Bishop of St Albans On Relations With Sikh Community

The Bishop of St Albans spoke during Lord Singh of Wimbledon’s debate on relations with the Sikh community following the publication of government documents regarding British involvement in planning the attack on the Golden Temple.

He focussed his remarks on the positive role that the Sikh community has played and continues to play in British society. He welcomed the lack of violent or radical response from the community in light of the publication of the documents, but warned of the danger that it could happen. He called for a wider inquiry into the broader relations between the UK and Indian governments at the time.

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Singh, has spoken eloquently of the terrible events that took place 30 years ago.

For some seven years in the 1990s, I was privileged to live in Walsall in the West Midlands, in a very multicultural area where I was then working and ministering. I not only counted among my friends a Sikh family living next door to me, but I also paid many visits to the local Guru Nanak temple and received wonderful hospitality there. Even then, some 10 years after the events of Operation Blue Star, Operation Sundown and Operation Woodrose, I was aware of how large these tragedies loomed not just in the imaginations but in the families of my neighbours.

These were not simply events that had taken place in a remote area; they were events that deeply affected people who lived around me. This was compounded because some of the worst atrocities took place at the holiest site for Sikhs. I am acutely aware of the pain, anguish and consternation that many of my Sikh friends feel. I want to identify with that. I am aware of just how difficult this is for them and of what they are feeling at the moment, as British citizens who have learnt that their own Government provided military advice not long before Operation Blue Star. I am not surprised that they are asking a lot of questions as they reflect on what happened.

During that period in the 1990s when I lived on the edge of the Black Country, I undertook some empirical research into the Sikh community as part of a degree that I was doing. It was fascinating. That research revealed that young Sikhs at that time in the West Midlands were a group with some of the highest levels of motivation and ambition compared with their peers. They were achieving excellent academic results in their exams. Not only were these young people making a real and tangible contribution to our society and our economy, but their families were making a huge contribution to their wider families back in their country of origin.

We know from other ethnic minority and minority religious groups in this country that sometimes events can be so significant—or, to use a rather overused word, so iconic—that they become catalysts for the radicalisation of a minority of their followers. Fortunately, there are few signs that this is happening in the Sikh community at the moment. However, there is a real danger that it could happen. As has already been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Singh, it is significant that the latest revelations have emerged in the 30th anniversary year, which adds great poignancy to our deliberations this evening.

I want to acknowledge the role that the Foreign Secretary has played in this matter: his clear commitment to transparency, the investigation that has taken place, his Statement and his commitment to the ongoing dialogue. It is important that that continues. Nevertheless, in this case there are reasons why we need some sort of wider inquiry into what went on. We need to ensure that if there are any other areas in which there was complicity, not least between our Government and the Indian Government, they should be acknowledged.

If we are going to claim the moral high ground of believing in open government, and if we want our Sikh brothers and sisters to know that they are fully part of our nation and their contribution is still valued, we need to take a further look at this issue and have some sort of wider inquiry. If we fail to do so and to do everything we can to address the serious concerns being expressed by all sections of the Sikh community—and they are widespread concerns—there is a real danger of long-term damage to our excellent and outstanding community relations that have been built up over such a long time. I hope that we can find some way forward to give deeper reassurance to our Sikh brothers and sisters.

Baroness Warsi: [extract]….The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans mentioned other operations. Operation Sundown was one to which I think he referred. The report states:

“Recent Indian media reports suggest the operational plan developed by the Indian interlocutors of the UK military adviser was called ‘Sundown’, and focused on detaining Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, the leader of the Sikh dissidents occupying Sri Harmandir Sahib. There is no mention of ‘Operation Sundown’ in UK files. Nor do those interviewed recall that name. Nor was the UK military adviser’s report of February focused on a ‘snatch’ operation. The plan it focused on was designed to re-establish control over the temple complex. It is, of course, possible that Indian planning went through several iterations after the UK military adviser’s visit and report”.


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