Posts Tagged ‘Sikhs’

Deaths, Bedroom Tax & Feathers

Tuesday, April 6th, 2021

After a day resting and recovering from our 3 day walk along the Thames Path in 2013 I was ready to go up to London again on Saturday 6th April.

Sikhs had come to London at Vaisahki for a protest against the “ongoing and, disturbing atrocities that are being committed in the Republic of India, that, infringe the basic human rights of the minority communities, which includes but is not limited to the Sikhs, Christians, Muslims and Dalits (India’s untouchables).

In particular the Kesri Lehar (I Pledge Orange) campaign was protesting against the death penalty in India, with over 470 prisoners in Indian prisons on death row, though actual executions are rare. The House of Commons shortly before this protest had debated and agreed a backbench motion welcoming the Kesri Lehar petition and calling on India to abolish the death penalty.

One of those on death was Balwant Singh Rajoana, sentenced for his part in a suicide bomb attack which killed a former Chief Minister of Punjab, Beant Singh and 17 others in 1995. Sikhs say that Beant Singh was responsible for the extra-judicial killing of over 25,000 Sikh civilians in a brutal attempt to eliminate Sikhs calling for an independent state.

Balwant Singh Rajoana was sentenced to death in 2007 and was due to be hanged in 2012, but execution was stayed after some Sikh organisation appealed for clemency. But in 2013 there were renewed demands for his execution. This did not happen and in 2019 his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

Campaigners also called for the release of Professor Devender Pal Singh Bhullar who has been on death row in India for 18 years, for his alleged involvement in a car bomb in Delhi in 1993. They say there is no evidence to connect him with the attack. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in March 2014.

A rather smaller protest at Downing St had been organised by the Counihan-Sanchez Family Housing Campaign from Kilburn against the unfair Bedroom tax and benefit caps which are effecting so many people and called for the GLA to build more social housing. The family’s own problems with Brent Council have made them very aware of the huge problems faced by many others across London and elsewhere and how cuts and sanctions have had a cruel impact on so many.

Also at Downing St, members and supporters of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI) were calling for the UK government to support an enquiry into Iraqi attacks on Camp Liberty in Baghdad where its members are held. They had been given refuge in Iraq by Saddam Hussein and gave up their arms when the US invaded Iraq in return for US protection. But the US hand over control of their camps to Iraq in 2009 and there have been a series of attacks on them by Iraqi security forces sympathetic to Iran, with over over 50 being killed, more than a thousand injured and many arrests.

Later in 2013 the United States organised a move of the roughly 3,000 members of the group to a new base in Albania, providing a $20 million donation to the UN refugee agency to resettle them. The USA has continued to support them as a government-in-exile for Iran and they are also apparently supported by them in covert operations continuing in Iran against the current Islamic regime. There are groups of the PMOI and supporting organisations in a number of European Countries and the UK as well as in the United States, though they are generally thought now to have little support in Iran.

It was good to leave what had been rather intense protests and go on to something in a much lighter mood in Trafalgar Square. I think the first International Pillow Fight Day was in March 2008, when I photographed it in Leicester Square. In 2013 the event, organised by the urban playground movement, was taking place in 90 cities across 30 countries.

The aim of the event is to get people away from “passive, non-social, branded consumption experiences like watching television” and to consciously reject “the blight on our cities caused by the endless creep of advertising into public space.” The organisers hope this will result in “a global community of participants, not consumers.

The authorities frown on it, possibly as a subversive activity but perhaps because it makes something of a mess, as pillows inevitably break and feathers fly, leaving the ground covered with them after the event. Or perhaps they are just killjoys. Royal Parks police had prevented a fight in Hyde Park earlier in the day but the Heritage Wardens were overwhelmed by the numbers who had come to Trafalgar Square and were unable to stop. A small group of Westminster Council workers were standing on one edge ready to clean up afterwards.

The feathers and dust do make these events something of a health hazard, and it would have made sense to wear a face mask – but back in 2013 these were only seen on Japanese tourists. Probably a once a year exposure to dust and feathers isn’t a huge risk, but this year they did rather get down my throat and I withdrew once the air was thick with them, deciding I’d taken enough pictures.

Feathers Fly in Trafalgar Square
PMOI Protest Iraqi killings
No to Bedroom Tax & Benefit Caps
Vaisakhi “Save a Live” Vigil

Republic Day: 26 January 2011

Tuesday, January 26th, 2021

Republic Day has been celebrated in India on the 26th January since 1950, and marks the day in 1950 when the Constitution of India came into effect. India had gained independence on 15 August 1947, but that left the country as a British dominion, still under British Law and with King George VI as head of state. It took until November 1949 for the new constitution to be agreed, and the January 26 was chosen for its introduction as the Indian National Congress had declared it as Independence Day in 1929.

Along with Independence Day it is a day when there are often protests outside India House in London and on 26th January 2011, ten years ago today, there were at least two taking place. One called for the release of leading paediatrician and public health specialist Binayak Sen, a member of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties who has gained international recognition for his work in Chhattisgarh, India, where he “helped establish a hospital serving poor mine workers in the region, founded a health and human rights organization that supports community health workers in 20 villages.”

Dr Sen also criticised the Chhattisgarh state government’s atrocities against indigenous people fighting the handover of their lands for mining and their establishment of an armed militia, the Salwa Judum, to fight against the Naxalite (Maoist) rebels in the area, and was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment by a Chhattisgarh court for sedition and helping the Naxalites. His case and appeal attracted support from around the world including from 22 Nobel laureates who sent a letter to the Indian President and Prime Minister and Chhattisgarh state authorities asking for him to be allowed to travel to the US to receive the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights. Later in 2011 he was granted bail by the Indian Supreme Court.

Also protesting outside India House were Kashmiris and Sikhs calling for the freedom for their nations which has been denied by Indian military repression. Kashmir is one of the oldest countries in the world, dating back to the Iron Age and became a Muslim monarchy in 1349, was later a part of the Sikh empire but was established later as a kingdom under British guidance. At partition the ruler ceded the country to India against the wishes of the majority of its inhabitants for military protection after Pakistan invaded the country, which is now in three parts, under military rule by India, Pakistan and a small part China.

The Indian administered area, known as Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh had limited autonomy which was revoked on 5 August 2019 and has a huge occupying force accused by human rights organisations of imposing strict military law in a systematically brutal fashion, with deaths during interrogation of suspects, detention without trail, censorship, arson, beatings, rape, mass murder, and tortures of all kinds.

It was a busy Wednesday, with other protests taking place, including a student day of action against fees and cuts, including the loss of the Education Maintenance Allowance which has allowed many 16-18 year olds to remain in education. Axed in England it is still available in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Unfortunately although there had been publicity about students walking out of schools and college there was very little information available about the protests they might attend, and only perhaps qa hundred made their way to the rally in Trafalgar Square.

After some speeches there was a discussion about what to do next, and most of those present decided to join the NUJ demonstration outside Bush House against the savage cuts announced by the BBC for the World Service broadcasting, with up to 650 job losses, switching off of radio services and the complete loss of services in 5 languages. This was particularly convenient for me as I was also going to join this protest as a member of the NUJ – and it was just a few yards from India House were I was going to photograph other events.

More at:
Release Binayak Sen Now
Free Kashmir & Khalistan
Save the BBC World Service
Student Day of Action


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.