“I used to feel very safe in this country. Now, I am thinking to leave this country in two/ three years, I am thinking very seriously. In this country if I am not white, justice will not be served. Till 26 years I have never felt that but after attacks from my own community I feel the English government will only help its own.” — Interview with Sikh victim of pro-Khalistan extremism, London
The Sikh family in question spoke out against Khalistan at the beginning of this year on TikTok. They have since received death and rape threats and numerous attacks on their business. They now fear for their livelihood in the UK and their family’s safety. Directly across the road from their restaurant, where we sat and conducted this interview, is the Ealing council building, where the local authority’s counter terrorism personal, the Prevent team, sit. Their response and that of British policing is what has led a British Sikh family to no longer feel British.
Pro-Khalistan separatist extremism pertains to the Khalistan movement, a Sikh separatist endeavour seeking to establish an independent ethno-Sikh state known as Khalistan in the Punjab region of India. Some activists associated with this movement resort to terrorist tactics, with their most notorious act being the bombing of an Air India flight that resulted in the deaths of 329 individuals, marking Canada’s deadliest terrorist attack.
Those who speak out against pro-Khalistan separatism often face violent threats and abuse. Earlier this year, pro-Khalistan separatists stormed the Indian embassy, injuring two staff members. Colin Bloom’s report on faith for the UK government dedicated significant attention to the issue of pro-Khalistan separatism. During the report’s launch, he shared how a Sikh parliamentarian had tearfully described the misery inflicted upon him by pro-Khalistan extremists in the UK.
Bloom’s report highlights how extremist groups with deep connections to previously proscribed terrorist organizations have infiltrated the very core of parliamentary institutions, exploiting the pretext of human rights advocacy. This presents an unfamiliar challenge for counter-terrorism practitioners, who may struggle to comprehend the lesser-known forms of extremism and evolving landscape, especially given the prevailing lack of expertise among counter terrorism practitioners in the better known forms of extremism, as noted in the Prevent Review.
Indeed it was I, as a former Prevent practitioner (the preventative strand of the UK government’s counter terrorism strategy), that raised concerns with the local Prevent lead over the death threats being made to the Sikh family and their inability to return to their home and business. The concern was dismissed. It was asserted that the aim of the pro-Khalistan extremists is to influence Indian politics, not British policy, making it an ‘India problem,’ and therefore not something that fell within counter terrorism remit. Demonstrating a clear lack of understanding that this particular form of extremism is perpetuated, in the main, in the Western diasporas rather than in the Punjab itself.
Simultaneously the Sikh family I interviewed complain of a policing unit, only a few doors down from their restaurant, that were slow to respond, failed to install alarms in the timely manner promised and left them questioning whether the police themselves were complicit.
A worryingly confused understanding of terrorism from a front line counter terrorism practitioner and a police force that communicate a lack of confidence to act in keeping their community safe will not leave us in good stead as we inevitably see this threat develop. We are turning a blind eye whilst hate fosters and we are inadvertently encouraging victims to take action into their own hands
We need a deeper understanding and fast — the impending 2024 India elections will only see sub-continent conflicts play out with greater fervour on the streets of Britain. We need counter terrorism practitioners trained and we need both research and practical support afforded to Sikh youth. This is a radicalisation issue. The labelling of the threat against this British family an ‘Indian problem’ and Khalistan extremism the same, requires deep and urgent reflection, one we at the ICfS intend to lead on.
(The article was published on Hinduamerican.org on September 14, 2023 and has been reproduced here)