Sikhs who staged a protest over a mixed marriage inside Leamington and Warwick’s temple said they are heartbroken after being portrayed as ‘terrorists’ and ‘extremists’.
And they said further and much larger protests may follow. They are also demanding answers from the police, who sent armed officers to arrest 55 protesters at the Gurdwara Salib in Tachbrook Road on Sunday in a dramatic day that featured across the national media.
Officers said they had reports that the protesters were carrying weapons, although they later reported that all but one of them were in fact ceremonial knives carried by Sikhs.
As the Courier went to press, 54 of the 55 arrested had been released on bail until October, pending further investigations.
The Gurdwara Sahib Leamington and Warwick committee said the protesters forced their way through locked door and “occupied” the temple in an “intimidating” way.
But Sikh Youth UK, who staged the protest, said it was a peaceful protest against the fact that the Leamington committee was “ignoring the ruling of the Akal Takaht which is binding for all Sikhs” by allowing the inter-faith marriage to take place at the gurdwara.
Dr Gurmit Singh, Dharminder Singh Sanghera, S Sanghera and Kamaljit Singh Dhillon - speaking on behalf of some of the Leamington congregation - said they agreed with Sikh Youth UK. They pointed out that inter-faith marriages are allowed but must be conducted to an agreed Sikh process, something they said their own committee is ignoring.
They said: “The committee knew what they were doing by having the wedding there. They put on security on the advice of the police because they knew there would be protests - and so did the police, so why did they react in the way that they did? What we want to know is why the reaction by the police was so severe. It was portrayed as being about blades and hostages. There were no weapons there - just the ceremonial blades.
“We’ve had protests before and they knew what was going to happen.
“It was heartbreaking that we were portrayed as terrorists and extremists when all they were doing was peacefully protesting.
“This could have been a much bigger protest. There are more similar weddings planned here and I think the protests will be much bigger in the future.”
The group said that the only signs of anger were from the committee - but the committee had a very different take on events, claiming that the protesters were hostile.
They said: “First and foremost we would like to apologise to the people of Leamington and Warwick for the disruption leading from events which unfolded at our Gurdwara Sahib on Sunday September 11.
“We never expected to have a forced entry by a group of over 50 people from outside the Leamington and Warwick area with their faces covered at 6.45am with the intention of taking over our Gurdwara Sahib by forcing their way in through the locked front doors and occupying parts of the building.
“Their intentions were to stop an inter-faith marriage that was to be held between a Sikh girl and a Hindu boy. They were intimidating and using abusive and foul language to our elders of the community. We are here to serve our community in the best way we are able to by consulting with authoritative Sikh organisations, namely Gurdwara Council which is a national body, and the Akall Thakht Sahib.
“If this group has extreme views on marriages they need to do this in a lawful way, not covering their faces and dictating what should happen within the Gurdwara Sahib. As we have stated, this is a matter for the police. From a Leamington and Warwick Gurdwara Sahib perspective, we live in a very pleasant town with a multi-cultural outlook which has helped us live peacefully for many years. A group such as this will not spoil our relations with any person, whatever their creed, colour or race within our Leamington and Warwick community or further afield.”
Sikh Youth UK said its protest was entirely peaceful and it is demanding to know why armed officers were called and arrests made.
The group said: “Local Sikh youth attended the early morning prayers at the Gurdwara and began a sit down peaceful protest by reciting prayers. Seeing that the youth were traditionally dressed and carrying their Kirpans, as Sikhs all over the world do, the committee called the police and falsely reported that “armed men” had taken over the gurdwara.
“This kind of behaviour alienates Sikh youth from trusting such gurdwara committees’ ability to resolve the issue an amicable and mature way.”