Sikh man defamed for exposing racism at Sikh temple (UK)
Leicester (United Kingdom): In the Birmingham High Court, a defamation claim was submitted against Ajmer Basra and Amrik Gill, who are charity trustees of the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple in Leicester. The Claimant, who is a Temple member named Onkar Thandi, claims the trustees defamed Onkar on YouTube, Facebook and in two national Punjabi newspapers, because Onkar had publicly exposed that racism was practiced and condoned at the Temple.
The Sikh custom of serving Langar
All Sikh temples follow the custom of serving ‘Langar‘ (free food) to eligible visitors, without discrimination. Onkar clarifies, “Racial discrimination is not unlawful at a place of worship in the UK, but it’s unacceptable at a Sikh temple, as it contradicts the key Sikh teaching of ‘equality’, and it breaches Articles 5(m) and 21 of the Sikh Code of Conduct“.
The Temple attracts non-Sikh visitors
The Temple’s provision of Langar often attracts White, Black and Hindu visitors, who are vulnerable, needy and homeless. Non-Sikh visitors are allowed to have Langar, provided they are modestly dressed, sober, cover the head, remove shoes and behave respectfully.
The trustees condoned racism at the Temple
Onkar claims, “Between early 2015 and September 2016, the trustees condoned racism at the Temple, by ignoring verbal complaints, a complaint letter, an online petition and four newspaper adverts, about Temple employee Joginder Singh, who frequently mistreated non-Sikh visitors and refused to serve Langar to eligible non-Sikhs”.
Joginder mistreated non-Sikh visitors
Onkar explains, “Joginder often snatched plates from eligible non-Sikhs and told them to go away, he wrongly accused non-Sikhs of stealing or wasting Langar, he served one chapatti to non-Sikhs, when it’s the norm to give two, and he even served stale chapattis to non-Sikhs, to discourage them from visiting the Temple”.
Petitioners shared their observations
- ‘Joginder refused Langar to my wife, our 6-year-old daughter and me. We complained…but the committee is [the trustees are] useless’ (Amit Anand).
- ‘Joginder is very rude. I witnessed him refusing food to a White lady; he said ‘get out’ to her. When we told the committee [the trustees], they said whatever Joginder does is not our business’ (Juhi Kaur).
- ‘I have witnessed Joginder’s behaviour…you can’t treat people like that. Glad someone’s taken a stance against him’ (Harpal Rajput).
- ‘I’ve seen what Joginder has done, he has hurt many people’ (Balwinder Kaur).
- ‘Joginder had been warned by the previous management committee [previous trustees], but he carried on refusing Langar and being rude to worshippers’ (Former Temple-trustee, Sulakhan Singh Dard).
The ‘White man incident’
Onkar adds, “In 2015, when a White man complained about stale chapattis causing him stomach problems, Joginder argued with him and told him that he’s permanently banned from the Temple, despite Joginder not having the authority to ban him. The White man cried, “I’m sorry, please don’t ban me”, but Joginder threatened to call the police, which caused the White man to stop attending the Temple.
The ‘Hindu woman incident’
In early 2016, Joginder rudely refused Langar to a Hindu woman, by telling her that the Temple “isn’t a restaurant”, which made her cry. This incident was reported to Amrik, who saw the Hindu woman crying, yet he carelessly responded, “You [Onkar] serve her then”, instead of disciplining, or removing Joginder from serving Langar.
The ‘White woman incident’
On 1st July 2016, Joginder called a homeless White woman a “dirty woman”, and told her that he doesn’t respect her, which made her cry and inspired me to film the incident on my phone. My video shows Joginder panicking and switching off the lights, before he lies twice and hides in a room. As we [the petitioners] were tired of complaining [to the trustees], I uploaded the video onto YouTube to expose the fact that racism was still being practiced and condoned at the Temple.
The trustees harassed and slandered Onkar
My video proved that Joginder was guilty, but instead of terminating his employment, the red-faced trustees harassed me during a one-hour meeting, at which I was physically threatened, and then they told Temple visitors that I was a troublemaker, who’d hired the White woman to ‘set up’ Joginder, due to a personal grudge over a winning lottery ticket, which is complete nonsense.
