4:54 pm - September 12th 2013
In January this year around 40 Sikhs attacked and vandalised a restaurant in Leicester, alleging that a young Sikh girl had been raped in a room above the restaurant. The police denied rumours and the allegations, and some of the attackers were prosecuted. But it later emerged that a group of men had used that room to exploit a vulnerable teenager for sex, repeatedly.
The Leicester case was a key part of a BBC1 report last Monday that British Sikh girls were being groomed for sex by gangs of men, primarily of Muslim background. The programme was horrifying and saddening to watch. Some of the girls, just barely teenagers, had been tricked by men pretending to be Sikh and then groomed until they were raped. In some cases they were drugged, photographed naked and then blackmailed into rape and abuse. It has caused a furore amongst British Sikhs and a worryingly large number say on public forums that they’re willing to take the law into their own hands to protect Sikh women, as the police are seen as ineffectual.
Nothing strains Hindu-Sikh-Muslim relations like seeing women of their religion being preyed on by men of other religions. Tensions between British Sikhs and Muslims are now at a new low, having come close to boiling point in several instances, most notably in Luton in late May. [Rumours quickly spread via forums like this: ‘Sikh Girl Dragged Into Wooded Area And Raped By Paki‘ – which was never confirmed.]
Right now even a small incident could quickly escalate into a full-scale riot involving hundreds of Sikh and Muslim men.
You can round up a 100 Sikhs in an hour if they’re told that a Sikh woman was abused by a Muslim man, but you won’t get even 10 if they’re told a Sikh man had abused her. The same goes for Muslims. Across the Sikh, Muslim and Hindu communities, men care more about the involvement of men of other religions than simply tackling violence against women. And this is the real tragedy because, even though they claim to be protecting women, the real agenda is plain old bigotry.
After the husband and mother-in-law of Sarbjit Kaur Athwal were found guilty of murder, her brother Jagdeesh Singh pointed out that Sikhs would rather not talk about social problems. In the communal riots that followed the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus raped women of other religions to exact ‘revenge’ because they think the ‘honour’ of a community is linked to the purity of women. The same attitudes manifest now in different ways.
Some uncomfortable facts
The report by Muslim Women’s Network this week, and by BBC1 last week, had a painfully obvious point to make: it isn’t just white and Sikh girls who are being failed by the system – Muslim girls face similar problems of grooming and sexual abuse.
And there’s another uncomfortable point – most abuse of women is committed by men known to them and of the same background. This is conveniently ignored by the white, Sikh and Muslim men who want men of other communities to point fingers at. Where are the Sikh vigilante gangs against honour crimes, domestic violence and rape perpetrated by Sikh men against Sikh women? These gangs don’t exist.
Why were the abused girls in the BBC1 report further stigmatised by their families and other Sikhs? One victim was warned by her mother not to tell anyone; another was banished to the United States to recover; the man from Sikh Awareness Society carelessly said: “We know that a girl who is tarnished with this kind of thing would never get married anyway.”
The focus on the religion of abusers is another way to say ‘rape by a Muslim man is worse than rape by a Sikh man‘ – which only makes the girl feel worse than she already does. Would it be better if she was raped by a Sikh or a white man?
Long, turbulent history
Sikhs and Muslims have a particularly tense history, some of it going back to when Sikhism was born in the 1500s. The ninth and tenth Sikh Gurus (the spiritual leaders and teachers) were pursued and murdered by Mughal emperors who wanted Sikhs to convert to Islam en-masse. Not all Mughal emperors were as tyrannical as Aurangzeb of course, but the Sikh psyche became wary of Muslims early on even as the Gurus relentlessly preached harmony and urged their followers to learn from Islam too.
The tension inevitably carried over to the UK. During the 80s and 90s, gangs such as the Chalvey Boys (mostly Muslim, based in Slough) and Shere Panjab (mostly Sikhs, based around Southall) clashed frequently, some times because of fights over inter-religious relationships. At universities mixed Sikh-Muslim couples kept their relationships quiet for fear of getting targeted by either gangs.
One particularly sore point was a leaflet from an extremist Muslim group (likely al-Muhajiroun) in Luton calling on Muslims to seduce Sikh girls into Islam. It became infamous even though it has never been reproduced since and was immediately condemned by Muslims imams then.
This urban myth about forced conversions has been aired in the press frequently by Sikh and Hindu groups. A couple of years ago the BBC even looked into allegations of forced conversions made by the Sikh Awareness Society and Hindu Forum , and asked them for evidence, but the groups couldn’t produce any.
So the allegations of grooming have to seen through this context; the past paranoia of many Sikhs feeds into the current debate even though the paedophiles aren’t even vaguely religious. It’s enough for some them that those being highlighted by the media (the same media Sikhs frequently accuse of sensationalism!) are Muslim.
What about the victims themselves?
There is another common thread among all the recent reports of grooming, whether of white, Sikh or Muslim girls: they have been failed by the police and social services. I’ve been writing on this topic for eight years now, and in every controversy this point crops up. In the the BBC1 report, the police only acted after the Sikh Awareness Society put together a dossier of evidence for them – fuelling sentiments with Sikhs that they have to take the law into their own hands.
We need a proper inquiry into why young girls across the country are being failed if they face sexual abuse even when the telltale signs are there. This should be a key concern among campaigners.
Secondly, there is now a danger that self-appointed ‘community leaders’ and vigilante gangs start acting as social workers rather than trained professionals. Furthermore, Muslim, Sikh and Hindu commentators say there should be ‘sensitivity’ when allegations emerge because the family unit should not be ‘ripped apart’. This is ridiculous and only makes social workers more worried about allegations of racism than focusing on protecting victims.
Thirdly, the biggest problem is the stigma and shame that Asians themselves promote in such cases. Making the issue about religion and race, mostly because people have axes to grind, increases the shame and makes girls feel worse. So does the unwillingness to talk about sexual abuse within Asian families or by religious preachers. When Gurpreet Bhatti wrote Behzti – many Sikh men were more interested in shouting her down than asking whether any women had indeed been raped at a Gurdwara (yes, they had).
We’re seeing people using the problem of grooming and sexual abuse to push their own agenda – like the English Defence League have been long doing. None of it is about helping the victims of abuse now or in the future.
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
· Other posts by Sunny Hundal
Story Filed Under: a) Section ,Equality ,Feminism
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- Liberal Conspiracy: Sikhs v Muslims: why the debate on grooming isn’t about the women themselves | moonblogsfromsyb
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[…] Sikhs v Muslims: why the debate on grooming isn't about the women … http://liberalconspiracy.org/Nothing strains Hindu-Sikh-Muslim relations like seeing women of their religion being preyed on by men of other religions. Tensions between British Sikhs and Muslims are now at a new low, having come close to boiling point … […]
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