In 2005 Rajinder Singh made history by being the first non-white Briton to feature in an election broadcast by the British National Party. Ironically, he wasn’t even allowed to join the BNP, but he didn’t care. ‘I say adapt and survive and give the brave and loyal Rajinder Singh the honour of becoming the first ethnic minority member of the BNP,’ their communications officer wrote at the time. The party ignored that advice. Singh had developed a deep hatred for Muslims from India’s partition of 1947 when he blamed them alone for the violence and carnage that took place. ‘Britain had a role to play,’ he admitted to the Guardian in 2009, ‘but the violence [during Partition] sprang from the Qur’an. The Muslim answer to reasoned argument is knife, dagger and bomb.’
Such open displays of xenophobia aren’t frequent among British Sikhs, but scratch the surface and they can be found all too easily. As the BNP started faltering from 2008, the rise of the English Defence League (EDL) was similarly characterised by outreach towards Sikhs and Hindus. In 2010 an EDL rally featured a Sikh speaker called Guramit Singh, who told a reporter: ‘We’re not here to be anti-Muslim, anybody in the group who is anti-Muslim will be kicked out. We’re here to fight against Muslim extremism.’ But a trawl through his Facebook page found comments like: ‘the muzzies wanna keep away from me im just looking for an excuse im fucked off at the mo fuck the pakis. i just think we shud burn the cunts now!’ – and others in a similar vein. He claimed he had been provoked into them by death threats he had been receiving. Guramit Singh was eventually arrested by the police for religiously aggravated harm and later jailed for a robbery. But he was the first to publicly try and help the EDL broaden their appeal. In response some Sikh and Hindu groups released a statement in 2011 condemning any association with the EDL, but many Sikhs never really shunned the EDL as they were urged to.
Indeed, they were to be seen rubbing shoulders with the EDL in 2012 when tensions had flared up in Luton at the rumour that a Muslim man had abused a Sikh girl. The Mail on Sunday revealed that a secret meeting took place between some Sikhs and EDL leaders two days after the protest to discuss ‘acts of vigilantism’. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed after Sikh and Muslim leaders worked together to reduce tension. But the flirtation continued. The EDL even created its own ‘Sikh Division’ and it has over 12,000 Likes on Facebook. As recently as April 2015, the former leader of the EDL (who has several names including ‘Tommy Robinson’), was warmly welcomed on to the Sikh Channel for an interview. Astonishingly, he wasn’t asked about numerous examples of the EDL’s racism, but instead allowed to pitch for Sikhs to join his campaign against Muslims without challenge.
While most British Sikhs are unlikely to be seduced by such overtures, these episodes illustrate the dangerous actions of a loud minority. But the antics of this extremist community seldom get noticed in the British media. There is an implicit assumption that the Sikhs are a model minority that aren’t plagued by social ills or religious extremists like Muslims. Nor is there a regular slew of controversies to make it an ongoing worry.