Unifying Sikhs: A Riot Story

Guest blogged by Naujawani Sardar

When the riots began in London last Saturday, we all thought they were a one-off incident and the world would be back to normal by Monday. Instead we awoke to find that more shops had been looted, buildings were still being set ablaze and that the rioters were now widening their search for new canvases to destruct. The thought was certainlythere in the back of my mind, throughout my working day on Monday, but I think I purposely ignored it, hoping that it just would not happen: could a gurdwara be targeted?

IMG00057_20110809_1846.jpgA small number of Sikhs however did not let the thought fall out of sight and continued to monitor the situation. Having realised that a problem may arise, albeit very late at night, they spent the best part of the night driving across London from one Gurdwara to the next to ensure that there was adequate security in place. Where there was not, one man stayed behind or where possible, awoke a local friend to come in. Thus was sewn the seed for a collaborative effort from a number of individuals to coordinate Sikhs that wanted to defend their Gurdware. Throughout Tuesday, Facebook, Twitter and SMS text messages were used to inform and mobilise people into preparing for the night(s) ahead. We at Naujawani also played a small role in coordinating these efforts and garnering support from individuals which personally gave mea greater insight into how things developed over the last 48 hours. It was clear to a few of us that if we were to have any success, people had to be appropriately distributed to different Gurdware. In west London, Southall is naturally the hub and meeting point, but throughout the rioting other Gurdware to the north and east of London were at a higher risk.

By mid-afternoon on Tuesday, the collaborative efforts resulted in an announcement to meet at Park Avenue Gurdwara in Southall at 6pm. I fled work at 5 running to catch tube and train, with the optimistic expectation of an organised meeting and some real unity. Whilst I found the latter, to the credit of every Sikh in London, the former was conspicuous by it’s absence. As I returned from matha teking inside, the local MP arrived and proceeded to pose for photographs with large swathes of ‘leaders’ – men who largely have done little in life but make money, without spending it I might add! Ignoring the melee that now surrounded him, I made my way with a few acquaintances to one side of the car park where the lion’s share of Sikhs had gathered. Appropriate guidelines and advice was shared, but alas there was no splitting up into groups, no dividing strategically… We took it upon ourselves to divide the few dozen that would listen to us into teams of 5 and began making calls to contacts at other Gurdware. We found which places needed people and sent a car with volunteers as appropriate.

Myself along with a few new and old friends went to the Khalsa Jatha Gurdwara, the oldest Gurdwara in the UK. Our night passed without incident and we used the time to forumlate ideas on how we could better network in the future and respond to incidents such as these. We also spent a lot of time using Twitter and Facebook to distinguish fact from fiction regarding what was actually happening and found remarkably that we Sikhs were winning support for our endeavours from across the Globe and most importantly in the UK. The free-to-air satellite channel Sangat TV did excellent work (and continues to) reporting in a way that established media outlets just refuse to. The hashtag Sikhs was soon followed into trending charts by SangatTV – a testament to the impact we were all making, in particular the 3-man camera crew from Birmingham!

We UK Sikhs are not renown for our media savvy abilities so the positive press that Sangat TV and their enigmatic presenter Upinder Randhawa gained has been an unexpected silver lining in this cloudy few days. Non-Sikhs have been tweeting and facebooking their admiration for our strength of character and indiscriminate support of the community. But with the good work of Sangat TV came the need to ensure that those who are capable of speaking to the media should put themselves forward. For far too long we as a people have shied away from having confidence in our abilities in the guise of wanting to remain humble, but all that this has achieved in this regard is to open the floor to those who neither know how to represent us, nor should be allowed to. With all due respect to the Sikh in question, BBC radio has repeatedly aired a 30 second soundbite from a young man threatening to kill anyone who enters the Gurdwara. Leaving aside how the story of Bhai Dalla is relevant here, his passionate claim and youthful zeal did our cause no favours. He came off sounding blood-thirsty, intolerant and thuggish – everything that the last few days should be disintegrating. Never one to shy away, I have been putting myself forward to speak and write where needed, using the skills that I have gained from over a decade in broadcasting and media experiences. I strongly urge others with similar skills to begin making themselves known in the community and share their talents!

The riots are not over, but have largely diminished, in no small part thanks to the Sikhs and others who have stood up as our predecessors to intimidation and injustice. There will be many lessons learnt from the past few days by wider society and we too should not miss this opportunity to progress. We must continue to nurture these networks that have emerged and not miss the chance to take the UK Sikh world into the 21st century. We still do not take advantage of new technology, our extensive network of young people with wide-ranging skills and of course our ability to sacrifice for the greater good. But we have proved that irrespective of our backgrounds, jathebandiyan and affiliations, we can work together for a common purpose; we can put to one side our petty differences and be the people that we have been waiting for. This week the World has gained a renewed respect for those who give water to their enemies, are willing to die defending the rights and beliefs of others, and truly believe that we are all of the same light as the Earth and the cosmos. Let’s not let them down again.


