Coventry, UK—On Saturday 18th August, a protest took place outside a Gurdwara owned and managed community hall in Coventry after the wider Sikh community were notified that the consumption of meat and alcohol as well as other anti-Sikh activities were going to take place there that evening in the Gurdwara owned premises.
The Ramgarhia Gurdwara, Community College & Family Centre was the venue for the Indian Worker’s Association (IWA) to hold a party to celebrate Indian “independence” day. Dignitaries from Coventry, including the Lord Mayor Councillor Tim Sawdon, as well as other guests were invited for the celebratory party. Members of the Ramgarhia Gurdwara Management Committee were also present at the party, however we have received information from one of our sources that the President of the Ramgarhia Gurdwara disagreed with the party and therefore did not attend.
Despite the well publicised and clear ban from Akal Takht Sahib, the Sikhs’ Highest Seat of Authority in Amritsar (India) that no meat, alcohol, non-religious music or any other anti-Sikh activities can take place or be promoted on any Gurdwara owned property, Ramgarhia Gurdwara Coventry thought it was permissible to celebrate India’s independence day in a way that violates and disrespects the Sikh faith.
One community member said, “It is like a Muslim celebrating a party in a Mosque with pork, alcohol and gambling. Any law abiding citizen with the slightest common sense would know that it out of order and an attack on their religious beliefs.
“Sikhs who protest against the abuse of their sacred place of worship are called hardliners by the media but we are upkeeping the sanctity of our places of worship. We’re not saying people cannot hold these parties, rather that they should not do them in places of religion.”
Attempting to avoid confrontation, the Sikh Sangat arrived at the Gurdwara hall at 6pm, before the official start time. When they arrived, the organisers were setting up the hall for the party. The Sikh Sangat found crates of alcohol in the Gurdwara owned premises, meat and a DJ playing Bhangra music very loudly. The Sikh Sangat were successful in stopping the deliveries of more alcohol and meat into the Gurdwara property.
Councillor Ram Lakha (Labour: Binley and Willenhall), and secretary of the IWA, claimed in the Coventry Telegraph newspaper that the party which was held with the consent of the Ramgarhia Gurdwara management committee had no meat or alcohol served there. However, eyewitnesses and photographs from the party clearly show crates of alcohol.
For approximately 2 hours the peaceful Sikh protestors attempted to engage in talks with the 15 or so organisers and invitees of the party to explain in a calm manner that meat, alcohol and Bhangra music is not allowed in accordance to Gurmat and the Akal Takht Sahib at any Gurdwara owned buildings. However, the party goers refused to go as they said they had paid the Gurdwara Sahib money for holding a party.
Around 7.30pm the Police was called in. They listened to both groups and decided that the party should not take place as they even knew that is clearly not allowed in the Sikh religion. They told the party goers which by that time numbered to about 100 people that the party shall not take place and attempted to escort them off the premises. Whilst leaving, they were abusive and refused to go. It took one hour for all the party goers to be removed from the Gurdwara premises despite being repeatedly asked by the Police.
As the party goers were removed from the Gurdwara hall by the Police a handful of trouble-makers from the party began verbal abuse and showed aggressive behaviour against the Sikh Sangat. Some of the party goers even shouted “Terrorist” and “Taliban” at the Sikh protesters.
One protestor, who asked not to be named, said, “The people attending the party swore at us and shouted ‘Khalistan Murdabad’ (Death to Khalistan), “Khalsa Raaj Murdabad” whilst we were peacefully protesting.”
He added, “We co-operated with the police and made sure the protest was peaceful despite acts of provocation on the other side. There were no acts of violence or any arrests.”
Accusations have been made by Councillor Ram Lakha that the Sikh protestors removed the British flag from the Gurdwara Hall, which is not backed with any proof. Neither the Police or the photographs we have received back this up. The only flag removed from the Gurdwara hall was the Indian flag because many in the Sikh community across the world feel that India has let down the Sikh community and denied it justice and human rights.
After a stand off with peaceful protestors and co-operation with the local Police, by 8.30pm the party was forced to close down despite an angry mob who wanted the party to continue irrespective of sacrilege and disrespect of the Sikh faith.
Supt Ron Winch, for Coventry Police, said, “We were made aware of plans for a peaceful demonstration on Saturday evening by members of the Sikh community. Officers monitored the situation and were committed to supporting and facilitating a lawful, peaceful protest.
“Sufficient resources were available to ensure public safety was maintained and although tensions were high, there were no criminal offences committed.
“I am confident that our response was proportionate and we are continuing to liaise with representatives from the Ramgarhia Gurdwara in order to establish whether there is anything that can be learned from the incident should a similar protest happen again.”
15th August is a dark day in Sikh history because it is the day that the Sikh nation lost Nanakana Sahib (the birthplace of Guru Nanak Sahib), Panja Sahib, Guru Arjan Dev Ji’s Shaheedi place, Kartarpur Sahib and so many more historic places and Gurdwaras with more than half of Punjab.
Sikhs across the world are appalled at the violation of Sikh principles at this Gurdwara. Sikh principles prohibit the use of alcohol, drugs, intoxicants, meat, and inappropriate music. Sikhs view every Gurdwara as a beacon of these principles and have historically protested when Gurdwara committees have violated these principles in an attempt to generate revenue. Editors at Sikh24 view peaceful protests to uphold Sikh principles as a necessary step to prevent the commercialization of Sikhism and hope that Gurdwaras worldwide will redouble efforts to promote Sikh values.