Asian vs Asian as `Khalistan' row strikes UK

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The Independent Online
By Palash Kumar

After years of combating prejudice and racial violence, an ugly new phenomenon has struck the Asian community in Britain - Asians have begun fighting among themselves.

Friction between India and Pakistan over attempts by Sikhs to create Khalistan, a separate homeland for themselves in the Indian state of Punjab, is being used by Sikh and Muslim youths as a reason to foment violence in Asian-populated regions to the west of London. The Sikhs accuse Pakistan of abandoning them in their struggle to win independence from India.

In one of the most violent clashes within the Asian community in recent times, an angry mob of 100 Sikh youths from Southall last week attacked a dozen Muslim houses in Slough in the middle of the night, smashing windows and walls with sticks, hammers and stones.

Most victims claim the incident was a direct fallout of the conflict in the sub-continent. It has sent shock waves across the two million-strong Asian community in Britain and police fear this could trigger off a new trend in ethnic violence.

"It's nothing but Khalistan versus Pakistan," says Khadam Hussain who comes from Pakistan and has been living in Slough for 30 years. "The Sikhs think we didn't help them in their war of liberation of Khalistan and they now want revenge."

But Barkat Hussain, 67, denies that the violence had anything to do with the sub-continent. "This is not a question of community, religion or nation. These are just a bunch of irresponsible kids."

A respected figure in Chalvey, a Slough suburb, Mr Hussain, who left Pakistan 36 years ago to escape riots and poverty, recounted last week's events.

"It was the most horrific sight I've ever seen in England," he said. "I was returning home with my son at around midnight. As we crossed the Crescent [a local road], I saw a mob of about 100 Sikhs, dressed in black, throwing stones and sticks at houses and cars and shouting filthy abuse. We saw the crowd rushing into the Crescent and vanish into the darkness. All we could hear was breaking glass and abuse."

While the Khalistan-Pakistan row may have raised the temperature, provocation from both the communities is a regular feature. Typical is the graffiti on a Slough wall, where the crescent moon and star of the Pakistani flag has been painted over with the slogan "Sher-e-Punjab" - the name of a gang of young Sikhs from Southall, say police, who keep coming to create trouble.

Their rival gang, the Chalvey Boys, comprises Muslim youths from local schools and colleges. Over the years, the two gangs have clashed violently in Slough and Southall and such clashes are almost always preceded by provocation on religious lines.

"On Baisakhi day [the Sikh holy festival], the Sikh lads tell the Muslims not to go in front of their temple," says Barkat Hussain. "They also come to Slough and wave the Khalistan flag about. And on Eid day [the Muslim festival] the Muslims prevent the Sikhs from walking in front of the mosque, and wave the Pakistani flag in Southall."

His concern is that the current tension may escalate into a much broader conflict between the two communities as a whole.

Southall's Labour MP, Piara Khabra, dismisses Khalistan as a factor. "These clashes have nothing to do with Khalistan. So long as provocative acts from Pakistanis like waving their flag in Southall during the Sikh religious festival continue, there is little hope for peace," he says.

Slough shopkeeper Mohammed Basharat is convinced there will be a backlash. "There will be retaliation. I have heard rumours that the boys will go back [to Southall] and take revenge."

The streets of Chalvey are calm enough at the moment. Last week as Barkat Hussain went from house to house campaigning for his son Mazhar, standing in the local elections, he recalled why he left Rawalpindi with 1,700 rupees and a dream of a prosperous future in England:

"We left our country for money and for respect. We left to escape the horrors of riots - not to witness the same madness all over again in a foreign country. I hope God will give them sense."

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