Influential Sikh youth group associating with far-right EDL founder Tommy Robinson

Sikh Youth UK accused of showing film on university campuses that 'propagates hatred towards Muslims'

Adam Lusher
Friday 10 November 2017 07:09 GMT
Sikh Youth UK has been accused of associating with EDL founder Tommy Robinson
Sikh Youth UK has been accused of associating with EDL founder Tommy Robinson

An influential Sikh youth group has been accused of associating with far-right English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson and allegedly acting to “propagate hatred towards Muslims”.

Sikh Youth UK has arranged for a film allegedly portraying Muslim men as predatory sex groomers to be shown at university campuses and Sikh community centres throughout the UK.

It has welcomed Tommy Robinson to one screening, prompting another Sikh group to say it is causing more concern than the Sikh branch of the EDL, because it is accepted within the community and therefore better able to influence it.

“We are very alarmed,” Balwinder Rana, founder of Sikhs Against The EDL, told The Independent. “By associating with the ex-leader of the EDL who is also a former member of the BNP, Sikh Youth UK is going in totally the wrong direction."

Mr Rana added that in his opinion, "people like Tommy Robinson only want to use the divide and rule tactic to turn Sikhs against Muslims".

The apparent warmth of the relationship between Mr Robinson and Sikh Youth UK was revealed when the group welcomed him to a screening in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, of its film Misused Trust.

After Mr Robinson told his 377,000 Twitter followers “Had an [sic] brilliant night in Huddersfield … Islam is targeting our children”, Sikh Youth UK replied: “It was great to have you … Thank you for your support.”

Mr Robinson has repeatedly publicised the work of Sikh Youth UK, writing on social media about “Sikhs raising awareness among their community about Muslim grooming gangs”, and telling his Twitter followers where they could buy a copy of Misused Trust.

For its part, Sikh Youth UK has sometimes publicised the activities of Mr Robinson, on one occasion announcing on its Facebook feed that the EDL founder would be appearing on a Sikh TV channel to “raise awareness of sexual grooming”.

Mr Robinson, 34, who founded the EDL in 2009 before leaving the street-protest group in 2013, has served time in jail for assault and has repeatedly been accused of stoking Islamophobia.

Immediately after the Manchester Arena attack he said the Muslim population of one area of the city contained “enemy combatants”.

Sikh Youth UK, which began as Sikh Youth Birmingham, has described itself as a “movement that seeks to empower and support Sikh Youth [and] to help prevent the use of alcohol and drugs”.

The group first came to national attention with protests against interfaith wedding ceremonies in Sikh temples.

It has now started to devote some of its energies to promoting what it has allegedly portrayed as the significant danger of Muslim men grooming young Sikh women so they can sexually abuse them.

Earlier this year it made the film Misused Trust, which it said would “help show the signs and tactics that are used to groom Sikh girls.”

The film tells the fictional story of a Sikh student preyed upon by a Muslim man who pretends to be Sikh in order to seduce her, then blackmails her into having sex with him and his friends.

After she is rescued with the help of a Sikh Youth UK member, the film also appears to show a group of Sikh men taking violent vigilante action against the Muslim groomers.

They beat up one man and bundle him into the boot of a car, before going to the groomers’ shared house armed with knives, a baseball bat and an axe to attack the Muslim men inside.

The film was condemned by Dr Katy Sian, an academic who has spent 10 years studying what she has called the “forced conversions narrative” - the idea that Muslim "predators" are lurking on university campuses ready to lure vulnerable Sikh females into Islam.

Dr Sian, a lecturer in sociology at York University, told The Independent: “This is a story that continues to circulate within the Sikh community.

“The film therefore acts as another vehicle to further propagate hatred towards Muslims. It is deeply problematic, and reinforces both Islamophobia and patriarchy within the community.

“If they [Sikh Youth UK] are aligning themselves with Tommy Robinson, this could be seen to demonstrate their extremist tendencies.”

The film is also currently being investigated by Ofcom, which received a complaint that it “advocated retaliatory violence as acceptable” and contained “potentially offensive” references to Muslims.

But Sikh Youth UK has succeeded in having Misused Trust shown all over the UK, especially at university Sikh societies.

Social media evidence would suggest the film has been seen and warmly received by students of at least seven universities including Brunel, Keele, Nottingham Trent, and Birmingham City University.