The trustees defamed Onkar to thousands of Sikhs
In July 2016, the trustees defamed me on YouTube, in a nonsensical video, in which they absurdly accused me of “increasing racism” towards Sikhs. They also published an official statement on the Temple’s Facebook page and in two national Punjabi newspapers called the ‘Des Pardes’ and the ‘Punjab Times’, in which they defamed me to thousands of Sikhs”, through dishonestly stating:
“By presenting…video footages [Onkar’s video]…they [the petitioners] seek to foment disharmony, create tensions, disrupt the peace within the Gurdwara [Temple]…we [the trustees] believe that innocent members of the public have [Joginder has] been ‘set up’ to cause problems. It is not without coincidence that someone [Onkar] is at hand to shoot videos of scenes in the Langar Hall [of the ‘White woman incident’]…they [the petitioners] not only bring shame and disrepute upon this Gurdwara [Temple] but also to Sikhism” and “upon themselves by behaving in such fashion”.
The trustees defended the racist Joginder
Onkar argues, “Joginder had been the subject of year-long verbal complaints, a complaint letter and a growing online petition. Plus, the White woman in the video identified Joginder as the culprit, before he proved his guilt, by behaving suspiciously and lying twice, all of his own free will…so how could he be innocent? Obviously, the trustees defended the racist Joginder and attacked the righteous petitioners, to cover-up racism and their gross mismanagement of the Temple”.
The trustees ruined Onkar’s reputation and caused unwarranted harassment
Onkar clarifies, “Before all of this happened, I was well known to the congregation, as I’d visited the Temple on a daily basis, over a six-year period. Also, in 2012, I helped the police to catch a mugger, who’d attacked a pensioner near the Temple, which was reported on the front-page of a newspaper and I was given a Certificate of Commendation, a £300 award and a Detective Superintendent’s Certificate, so the congregation used to respect me.
However, the trustees’ slander and defamation ruined my reputation, because everyone started seeing me as a troublemaker, who’d hired the White woman to ‘set up’ Joginder, over a lottery dispute, which turned many congregation members against me, who then harassed, physically threatened, insulted, ridiculed and bullied me to the point that I had to stop attending the Temple, all of which will be evidenced to the court.
It didn’t stop there, over the past year, my Sikh friends in Leicester have stopped talking to me, I’ve been harassed by misled Sikhs on numerous occasions, I’ve stopped attending Sikh events altogether, and I only visit Sikh temples at the least busy times of the day to avoid confrontations, all of which, has negatively affected the quality of my life”.
The Charity Commission had failed to take action
Onkar states, “As the Temple is a UK registered charity [number 254837], on 1st August 2016, I submitted a serious complaintto the Charity Commission, which regulates charities in the UK. Irresponsibly, the Commission failed to take any action, which is unacceptable, as I’d provided sufficient information about the trustees acting against the Charity’s objective, harming charity beneficiaries, damaging the Charity’s reputation and engaging in illegal activities, so the Commission should have investigated my complaints”.
The trustees still refuse to resign
Onkar alleges, “Despite being aware of their misconduct and mismanagement of the Temple, the trustees still refuse to resign, which proves that they are power-hungry individuals, who only care about retaining their positions [as trustees], not about Sikh teachings, Sikh customs, the welfare of the congregation, or the Temple’s reputation”.
Onkar was ‘ordered’ to take legal action
Onkar states, “Earlier this year, considering the serious harm to my reputation, combined with the fact that I continue to be shunned by the Sikh community, I’d thought about moving from Leicester, but before doing that, I requested a series of ‘Hukamnamas’ [Commands] from ‘Guru Granth Sahib Ji’ [the holy book of the Sikhs, revered by Sikhs, as the living embodiment of the Sikh Gurus], who ultimately ordered me to stay, and to take legal action against the trustees.
Although, I don’t have any legal qualifications, I have personally prepared the claim documents, and I will be representing myself at court. My original Claim Form and Particulars of Claim were struck out for justified reasons, so I had recently submitted amended versions, and I am now following procedures to have the trustees disqualified, from being charity trustees.
I’ve already spent over £5,000 from personal funds, on exposing the trustees’ wrongdoings, and on countering the serious harm to my reputation, which I’m claiming as damages, from the trustees personally, not from the Temple [Charity].
As a Sikh, it is my duty to oppose racism, especially at a Sikh temple, even if the perpetrator is a Sikh and the victims are non-Sikhs, as was the case here, so I’m not embarrassed about pursuing or publicising the issue. I have complete faith that Guru Nanak Sahib [the founder of the Sikh religion] will guide me to victory and make an example of these corrupt individuals [the trustees], who have grossly abused their powers”.