BEDFORD, UK—Hugo Swire, the UK Foreign Minister responsible for relations with India, yesterday made a long awaited visit to Bedford to meet Sikh representatives at Guru Nanak Gurdwara Bedford at the invitation of the local Conservative MP Richard Fuller.
Parmjit Singh Sohal opened the meeting on behalf of the three Gurdwaras in Bedford with an excellent speech. He made clear that Sikhs wanted to discuss:
- the need and support for an independent public inquiry into UK Government actions in the lead up to and after the 1984 Sikh Genocide
- support for a UN led inquiry to expose those in India who committed the Genocide of the Sikhs and obtain justice for the victims
Hugo Swire was left in no doubt about the strength of feeling and hurt that remains in the Sikh community about the pre-planned attack on Harmandir Sahib in June 1984 and the UK Government involvement. Parmjit Singh also referred to his wife’s 14 year old cousin being amongst those who never returned home along with at least 5,000 other pilgrims.
Those present made it clear that when the Indian government came asking for military advice in February 1984 on how to attack the Harmandir Sahib Complex, the UK Government response should not have been to send an SAS officer, suggest using helicopters during the attack and an offer of training, but to say in no uncertain terms that the Indian authorities should not attack the Sikhs holiest of holy shrines in any circumstance.
The Sikh Federation (UK) representative requested to attend the meeting pointed out that over 200 UK politicians are supporting an independent public inquiry, including Conservative MPs like Richard Fuller and Adam Holloway from Gravesham. During the meeting the Minister turned to ask Richard Fuller what he was supporting and his position. He replied that Sikhs were not satisfied with the internal inquiry and that any future government should keep an open mind on the need for an independent public inquiry. Others present said an independent public inquiry would also allow a framework to be developed to ensure similar mistakes to those made in 1984 by the UK Government are never repeated.
Hugo Swire at one point in the meeting said some Sikhs were satisfied with the internal inquiry that the Cabinet Secretary had carried out, but the Sikh Federation (UK) representative challenged the Minister to name any of the 250+ Gurdwaras or numerous Sikh organisations in the UK that share this view. It was suggested he would struggle to find any more than could be counted on one hand.
Those present, men and women and young and old, were united in challenging the Minister in the meeting about the need for an independent public inquiry and also for a UN led independent inquiry after 30 years of failing to get justice in India. Reference was made to the UK government supporting a UN led inquiry in Sri Lanka. Hugo Swire mentioned it may be possible to have an inquiry by the Commonwealth Secretary-General and they could look into this. However, this has been dismissed by the Sikh Federation (UK) who have pointed out Kamalesh Sharma is the Commonwealth Secretary-General, but he is the former Indian High Commissioner to the UK and would be totally inappropriate for conducting an independent inquiry and it would be no substitute for a UN-led inquiry.
It was disappointing the Minister sidestepped the demand to refer to the events of 1984 as a Genocide despite it being pointed out the Indian Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh had in late December 2014 referred to what happen to the Sikhs in November 1984 as ‘Genocide’ and that ‘justice would be meted out to the victims only when the perpetrators of the crime are punished’ and ‘that until these persons are punished, victims will not get relief’. He did however agree to take up with the Indian authorities why Amnesty International and UN rapporteurs continue to be denied access to Punjab to investigate human rights abuses. To his credit Richard Fuller MP also suggested the UK Government should be prepared to condemn India when there are human rights abuses even if this means loss of trade as they have done with China.