Dr Sian said: “What I found to be most disturbing was seeing young intelligent Sikhs saying ‘You should all watch this film.’

“These film screenings do not appear to have been challenged by Sikh student societies or the universities themselves.

“The irony is that universities claim to be complying with the Government’s Prevent policy when it comes to extremist content on campuses, but this case seems to suggest that when the perpetrator is non-Muslim, the same degree of scrutiny is not applied.”

Allegations about Muslim grooming also surfaced when Sikh Youth UK seemed to tie them – and London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s religion – to a dispute about Banghra dancing taking place at a mayoral event to celebrate the Sikh festival of Vaisakhi.

In a Facebook video, a leading figure in Sikh Youth UK, declared: “The Mayor of London [Sadiq Khan] is a Muslim – remember this – and now he's dictating … that we have Bhangra dancers, young girls dancing around, at our Vaisakhi [Sikh festival] events.

“How we stand up against grooming, how we stand up against these people who have been continuously doing this for generations … They are trying to target our sisters systematically and intentionally, to take them away from their Sikh roots …

“Today he does it at our Vaisakhi celebrations, he’s dictating what we do. Tomorrow he’s going to dictate what we do in our Gurdwaras [places of worship].”

Sikh Youth UK has also given awareness-raising talks entitled “Dangers in Modern Society” at venues across the UK.

A talk in Leicester earlier this month appears to have included a slide with the same wording as a headline that had appeared on the far-right website Breitbart: “6,000 child abuse allegations in Muslim grooming gang hotspot Sandwell in five years.”

The Breitbart story was based on a local newspaper report that did not refer to Sandwell as a “Muslim grooming gang hotspot”.

The 6,000 figure was for child abuse cases of all kind, not just grooming incidents

A separate story, in the Birmingham Mail, put the number of people identified as being at risk of grooming in Sandwell in 2012-13 at 35. Breitbart omitted to mention this figure, but quoted the Birmingham Mail’s other findings that police estimated that 75 per cent of known on-street groomers in the West Midlands were Asian.

Dr Sian said Sikh Youth UK’s apparent echo of the Breitbart headline was an example of how “incredibly flimsy evidence” was being used to “fearmonger and spread anti-Muslim hatred.”

She said she had never found a verified example of a Muslim man disguising himself as a Sikh in order to groom a Sikh girl:

“As part of my research I have engaged with police officers, and tried to locate Sikh women who have been subjected to this alleged treatment. No empirical evidence has emerged.

“So much around this story appears to consist of sensational rumours and hearsay. After publishing these findings, I have faced a torrent of abuse and trolling from members of my community.”

In 2013 four Muslim and two Hindu men were jailed in connection with the grooming of a “vulnerable and damaged” 16-year-old Sikh girl in Leicester (although it is not believed the men disguised themselves as Sikhs to trick their victim).

With many known incidents having involved white girls, the Leicester case was described in news reports as producing the first high-profile convictions for grooming a Sikh victim. But a BBC documentary reported that a Sikh group claimed to have investigated more than 200 reports of grooming in the UK, many involving Muslim men.

The BBC said there were no official statistics to verify this claim.

It offered the explanation that in an honour-based culture, people did not want to tell the police they or their daughters had been grooming victims, for fear of the news becoming public, “tarnishing” the girl and wrecking her chances of getting married.

The BBC also spoke to a man claiming to be a reformed ex-grooming gang member who said abusers saw Sikh girls as “easy targets” because they would be too ashamed to talk about what had happened to them, and "their parents would not even report it if they were to find out".

Dr Sian, however, said she did not buy the argument that widespread abuse of Sikh girls by Muslim groomers was going undetected by the authorities because of concerns about "honour".

She said: “I would never dismiss any claims of sexual violence, and understand the tremendous difficulties that all women face when reporting such sensitive issues to the authorities.

“However, to suggest this is simply about shame and honour is to play on outdated, cultural stereotypes of South Asian communities. If we are really led to believe that a daughter’s marriage prospects are seen to be more important than her safety and wellbeing, then we are pandering to frankly racist beliefs that Sikh parents are unfit.

“I do not believe that Sikh parents love or care for their daughters less than any other group of parents.”

She added that the main reason why the Sikh community have been receptive to tales of "forced" conversions and grooming by Muslim men is because of historic conflicts arising during the Mughal era, and more recently the 1947 Partition of India.

