that it has reached newspapers in foreign countries and Sikhs come off looking bad and as a segregated community within society. Perhaps there is some truth to this with regards to the nature of the crimes that this policy looked to address: Gurdwara arson, honour based violence etc.

    Whilst I would like to agree with your sentiments about increasing awareness and diversity training to everyone, in the short-term this just isn’t possible and although in some areas of life this might not be a good enough reason to ‘police your own’ the issues which this policy is intended to relate to involve people dying or being subjected to quite inhumane treatment.

    There are numerous organisations such as Karma Nirvana and the Sikh Women’s Alliance who have tried to get our community to take a good look at itself and the practices that we are engaged in behind closed doors, but all too often the people behind these groups are driven by being one-time victims of crime. My reason for backing the MPSA on this issue despite the negative attention this has attracted and their gaping lack of clarity PR since the announcement, is that they have merely tried to instigate an initiative along the lines of Guru Nanak’s ideology that would lead to a decrease in these crimes and greater assistance for victims.

    Thanks once again for your reply.

  7. Shan Singh Tinna says:

    [Pardon the repost]

    I agree completely. Offering such treatment is inherently discriminatory, but not in the sense over which most Sikhs would whine—this is why not many others have brought up the matter. Sikhs are being singled out by the new approach, and no other people are benefiting. Another concern is that given the option, many Sikhs may abuse it: This, in effect, diminishes any respect for law enforcement and civil authority by the Sikh populace. This could serve to increase any racist sentiments held by Sikhs.

    Concerning “honor killings” and “forced marriages”: If these sensational tales are what have driven the policies into effect, let it be known that they emit the signs of a terrible flaw: The policy seems to further the oft-cited (but terribly misunderstood) untruths that “All Sikhs are Punjabis” and “All Punjabis are Sikhs.” (For any hint of an explanation, read this article and its comments.) This policy would serve only to affirm these notions, causing unnecessary stirs in the community—effectively setting us (dare I include myself?) back a few decades. It is clear this issue is one common to all Punjabis, irrespective of religion. So why over such concurrence in concerns does the Sikh Punjabi community, alone, reap the weight in this "solution?"

    Further, but on a different note altogether, Palbinder Singh’s comments in themselves are bigoted. It is unfair to anticipate only minimal justice from a police officer who doesn’t share the same religion as a victim. This only perpetuates racial tensions which, frankly, don’t even exist. We can’t defend our civil rights as citizens of nations, and at the same time, demean the profiles of others. We need to be as understanding as we expect others to be.

    Wholeheartedly,

    Shan Singh Tinna

  8. Shan Singh Tinna says:

    [Pardon the repost]

    I agree completely. Offering such treatment is inherently discriminatory, but not in the sense over which most Sikhs would whinethis is why not many others have brought up the matter. Sikhs are being singled out by the new approach, and no other people are benefiting. Another concern is that given the option, many Sikhs may abuse it: This, in effect, diminishes any respect for law enforcement and civil authority by the Sikh populace. This could serve to increase any racist sentiments held by Sikhs.

    Concerning honor killings and forced marriages: If these sensational tales are what have driven the policies into effect, let it be known that they emit the signs of a terrible flaw: The policy seems to further the oft-cited (but terribly misunderstood) untruths that All Sikhs are Punjabis and All Punjabis are Sikhs. (For any hint of an explanation, read this article and its comments.) This policy would serve only to affirm these notions, causing unnecessary stirs in the communityeffectively setting us (dare I include myself?) back a few decades. It is clear this issue is one common to all Punjabis, irrespective of religion. So why over such concurrence in concerns does the Sikh Punjabi community, alone, reap the weight in this “solution?”

    Further, but on a different note altogether, Palbinder Singhs comments in themselves are bigoted. It is unfair to anticipate only minimal justice from a police officer who doesnt share the same religion as a victim. This only perpetuates racial tensions which, frankly, dont even exist. We cant defend our civil rights as citizens of nations, and at the same time, demean the profiles of others. We need to be as understanding as we expect others to be.

    Wholeheartedly,
    Shan Singh Tinna

  9. Sukha says:

    Why do we need seperate Police Officers for Sikhs? This has to be the craziest idea yet, do this mean that muslims wil have seperate Police too? What about Hindu's, Buddhist & others?

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