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71 Responses to “Unifying Sikhs: A Riot Story”

  1. Randep says:

    Who are the Sikhs unifying against? Do they even know? What does it tell us about the titillated bloggers who find no greater joy than being patted on the head like good-civilians who obey the order of the British judicial system? The enemy is a phantom, but your master is a pasty looking old man with crooked teefs.

  2. rocco says:

    Tell the uncles to get out the way and make way for younger second and third generation youths.

  3. SIngh says:

    Whats wrong with him sayiing that he will kill anyone who desecrates the gurughar…maybe if we had shown this resolve in the recent past certain events in the 1980's would not have taken place…there is def. a right in law to defend yourself, property and community with equal force – so if someone came to the gurughar intent on killing people (which i think firebombing could reasonably lead to) a similar force would be to dispatch that person beforehand…hats off to the UK Sikhs for not sitting idly by and hats off to everyone including muslims and others…So naujawani, good to see you are lected the only speaker for the Sikhs…he put it out there and im sure the pics of these lads ready to defend with weapons in hand and that stern warning helped to make looters make the decision not to come to Southhall

    bigups to everyone in the UK from Canada

  4. kantay says:

    The only way they left proceeds at times like this is that they are the ones who see injustice and care about those who are suffering and everyone else is benighted in ignorance. It is as if no one matters except the at times ill defined poor and others are simply dismissed as the establishment. This story has come about organically re Sikhs in the UK but it does not fit a narrative that mass violence by the poor is only a reaction to their conditions that occurs because there is no other way available to express rage and that anyone effected by this rage is either part of the establishment or collateral damage. The attitude of pity the shop keeper or the guy caught in the middle…..but the establishment hasn’t listened to the poor driven into inarticulate rage or to their middle class would be advocates who have been warning of the coming violence.

  5. @JazzK1976 says:

    Older generations stuck in the past, younger generations not broad minded enough. UK Sikhs certainly need to change the way they think and perceive the greater good. We need to clean up our own house first by removing the greedy committees that claim to run our gurdwarae and we need to educate through Sikhi and modern schooling. We Sikhs have a rare moment in the spotlight to shine and project onto the world values of truth, respect and selfless service while maintaining grace and decorum under fire that becomes a true Sikh.

    A simple message to the so called Sikhs who brandished weapons and threatened to kill while standing outside Gurdwara Sahib. Your not Sikhs. Your a disgrace. Your no better than the rioters.

  6. Blighty Singh says:

    ^ thats just lovely innit ? Sikhs who acted like little girls and sat at home while other's homes, property and businesses were destroyed have the nerve to call those brave enough to get out there and protect their communities a "disgrace".
    What those sikhs brandishing weapons did was articulate the mood of the nation. They became, if you like the voice of the nation. They did and said what everybody in England wanted to do and say.
    What is ironic though…..is that while the sentiments of those sikhs has found found widespread approval and support among all other communities we still have in our community very effeminate pansy type men (as illustrated above) who get diarroeah at the thought of conflict.

  7. Sunny says:

    i patrolled my community and stood outside my gurdwara and not once did I threaten to kill nor did i brandish a weapon. I agree with Jazz. Violence and corruption has no place in Sikhism.

    What those sikhs brandishing weapons did was make themselves look like complete fools, that image of Sikhs outside Havelock gurdwara with kirpans and staffs branded Sikhs as vigilante.

    I prefer the term community protector, dont you?

  8. Sunny says:

    Im ready to give my life for my family, my dharm and my country.

    I am not willing to take a life. That makes me no better than the rioters and thugs.

  9. Blighty Singh says:

    ^ just out of interest then Sunny. …..if you actually came across a gang of 6ft tall muscular ex-british heavyweight contender rioters that night what exactly were you intending to fight them off with ? Your shoe ? A rolled up copy of the wall street journal ?

  10. Sunny says:

    kick em in the nuts!

  11. kantay says:

    The left is an ideological tendency anyone can adopt the term is originally from the French revolution. In most cases such as this the left position is usually in favor of seeing social disruption from the poor or otherwise disadvantaged as a product of social inequality.

  12. Anyone fancy commenting on my conclusion? Controversial I know, but I thought it might evoke some productive discussion about how we Sikhs can work together more efficiently going forward :)

    "We must continue to nurture these networks that have emerged and not miss the chance to take the UK Sikh world into the 21st century. We still do not take advantage of new technology, our extensive network of young people with wide-ranging skills and of course our ability to sacrifice for the greater good. But we have proved that irrespective of our backgrounds, jathebandiyan and affiliations, we can work together for a common purpose; we can put to one side our petty differences and be the people that we have been waiting for. This week the World has gained a renewed respect for those who give water to their enemies, are willing to die defending the rights and beliefs of others, and truly believe that we are all of the same light as the Earth and the cosmos. Let’s not let them down again."

  13. guest says:

    i'd rather we be known worldwide for being champions of reason, intelligence, and discernment (all qualities we get from gurbani) rather than being known for marching in the street brandishing weapons.

  14. Deeph says:

    Blighty,

    You need to be more specific with your criticism of Darcus Howe, so please proceed. You're suggesting that he is somehow condoning racial oppression in Trinidad? You also stated that he's said some controversial things on Channel 4; such as what?