Stories about grooming, she said, provided “the perfect conduit for far-right figures to exploit animosities between Sikh and Muslims for their own racist agenda.”

Her fears were echoed by Mr Rana, of Sikhs Against The EDL, who said: “I would strongly advise Sikh Youth UK that Tommy Robinson is not a person they should be friends with. He is only using them.

“Sikh Youth UK is doing good work in some areas, but by associating with this character they are negating their positive achievements.”

He added that Sikh Youth UK had the potential to be far more influential than far-right groups like the Sikh Division of the EDL, which tended to have more white followers than Sikh and had never been accepted within the community.

He said: “What Sikh Youth UK is doing is in a way more of a cause for concern, because the people of the Sikh Division of the EDL were not based within the Sikh community, whereas this group is.

“And unlike the Sikh Division they haven’t totally sided with or joined the EDL. They [Sikh Youth UK] have only associated with [EDL founder and former member] Tommy Robinson, so people aren’t as wary of them.”

Sikh Youth UK declined to comment.

When news of the complaint to Ofcom first emerged, the film’s producer Kaldip Singh, of Birmingham, said it was a work of fiction which did not encourage violence of sectarianism.

He said the film was not suggesting people should take the law into their own hands or resort to vigilante action, explaining that a scene where people first went to the Police about the grooming was not included because “it would have included an extra £5,000 to make it.”

He told the Birmingham Mail: “Of course if the victim is underage or has been raped then they should go to police, but our experience shows that in the past the authorities have ignored the problem of Sikh girls being groomed by Muslim men in this country for more than 40 years."

The start of the film also included the disclaimer that it was a work of fiction and that: “Sikh Youth UK does not support, condone or encourage the use of drugs or violence. Scenes depicting such acts are included solely for entertainment purposes only.”

:: Two days after this story was published, The Independent received the following comment from Sikh Youth UK:

"Nine months ago Tommy Robinson covered a Sikh Youth UK (SYUK) event for news channel Rebel Media. He has also shown an interest in sharing our work in tackling issues around grooming gangs. This is no different from the kind of 'relationship' SYUK has established with journalists from the BBC and other news organisations. To be clear, SYUK is not in regular contact with Tommy Robinson, nor would we want to be.

"We have never advocated any of Tommy Robinson’s views on Islam, nor will we.

"The fact is that anyone who publicly states the commonly (but usually privately) held belief that grooming gangs are often produced from within the Muslim community is demonised. SYUK does not believe in sheltering truths of this nature. Our voice will not waver in the face of political correctness or of allegations of 'propagating hatred'.

"The film was based on real life events, detailed to us by girls we have supported as victims of sexual grooming. Because of self-admitted failures of our authorities to deal with grooming gangs, groups have taken issues into their own hands in the past.

"Whilst this type of vigilantism is something we do not condone, it is part of real life, which was documented in the film. The only thing we want is for sexual grooming gangs to be stopped. By being vocal about this and working closely with authorities we are able to stem any future instances of vigilantism.

"SYUK does not aim to spread fear, just awareness.

"There are literally hundreds of girls across the UK that have been victims of sexual grooming gangs made up either entirely or predominantly of Muslim men. Sikhs have been vocal about members of our community being targeted by such gangs for decades. However, we also say in our talks that this is something that shouldn’t stain the entire Muslim community.

"Those who suggest groomers have not pretended to be Sikh in order to entrap Sikh girls cannot claim to share the level of experience SYUK has in dealing with this issue.

"[In relation to the comments made about Sadiq Khan] As our social media shows, SYUK also openly condemns those of a Sikh background who involve non-Sikh practices in Sikh festivals."

Update 9 November 2017

The film Misused Trust was investigated by Ofcom, which received a complaint that it “advocated retaliatory violence as acceptable” and contained “potentially offensive” references to Muslims. The broadcasting watchdog has now concluded that the Sikh Channel, which broadcast the film, had not breached any of Ofcom’s codes, rules or regulatory requirements.

After Ofcom ruled on the broadcast of Misused Trust , Deepa Singh of Sikh Youth UK said: “Sikh Youth UK feel Ofcom finding Misused Trust did not breach any of their rules is only fair. Thousands of girls across the UK are victims of sexual grooming gangs. Sikh Youth UK released Misused Trust with the intention of highlighting just how easily this can happen."

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