An apology has been issued by the Metropolitan Police regarding policing tactics during a Sikh Lives Matter protest in London last month. A Met Commander admitted police actions had been "disrespectful" and it is believed an internal investigation has been launched into the matter.
However, following the apology, representatives of the Sikh community have expressed their disappointment that it did not cover the removal of a Sikh man's turban by police officers during the protest. Commander Mak Chishty apologised for the actions of a police officer breaking a Sikh flag and another incident where police officers removed Kirpans (ceremonial knives) from protesters during their arrest.
A spokesperson for Sikh Federation UK told IBTimes UK: "As far as the Sikh community is concerned an apology regarding the way the turban of a Sikh was disrespectfully thrown to the ground by a police officer is needed as soon as possible."
Members of the Sikh community convened with the Met on 28 October to voice their concerns over policing tactics during the protest, which took place on 22 October outside the Indian High Commission. Sikh representatives raised the issue of "heavy handed" riot tactics being used by the police during a peaceful demonstration. Many believe that the Indian High Commission pressured British authorities to "deliberately use excessive force" against protesters in light of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's upcoming visit to the UK. However, the Met allegedly denied the suggestion that external pressure had been placed on them.
It is also alleged that two Sikh media channels were threatened with arrest unless they handed over their equipment to the police. Journalists from Sangat TV and Akaal Channel claim to have had their filming equipment confiscated for one week. The Sikh community urged the Met to launch a formal investigation in addition to their internal investigation. They believe that the matter should be referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) or that the IPCC should be asked to oversee the internal investigation.
The Sikh Federation UK is also calling for formal disciplinary action to be taken against the officer who "deliberately disrespected the Nishan Sahib", officers who "did not follow orders" about the removal of religious items, the officer who removed the protester's turban, as well as any officers who are found to have "used excessive force" or "racially abusive" behaviour.
During the apology issued by the Met, Commander Mak Chishty said: "I would like to reassure our Sikh community that no disrespect or offence was ever intended and I apologise for any distress, hurt or offence that has been caused."
The protest in central London turned unpleasant when police clashed with demonstrators while attempting to break up a roadblock that had brought traffic to a standstill. One police officer suffered an injury to the head during an altercation and had to be taken to hospital. However, it is believed that all 20 protesters who were arrested have been released without charge. According to organisers of the protest, the Met have not ruled out the possibility that the injury could have been the result of a clash of heads with another officer or another officer's police baton.
The Metropolitan Police are yet to respond to IBTimes UK's request for comment on the allegations.
Significance of the Sikh turban
"The dastaar, as the Sikh turban is known, is an article of faith that has been made mandatory by the Sikh Gurus. It is not to be regarded as mere cultural paraphernalia. When a Sikh man or woman dons a turban, the turban ceases to be just a piece of cloth and becomes one and the same with the Sikh's head.
The turban as well as the other articles of faith worn by Sikhs have an immense spiritual as well as temporal significance. The symbolisms of wearing a turban are many from it being regarded as a symbol of sovereignty, dedication, self-respect, courage and piety, but the reason all practising Sikhs wear the turban is just one - out of love and obedience to the wishes of the Sikh Gurus."
- Davinder Singh, Advisor to the Sikh Federation UK