image caption: Gurmukh Singh OBE

Linking Charity Work With Extremism

Confusion about the Midlands Police raids on Sikh households in September 2018.


  Social activism and donations to charity (daswandh) are part of Sikh living. Serving the community within gurdwaras is the first step. Gurdwaras are the schools for learning about selfless non-discriminatory service (sewa). Gurdwaras are open to all and, from sewa in the gurdwaras, Sikhs also learn to serve the wider community. It is not surprising that Sikh charities are popular in the diaspora.

    However, charity work carries its own risk. Even during the time of Guru Gobind Singh ji, Bhai Ghanayia, who was giving water and comfort to the wounded in the battle field without distinction between Sikh or non-Sikh, friend or foes, was accused by the Sikhs of helping the enemy. The Guru personally settled the matter about non-discriminatory Sikhi sewa and promoted it. Sikh charity, food and shelter, is for all who need it regardless of political or other considerations. However, the issue can become complex if Sikh theo-temporal activism e.g. seeking justice and speaking out against oppression, becomes linked to normal charity work.

It is for that reason that Sikh charities need to be aware of the political environments of the countries they work in. Their work can be misinterpreted as helping the enemy or dissidents. It should come as no surprise that authorities and intelligence services would keep an eye on all sorts of charity work.

In the past Sikh charities from abroad working in India have been accused of helping extremists. For example, on 13 October 2014, Hindustan Times reported that the United Kingdom has refused to provide evidence in a matter of terror-funding. One or two well-known Sikh charity organisations were named by Indian federal anti-terror agency, the NIA. At the time, it is possible that an umbrella Sikh organisation helped to clarify matters.

More recently, in September 2018, six Sikh households across the Midlands and London were raided as part of a West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit (WMCTU) investigation into alleged extremist activism in India. It seems the Charities Commission was later involved by the West Midlands Police in October 2018.

Normally, we have trust in our legal and law enforcement system. However, concern was expressed about the police raids last year. The Indian press claimed to have been given names of those raided by the Indian police. Naturally, Indian intelligence connection with those raids raised questions. Now there are reports of arrests following alleged violation of Charity Commission rules. So, was this all about the Charity Commission working with the police to investigate improper use of funds, or was there something more behind these sensational police raids? As has been pointed out by Sikh MP, Preet Kaur Gill, there must be numerous such cases being investigated by the Charities Commission. The reasons for the Indian police connection are not clear.

Advice to UK Sikh charities is to always remain open and accountable and, when in doubt, to sort out matters directly with the authorities concerned. The need for national level co-operation between Sikh organisations regarding such issues is always there as is the continuing need for one umbrella Sikh forum for continual joint consultation.

-Gurmukh Singh OBE