Jasveer Singh: The Bloom Review Fails On Sikhs
"Sikhs around the UK believe that reports like The Bloom Review are in part driven by a desire from the UK government to build closer trade relationships with India."
April 28, 2023 | 5 min. read | Opinion
This week the UK government's Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities released its long-awaited report on religion, which has been described as one of the most comprehensive reviews on faith ever by the UK government. The Bloom Review was written by Colin Bloom, former head of the Conservative Party faith alliance group, the Conservative Christian Fellowship, and current government faith advisor.
His review included approximately 11 pages dedicated to the topic of “Sikh extremism,” which is questionably based on “the power struggle…over who will represent [Sikhs] at official levels” and “extremist fringe ideology within the pro-Khalistan movement.”
In comparison, the section on “Hindu Nationalism” was two paragraphs long and included no pull quotes from anecdotal community feedback, contrary to how the Sikh section was treated. The only other group to be tagged with the “extremism” label in the report was Islam.
It is important to note that unlike the presence of Hindutva (Hindu Nationalism) ideologies in Leicester's recent and unprecedented violent communal disorder, there are no comparable examples of “Sikh extremism” violence in the UK. It would seem evident that Hindu Nationalism and its threat to UK residents deserves far more scrutiny, especially when compared to the disproportionate attention given to Sikhs in The Bloom Review.
One of the biggest concerns regarding the report’s allegations about Sikhs and Sikh community dynamics is the sources cited. This includes referencing Wikipedia on three occasions about Khalistan. Citing Wikipedia is considered inappropriate for serious academic work and is seldom used in reviews like those similar to Bloom’s. Furthermore, Wikipedia has been noted by Sikhs for being inaccurate and biased on Sikh topics, often using, for example, Indian media articles as credible sources in attacking minority communities. India is ranked 150 out of 180 countries for press freedom, just above Russia and Afghanistan, and pro-Indian bodies commonly use disinformation networks to warp information.
The review also used two highly criticized reports concerning Sikh activism - the UK Counter-Extremism Government report on Sikh activism (2019) and Canada’s Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s “Khalistan: A Project of Pakistan.”
The 2019 UK report on Sikh activism was authored by journalist Sunny Hundal and Dr. Jagbir Jhutti-Johal. Hundal, who has limited engagement in the Sikh grassroots, has previously received criticism from UK Sikh organizations for hyperbolising “Sikh extremism.”
Dr. Jagbir Jhutti-Johal met with Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh just weeks before the 2019 report was released. Captain Amarinder has long been a fanatical voice against Sikh activism, underlined by his accusations towards Canada’s Sikh Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan. Amarinder has also supported the arbitrary incarceration of British Sikh political prisoner Jagtar Singh Johal, labelling the Scot “guilty” at a press conference before any trial began. The duo’s report was taken down by the government within 24 hours of its release before being amended and re-released. Bloom did not mention this in referencing the report.
The other report referenced by Bloom was written by Terry Milewski, a now-retired journalist most known for his racist titled “Samosa Politics” documentary on Canadian-Sikh political engagement in Canada. Milewski’s report was published by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an organization that also promotes trade between India and Canada.
As well as being condemned by over 50 Canadian scholars, and panned in Canadian media and policy spaces, the contents of the report became even more questionable after Milewski was forced to admit “he does not know whether Pakistan is involved” in the Khalistan Referendum, as he is now being sued by Sikhs For Justice for making the claim they are Pakistani funded.
The 50-plus scholars would state in their open letter that “as academics who work closely with the Sikh community, we are concerned to read a report that contains a litany of conclusory statements and allegations without any substantiation.” Bloom makes no references to these details in his Review.
The section on Sikhs also references events from outside the UK to bolster Boom’s various recommendations, regardless of how relevant they may or may not be. However, the section on Hindu Nationalists does not draw from global events in the same manner. The Hindu Nationalist movement is actively oppressing Sikhs and other minority groups, as is well documented by groups like the European Consortium for Political Research. Other relevant recent examples could have been addressed as well, like that of Hindu Nationalists attacking Sikhs in Australia.
There is also a lack of understanding of Sikh philosophy in the Review. Reverence for Shaheeds (martyrs) is a deep part of Sikh practice. For example, a memorial to Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale is at the Darbar Sahib Complex (Golden Temple). While the celebration of Shaheeds like Udham Singh is widely accepted and even covered favourably by the likes of the BBC, those associated with the Khalistan movement and fighting back against the Sikh Genocide are used as evidence of “promoting violence, including murder, as acceptable” by Bloom.
It is also remarkable that Bloom’s report fails to quote or cite the work of Dr. Jasjit Singh, a research fellow from Leeds University. Dr. Singh embarked on one of the largest community consultations ever for a 2018 academic report he authored on “Sikh Radicalisation in Britain.” The report found that although there were internal conflicts within the Sikh community, there was nothing to suggest a wider threat from so-called Sikh radicalisation. For some reason, the report was overlooked by Bloom, even though it was submitted by Dr. Singh as part of Bloom’s online call for evidence in the consultation period.
The Sikh leadership disputes, which are highlighted mainly from the perspective of Lord Singh of Wimbledon, frame alleged “bullying” as a problem of “Sikh extremism” as well. Lord Singh of Wimbledon has long been arguably the most prominent figure of UK government-Sikh political engagement. Many feel there should be a broader range of Sikh representatives the government engages with.
Bullying accusations fly in both directions within this dispute, with some political figures claiming they are berated for their (perceived lack of) engagement efforts, whereas others at a more grassroots level feel they are bullied through ostracisation and condescension when attempting to get involved in UK government engagement. To frame it as an extremism rather than an internal community issue around representation in advocacy work is odd, to put it kindly.
While we could continue with a line-by-line analysis of The Bloom Review, it is apparent to Sikhs that the foundational pieces of the report are faulty from the understanding of Sikh philosophy to the use of questionable sources.
Sikhs around the UK believe that reports like Bloom’s are in part driven by a desire from the UK government to build closer trade relationships with India. History has shown this to be the case, as it was when Margaret Thatcher’s government supported India’s attack on the Darbar Sahib Complex. SNP MP Martin Docherty-Hughes has been very vocal about his belief that India’s trade with the UK is why his constituent and British Sikh political prisoner in India, Jagtar Singh Johal is not being given more support by the UK.
There is also the ongoing fear of Indian interference in the affairs of the Sikh diaspora around the world, including in the UK.
Jasveer Singh hails from Southall, UK, and is the Senior Press Officer of The Sikh Press Association, a position he has held since 2015. In this role, Jasveer works across all sectors of media supporting Sikh organisations and individuals on Panthic endeavours. Jasveer previously worked as a freelance journalist which included stints with Sky News, Super Fight League, and more. You can find Jasveer on Twitter at @Jazzthejourno.
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