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Sikh delegations of UK, Australia armies attend controversial events: Report

Sikh delegations of UK, Australia armies attend controversial events: Report

The participation of official Sikh delegations of the Australian and UK armies in certain events have raised eyebrows in New Delhi, especially in view of India’s growing defence relations with both countries.

A delegation of 12 Sikh soldiers of the British Army visited a number of religious sites and historical monuments in Pakistan on June 28 under the aegis of the Defence Sikhs Network (DSN), an official UK armed forces organisation. The visit, under the name “Ex Nankana Pilgrim 2022”, was undertaken at the invitation of the Pakistan Army chief, Gen Qamar Bajwa.

The delegation – which was led by Maj Gen Celia Harvey, an army reservist who once contested elections as a Conservative Party candidate and is now Defence Champion for Sikhs in the Armed Forces – also interacted with Bajwa.

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Last month, several Indian Australians were disturbed by the participation of a Sikh contingent from the Australian Defence Forces in the Griffith Sikh Games in New South Wales as the event featured Khalistani banners, posters and flags. Several Australian Sikhs of Indian origin complained to the organisers of the games about the pro-Khalistan banners.

Following the controversy, an Australian defence spokesperson told The Australia Today that a “small group of Australian Defence Force (ADF) members” attended the event in Griffith and that their attendance “was not in any official capacity and there was no formal invitation to Defence to participate”.

“They had no prior knowledge of other groups attending the event, including political or separatist movements. The attendance of ADF personnel at this event in no way endorses any other group or organisation who may have also been in attendance,” the spokesperson said.

“While the attendance of the ADF personnel at this event was well-intentioned, it has identified some internal process issues around attendance at community events and a requirement for further awareness training, both of which are being addressed,” the spokesperson said, adding that the ADF is an apolitical organisation and its personnel are expected to remain impartial.

Some of the Indian Australians were irked as pro-Khalistan organisations used photos of Sikh ADF personnel to suggest they were aligned with the cause of an “independent Sikh homeland”, people familiar with the matter said.

The people further said the Sikh delegation from the UK armed forces visited Pakistan against the backdrop of reports of hate crimes against religious minorities, especially Hindus and Sikhs. The UK delegation visited Kartarpur Corridor, Allama Iqbal’s mausoleum, Gurudwara Darbar Sahib and Orakzai district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.

The Defence Sikhs Network (DSN), earlier known as the British Armed Forces Sikh Association, is an official UK armed forces organisation which acts as a focal point for serving Sikhs and their community.

Eyebrows have also been raised in New Delhi over a post by DSN on its Facebook page and Instagram account on June 6 that condemned the “loss of sanctity of Harmandir Sahib and the Akal Takht” in 1984.

“The month of June holds many painful memories for Sikhs across the world, as they remember the events of 1984, when the sanctity of many gurdwaras, not least the Harmandir Sahib & Akaal Takht, was so violently compromised. The DSN stands with the Sikh community in remembering the countless loss of life and recognise the ongoing trauma caused to many in the Sikh community and beyond since this time,” the post said.