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Jasveer Singh: Understanding The Rishmeet Singh Tragedy
The tragedy of Rishmeet Singh’s passing will have UK Sikh teenagers consciously or subconsciously seeking support, guidance, and protection during this crucial juncture for the Kaum.
December 1, 2021 | 5 min. read | Opinion
Rishmeet Singh was a 16-year-old boy and it is not yet a week since he was murdered. Some media called him Ashmeet.
The pain of his passing is still fresh and a statement like this can seem insensitive, but there is a message for the UK Sikh community in what happened to him that needs to be taken in.
The truth is we have had other Rishmeet Singhs, no matter which end of the spectrum you fall on in view of his passing.
The wars between predominantly Punjabi gangs of Canada aside, there are various examples of the Sikh diaspora falling foul to street crime in various ways across the world, and of course also in Punjab too. Despite this, it is important to outline two facts about Rishmeet Singh’s situation: he was not affiliated with any gang and his murder was, by all accounts, randomly targeted
Nevertheless, the tragic murder of Rishmeet Singh seems particularly significant. At the age of 16, to see a young dastaar-wearing Sikh boy murdered in Southall, arguably the capital of the Sikh diaspora, proves the community can no longer falsely claim to be untouched by the problem of deadly (knife-related) violence in the UK.
We have overlooked how ingrained this problem is in UK’s Sikh hotspots like Ilford, Handsworth, and Wolverhampton, among others. Only the sheer grace of The Divine has allowed us the fortune to deny this issue.
Ask anyone about growing up in Southall or the aforementioned towns, and they will agree that criminal activity and violence are common. For various reasons, Maharaj kirpa being at the top, this has not manifested in many Sikh teenage murders.
As someone that was born and raised in Southall myself, I look back and think about the fact that two of my close friends, both Sikh, were stabbed before we turned 18. I think that fights in which weapons were used were at one point seemingly a weekly occurrence in-and-around my circle of friends. How can I not think we were lucky no one was fatally hurt?
Singh became the 28th teenage victim of London’s knife-crime epidemic in what looks set to be a record-breaking year for it. The most teenage murders ever recorded in one year in London was 29 in 2008.
I was recently told in Southall street robbers have targeted the footwear of local kids, forcing some to embarrassingly walk home in their socks. A lack of police presence is partly why some youths may then choose to find their own way to protect themselves, whether that be through hanging out in groups or carrying a weapon.
This is no reason to label them when it is clearly a symptom of a larger issue.
The murder of 18-year-old Gurdip Singh Chaggar in Southall in 1976 was different in that he was attacked because of his physical identity as a person of colour and of course one that stood out even more as a Kesdhari. This understanding of why he was attacked saw the community mobilise and build a resistance movement of Southall locals willing to fight back against the racists and bringing young Sikhs into a more protective environment.
However, Rishmeet Singh’s passing seems to have prompted a more confused response among UK Sikhs.
The reason for this is that many teenage knife murders in London have been connected with the city’s gang culture. Mere seconds of Snapchat footage and a filthy rumour created a connection between Rishmeet Singh’s death and gang violence. Thus, there does not seem to be the mass mobilisation for protection of our youngsters which had happened after Chaggar’s passing.
Instead, there is judgment from many within the Sikh community regarding his passing, mostly from people who grew up in an era where camera phones were barely around, but still egotistically claim they would never have been acting up like many of the youth today do on social media, as a glance at snapchat will show.
Modern movements have educated the masses on the issue of victim-blaming, mainly in the context of sexual abuse. That concept should also apply to children like Rishmeet Singh.
Some people reacted to his murder as though it is an isolated incident borne from his own lifestyle. Others have balked at statements saying a lack of Sikh infrastructure lets our youth down. Yet for 50-odd years, towns like Southall remained a production line of misguided Sikh youth with miss-channelled energy. A significant number of said youth are those that turn into addicts or end up with criminal convictions or worse.
The irony is that many of those same people that survived brushing up against criminal culture are the ones taking time out to speak with the kids of Southall about what happened. Meanwhile, statements on the murder of a Sikh child from the dozens of Sikh organizations in the UK are conspicuous by their absence, never mind tangible actions, on ensuring this never happens again.
The tragedy of Rishmeet Singh’s passing will have UK Sikh teenagers consciously or subconsciously seeking support, guidance, and protection during this crucial juncture for the Kaum. The responses I have seen to his passing from so many makes me concerned that instead of offering those children the elder sibling love they need, what they are instead getting is judgment, which will only have them revert into their own circles even more.
There is no doubt that Sikh culture itself has definitely helped Sikh youths avoid the pitfalls of growing up in inner-city UK environments through an emphasis on work ethic, family Gurdwara visits, and support against poverty through practices like langar. This is despite Sikh establishments rarely providing consistent youth support (after-school clubs, sports facilities etc).
But we cannot take that for granted. And I worry the reaction to Rishmeet Singh’s murder shows we are doing exactly that.
Perhaps it is easier to blame a child rather than accept really all it takes is being in the wrong place at the wrong time and you can find yourself in a fatal circumstance. That is a terrifying thought for anyone.
Nevertheless, if we, the UK panth, do not now accept we are lucky we have not had more tragedies like the case of Rishmeet Singh and do something about it, we may find our luck runs out.
VaheGuru Akaal Sahai Rishmeet Singh
In response to the murder, Sikh Youth UK are starting weekly Friday evening community patrols to connect with locals.
SOUTHALL STREET PATROL - STREET PARCHAR
Friday Evening Local Southall Sikh Sevadars will be uniting to do a Street Patrol and Street Parchar this will be to help educate the Youth and parents in the community about 5 elements which are effecting our youth
Female Exploitation Culture
6:30-7:30pm Broadway/Lady Margaret
7:30-8:30 Southall Park
8:30-9:30 King Street
9:30-10:30 The Rec
To help support Rishmeet’s mother, visit the GoFundMe.
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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