Mankamal Singh: The Extraordinary Case Of The West Midlands Three

The horrific treatment of Jagtar Singh Johal and the West Midlands Three is being interpreted as a "diplomatic gift" from the UK to India to boost post-Brexit trade relations

Mankamal Singh
September 25, 2021 | 6 min. read | Opinion

Leading British human rights lawyer Gareth Pierce’s opening words to the public eagerly awaiting news of the West Midland Three extradition trial outside the steps of the Westminster Magistrate Court on September 22, 2021, continue to reverberate.

“It is an extraordinarily serious matter that a [Indian] Government, knowing that the evidence it has, can go against three men in another country with the hope to obtain their extradition to India”  

This past Wednesday will be a date that is forever etched into British Sikh history, standing proudly alongside dozens of other mass community campaigns over the past 70 years.  What happened on September 22 is a grassroots campaign that unified the hearts and minds of the Sikh community with surprisingly little support from the mainstream.

One would think that the raw and real story of the West Midlands Three had all the ingredients needed for mainstream media coverage. 

Fabricated evidence, political collusion, misuse of police powers, Home Office intrusion, attacks on civil liberties, abuse of executive power, foreign interference, large protests, and Gareth Pierce’s damning statement.

Yet there was minimal mainstream attention. Whatever little coverage was given by the BBC or local Midland’s media was marred by a lack of depth, context, and even accuracy.

As we continually battle with what has now been accepted as an inherent and default lack of interest or sympathy for Sikh human rights Issues in the British mainstream, a behaviour stemming back decades, we are thankful for the independent Sikh media which provided dedicated focus and authentic reporting of the extradition trial. 

If the mainstream had followed this story they would know it actually starts on December 14, 2020, when Dominic Raab, former British Foreign Secretary, visited India. 

His visit coincided with the ongoing Farmers’ Protest – one of the largest protests recorded in human history. The protest centres around the Indian government’s imposition of laws against the interests of India’s farming communities. 

The violent suppression of the protesters in India led many in the Sikh diaspora to raise their voices in support. If the Indian government could not tolerate peaceful protest without resorting to abuse, the diaspora would raise awareness in their respective countries. The protest within India and around the world was quickly becoming the biggest challenge yet faced by India’s hard right Hindu nationalist governing party – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Dominic Raab returned to Britain on December 18, 2020. 

In the early hours of December 21, 2020, three-family homes were raided by West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit officers. The police smashed through the front doors of these homes in full riot gear. These were homes inhabited by families with young children. Three British-born Sikh men were arrested and transported to London to be told they would be facing extradition to India for the alleged murder of a senior RSS member that took place more than a decade ago and for which they had been previously investigated by British police and released without charge.

These raids were not the result of new evidence or any ongoing investigation on the part of the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit or West Midlands Police. 

What emerges more clearly on September 22, 2021, the day of the trial, as a result of  Gareth Pierce’s full statement, was that these raids actually originated thousands of miles away in India on the basis of shoddy and bad faith Indian state intelligence and directions. 

What the Indian Government did not tell the British courts was that there had already been trials on this alleged murder case with other suspects in India over many years in which they had all been acquitted. The judgments in those cases even said that the same evidence produced, again and again, had been fabricated, witnesses were coerced and they also did not say what the prosecution claimed they had said.

In the poignant words of Gareth Pierce:

“How can it be that the prosecutors can try and try and try again on the same discredited evidence? In some ways, it’s a disappointment that this case has finished in this court without the defence evidence being heard”

Edward Fitzgerald QC, representing one of the three West Midlands Sikhs, said the extradition request was "made on the basis of wholly unsubstantiated allegations".

The extradition trial had but one motivation, the Indian government’s desperation to silence dissent amongst human rights activists in the UK who continue to expose the criminal excesses of the Indian state. However, the open collusion of the British Government once again demonstrates the challenges which Sikh community activism in the UK has faced for the past three decades.

The timing of the raids also spoke for itself, as did the manner in which the police acted, choosing a theatrical, dawn raid when there was no urgency or suggestion of any current or otherwise unlawful activity, unnecessarily terrifying the families involved.

At the trial, District Judge Michael Snow questioned why Home Secretary Priti Patel in December of 2020 had certified the extradition request and ordered a judge to issue arrest warrants.

Strong calls for Priti Patel’s resignation are gaining momentum within the UK Sikh community. Bhai Amrik Singh, the Chair of the Sikh Federation (UK) released the following statement

“This was an entirely politically motivated course of action for which Priti Patel must be held to account. She certified the extradition request and ordered the arrest of the three British Sikhs without any new evidence that would stand up in a British court.”

The Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for British Sikhs, Preet Kaur Gill, has now written to the Home Secretary demanding answers to concerns that an extradition request had been certified despite multiple previous investigations and no credible new evidence.

The world story of the Sikhs is readily put forward as a success story of assimilation and integration. Sikhs by their very spiritual, ethical, and moral nature will co-exist and build a better surrounding wherever they go. 

The reality of the past few years, with the incarceration of British born Jagtar (Jaggi) Singh Johal in India and disinclination by the Foreign Secretary to engage with the family, demonstrates the current Conservative Government has come to believe that those who advocate for Sikh rights are a fringe that can be persecuted without fear of a community backlash. 

The horrific treatment of Jagtar Singh Johal and the West Midlands Three is being interpreted as a "diplomatic gift" from the UK to India to boost post-Brexit trade relations. This is not the first time that British Sikhs have felt that they can be used by the Government as a political pawn with impunity

In November of 2017 a powerful 56-page report titled ‘Sacrificing Sikhs’ was published with extensive research commissioned by the Sikh Federation (UK) and written by Phil Miller. The report highlighted that British involvement in India's repression of Sikhs during the period of 1984 went much further than the UK government has ever officially acknowledged. 

As Sikh activism and campaigning in the UK approaches yet another turning point, we see an increasing aesthetic portrayal of “Anglo-Sikh” relationships with war memorials being dedicated to tens of thousands of Sikh soldiers who served and died for Britain during the two world wars. The question that therefore arises is that in this 180-year-old relationship, who really benefits and who is continually being sacrificed.

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Mankamal Singh is a London born Sikh who is an advisor to The Sikh Network and has served on the Sikh Council UK, local Gurdwara committees and several public committees. You can follow Mankamal Singh on Twitter at @MankamalSingh.


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