British-Sikh groups have condemned the arrest of 55 people who were protesting at a Gurdwara (Sikh temple) in a row over inter-faith marriages in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire on 11 September. The protest and subsequent arrests have reignited a debate among the Sikh community about mixed marriages in Gurdwaras.
Warwickshire Police confirmed that the group of "masked men" were arrested on suspicion of aggravated trespass and were carrying weapons, many of which were ceremonial knives.
The incident at Tachbrook Drive began at around 6.45am on Sunday and lasted for eight hours.
Former treasurer Jatinder Singh Birdi confirmed that a wedding between a Sikh and a non-Sikh was due to take place when the men staged the protest against the ceremony and condemned the demonstrators for "lack of respect".
British-Sikh organisations have thrown their support behind those who staged the protest, noting that their objections to the interfaith marriage were "justified".
Gurjeet Singh from the Sikh Federation UK said that while a Sikh is free to marry a non-Sikh, he does not believe this should be done through a Sikh religious ceremony in a Gurdwara.
The Sikh Federation UK has also condemned what they say was "over reaction" by the police to a peaceful protest and have demanded an apology. They have also accused the Leamington Gurduwara management of providing "false and fabricated information" to the police in order to have the wedding protesters arrested.
"The Sikh community has concluded that Warwickshire Police overreacted by unnecessarily deploying armed officers," Singh told IBTimes UK. "The police should either apologise to the Sikh community for the disproportionate response or take strong action against those who provided false information and wasted police time and resources by exaggerating the seriousness of the situation."
A group called Sikh Youth UK has confirmed that their members carried out a "peaceful protest in objection to an interfaith marriage" at the Gurdwara. They noted that the Sikh Council UK had approved a resolution last year that Gurdwaras will no longer offer Sikh marriages for interfaith couples and accused Leamington Gurdwara of being a "rogue Gurdwara".
Superintendent David Gardner said that armed police officers were deployed as "precaution" due to reports that the protesters were carrying bladed weapons, which were initially not thought to be ceremonial Kirpans carried by Sikh men. He confirmed that that the incident had been contained and that it was an "escalation of a local dispute".
Superintendent Gardner said: "It became apparent that there were 55 masked men involved, all of whom were arrested on suspicion of aggravated trespass. Blades seized so far have been ceremonial. Another non-ceremonial weapon was seized."
Warwickshire Police has said that the investigation is ongoing and that they will be looking into the initial reports of other weapons being involved.