Militant Sikh clashes ‘may happen in Midlands’
May 31 2009 by Fionnuala Bourke, Sunday Mercury
A FATAL gun attack by militant Sikhs at a rival Austrian temple could easily have happened here in the Midlands, a community leader warned last night.
Davinder Parsad said tensions between so-called low-caste and mainstream Sikhs had been increasing in the region in recent years leading to a number of violent incidents.
“We are just lucky something similar has not happened here. This should serve as a wake-up call to the authorities.” said Mr Parsad.
One man died and 17 people were injured after six gunmen stormed the packed Shri Ravidass Sabha temple during a service in central Vienna last week.
The temple serves low-caste, or Dalit Sikhs, who follow the teachings of a 14th century saint called Ravidass whose writings are also included in the Sikh holy scriptures.
The Midlands is home to the biggest Ravidass community outside India with some 80,000 followers and several temples in the region.
Mr Parsad, general secretary of Coventry-based pressure group Castewatch, said Ravidass followers were increasingly being intimidated and discriminated against by fellow Sikhs from the Jat caste.
Now he is leading a campaign for a change in British law to legislate against caste discrimination making it a criminal offence.
He said: “Caste discrimination is a big problem which has largely been ignored. Most people equate it with Hinduism but it is rife in Sikhism despite going against the core teachings of the Sikh Gurus.
“We have had incidents at our temples where fundamentalists have come in and tried to dictate what we can and can’t preach.
“We are peace-loving people but sometimes you have to make a stand before matters escalate like they did in Vienna.”
His fears were echoed by former Handsworth police superintendent David Webb who now works and advises the Ravidassis and other so-called low-caste South Asian communities in the Midlands.
He said: “I never thought the caste issue would become as bad as it is getting now. Even British-born second-generation Sikhs are having issues over it and the authorities here need to take notice.
“I have been called out countless times to mediate in disputes between different castes and I have tried my best to get everyone round a table to discuss these issues.
“But caste discrimination is a very deep-rooted prejudice that can’t be resolved overnight.”