UK report urges govt to investigate extremist activity by pro-Khalistan elements

Apr 27, 2023 08:04 PM IST

The report by Colin Bloom, an independent faith engagement advisor, was unveiled by UK government on Wednesday & suggests how authorities can tackle activities of religious extremists

The UK government should investigate extremist activity within the country’s Sikh community against the backdrop of pro-Khalistan elements inciting violence and intimidation, an independent review commissioned by British authorities has recommended.

The report was prepared by Colin Bloom, an independent faith engagement advisor. (File photo)
The report was prepared by Colin Bloom, an independent faith engagement advisor. (File photo)

The recommendation is part of a landmark review of official engagement with different faiths that was commissioned by former prime minister Boris Johnson in 2019.

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The report by Colin Bloom, an independent faith engagement advisor, was unveiled by the UK government on Wednesday and suggests how authorities can tackle the activities of religious extremists.

A “small, extremely vocal and aggressive minority of British Sikhs who can be described as pro-Khalistan extremists” is promoting an “ethno-nationalist agenda”, and some extremists are “known to support and incite violence and intimidation in their ambition to establish an independent state called Khalistan”, the report said.

Also Read: Sikh separatists artificially inflate influence, get disproportionate attention: UK report

The “subversive, sectarian and discriminatory activities” of such elements don’t reflect the true nature of the majority of British Sikhs, and the “extremist fringe ideology within the pro-Khalistan movement” has led to a division within British Sikh communities.

In this context, the report said the UK government “should clearly define and investigate extremist activity and identify where this exists within the Sikh community, taking steps to develop a more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of subversive and sectarian Sikh extremist activity”.

The UK government should also “ensure that unacceptable and extremist behaviours are not inadvertently legitimised by government or parliamentary engagement”, and this should include “reconsideration of previous decisions regarding the activity and legality of certain groups”.

The “intimidatory and subversive” methods of some Sikh groups are considered by most Sikhs to be alien to the basic tenets of their faith, and respondents warned that if the British government doesn’t “distinguish extremist agendas of power, control and subversion from mainstream Sikh communities, it would result in the UK turning a ‘blind eye towards religious extremism’”, according to the report.

The report also said there are grounds to suspect an “overlap of membership between some Sikh groups operating in the UK and proscribed... groups”. It recommended that parliamentary authorities must act to ensure that parliament is “not unwittingly hosting organisations and individuals who have been linked to bullying and harassment... and subversive behaviours”.

The findings come at a time when New Delhi has flagged the activities of Britain-based pro-Khalistan elements to London, especially after violent protests outside the Indian high commission following the launch of a crackdown in Punjab on radical preacher Amritpal Singh and his followers.

The Indian side was angered when a protestor pulled down the national flag outside the Indian mission last month, and summoned the British deputy high commissioner to lodge a protest.

India also reduced security outside the British high commission and the envoy’s residence in New Delhi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi raised the issue during a phone conversation with his British counterpart Rishi Sunak on April 13 and sought “strong action against anti-India elements” in the UK.

The Indian side has also been angered by the efforts of groups such as the proscribed Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) to conduct a so-called referendum on Khalistan in the UK, the US, Canada and Australia.

More than 21,000 people responded to the public consultation by Bloom, who made 22 recommendations to the government, including ways to tackle the activities of Islamists and extremists from the Sikh, Hindu and Buddhist faiths.

In the section on “Pro-Khalistan subversion”, the report noted that the borders of so-called Khalistan are largely shared with specific parts of India’s Punjab state but do not include the part of Punjab in Pakistan.

“It is not entirely clear if the motivation for these extremists is faith-based or not. One critic of the pro-Khalistan activists from within the Sikh community claimed they are hijacking the Sikh faith for their own nationalistic ends,” the report said.

While upholding the right of every individual to protest both in the UK and abroad, the report said the “promotion of pro-Khalistan ideas does not have to be subversive” as there are “democratic avenues for political persuasion which do not involve manipulative threats or intimidation”.

While pro-Khalistan extremists “reflect a tiny minority, they attract disproportionate amounts of attention and stoke divisive sentiments” within Sikh communities.

Bloom also said some of these groups have “sought to artificially inflate their influence and legitimise dubious positions or tactics by using the ‘Sikh’ label to lobby political bodies”.

The report further said, “By circumventing democratic order, some groups compete for power by masquerading as human rights activists, presenting a false appearance of legitimacy.” This “subversive way of working” has also been seen in Canada, and the UK government should have a “more comprehensive understanding of the tactics and methods some Sikh activists employ to divert public attention away from their subversive agenda”, it added.

The report, which examined engagement with faith in a range of public institutions such as the civil service, armed forces, schools and even prisons, said the UK government should redouble efforts to reinforce the distinction between extremist Islamism and Islam and crack down on white supremacist and neo-Nazi terrorists.

The UK government should also be “much more alive to the very small but growing phenomenon of extreme Hindu nationalism and Buddhist nationalism”.

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