    Why do you speak with such vague language?

    Your comments sound sexist, racist and classist; the total opposite of what Sikhi teaches.

    I'm also going to put something else out there: I've heard and read some Singhs saying that they are defending Sikhi out there in the UK. You are not defending Sikhi; Sikhi is not under attack.

    Here are some further readings on the situation in the UK from a more rational perspective:
    http://www.adbusters.org/magazine/71/generation-f
    http://m.architectsjournal.co.uk/8618373.article

    One of the best reads so far! Russel Brand:
    http://www.russellbrand.tv/2011/08/big-brother-is

  15. kantay says:

    If you think the Gurus were on the left you are in basic agreement with most who are on the left. There is another part of that left also from the French revolution regarding violent overthrow of the present order….but just ignore that part because its harder to be holier than thou (in a literal sense in this case)

  16. deeph says:

    Blighty,

    If indians are oppressing blacks then this is a form of injustice. Indians are oppressing Sikhs and other minorities in India as well. We have so called Sikhs that continue to be tools of oppression against other Sikhs.

    Our fight is against oppression and we show solidarity, provide compassion and have a deep sense of understanding toward other oppressed peoples.

    Your language is oppressive.

  17. rocco says:

    how did the UK bhangra artist/singers/community contribute to help during th riots?

  18. deeps says:

    Blighty,

    This is getting nauseating. Once again, as usual, your prejudiced views manifest as you're pressured to carry your arguments into the realm of reason.

    You have just suggested in your very first few lines that 1) you believe the mentally ill, drug addicted and otherwise the downtrodden of society have no voice and should not be given an ear even if they do scream out – however reasonable it may be. 2) That your Sikhi lays in your impulsive physical reactions to what you perceive to be threats to it.

    These aren't hallmarks of a Sikh trying to unify other Sikhs, or a Sikh in general.

    The rest of your banter is just reactionary mumbling. You're telling me that I live in a cozy lifestyle, away from all these troubles that surround you, and have become so disconnected from society, and I am just some wannabe intellectual speaking out of my ass? You don't even know who I am. What if I live in London as well, in those poor boroughs? What if I live in the ghettoes of New York or Toronto? Who are you to start making such nonsensical claims?

    All you've done is a poor evasion after another poor evasion. You lash out by calling members 'little girls', you subdue voices from those poor boroughs as being racist hypocrites, or in this case, you throw away any arguments made by mentally ill, drug addicted and troubles individuals. And here you are, brandishing a sword in front of a Gurdwara as our saviour? For shame.

  19. Deeph says:

    "very effeminate pansy type men (as illustrated above) who get diarroeah at the thought of conflict."

    May I also add that you're also deeply prejudiced against Homosexuality and comparing those Sikhs that choose not to engage in your sort of physical activities as being homosexual. You should be more careful with your language.

    Stupid, senseless conflict against phantom enemies an oppressive, racist, classist, sexist homophobic state pits you against doesn't make you a 'man'; it makes you a stupid man.

  20. Deeph says:

    That's it? That's all you have? Is this where your intelligence rests: making useless immature remarks in the hopes that you'll somehow come out the victor and parade yourself as chief amongst readers on the Langar Hall.

    Graduate? I don't want to. Now what? In fact, I want to live of my dad and drive a ferrari across the street to my private jet which will charter me to my personal assistance who feeds me grapes and massages my fingers with the oil of a Great White Shark. Now what?

    You've failed to prove anything here other than your immaturity. Good job.

  21. Harry says:

    the wheels on the bus go round and round….

  22. Blighty Singh says:

    …..except, of course, the number 68 from Croydon to the West End which, the rioters burnt out. The wheels on that bus are no longer going round and round. Although it's unclear whether or not the horn on the bus is still capable of going Beep beep beep. http://www.flickr.com/photos/rogersg/6025867820/

  23. kantay says:

    Naujawani I think those Singhs in the UK who put their personal safety on the line to protect others and themselves did a good thing. Good job and thanks

  24. A P Singh says:

    All this news from your site is, I feel is very great work this, shows sikhi spirit .And I suggest all my sikh friends to join your sikhism and must read your histry which have great great info about your elders how they face the very tight time in there life. Everbody have to spend some time for there great relegin in daily life to fase this, how to do job on this time when any problem come to us.

  25. kantay says:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/sep/05/tottenha

    Reading this report, it is striking that riots harm neighborhoods in which they occur almost irreparably. And also the activists who participate in the dance of coordinated public outrage and marches almost to no avail other than the simple fact that "something has occurred" in response to some event.

    If an activist knows that riots harm communities and hold third parties hostage and feels they are close to coming about, to say that the riots were inevitable and the product of decisions made far away and by others who are in effect simply in some way morally flawed people and then wait for someone else to do something to prove them right, is irresponsible.

    It seems to me the thing to do is to do everything one can to prevent such events taking place instead of in effect saying, "I told you so, next time listen to us." That would be the course a person would take who was taking seriously that this sort of event undermines communities over the long term and are seriously tragic events and not simply object lessons of the correctness of liberal points of view.

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