A brand new statue of a Sikh soldier – unveiled last week to commemorate the contributions of Sikhs during the First World War – has been vandalised in an incident police say they are treating as a race hate crime.
Graffiti which appeared on the 10ft-high bronze monument displayed the words “Sepoys no more’” and a reference to a prominent Sikh military leader killed by the Indian army in 1984.
Sepoys was a term used by the British Indian Army to describe a low-ranking cavalry trooper, many of whom were recruited from the Indian sub-continent to fight for the British in Europe.
The words ‘1 Jarnoil’ (sic) were also scrawled across the monument – thought to be a reference to Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a militant religious leader killed during Operation Blue Star.
The Indian military intervention was carried out during unrest in the Punjab region in June 1984.
A thick black strike-out line was also drawn over the words ‘Great War’, which appear alongside the Smethwick monument in gold lettering, making the message appear as if it says “the Lions of 1 Jarnail.”
The statue, which stands opposite the Guru Nanak Gurdwara Smethwick on the High Street, was commissioned and paid for by the temple to honour soldiers from the Indian subcontinent.
It is the first full statue of a South Asian First World War soldier in the UK.
Standing on a 6ft plinth, inscriptions on all four sides include recognition of the centenary of the end of the Great War and the role of Sikhs in the British Army and wider society.
Sikhs made up 20% of the British Indian Army, and 2% of the Indian population at the time and remained loyal to the British Empire after the Indian Mutiny of 1857.
The monument began as an idea from sculptor Luke Perry, after being inspired by his wife’s academic research into World War One and was unveiled on Sunday, November 4.
The incident on Friday took place only days before Remembrance services are due to be held across the country, to honour those who fought for Britain.
A spokesman for Guru Nanak Gurdwara (GNG), which was recently named alongside Stonehenge in Historic England’s list of top ten places of faith and belief , told HuffPost UK: “We are aware of the vandalism that took place on the Lions of the Great War Monument site and condemn this despicable and cowardly act.”
The spokesman said Jatinder Singh, president of Guru Nanak Gurdwara Smethwick, was “extremely disappointed with the actions of the vandals” but remained resolute.
“There was some vandalism to the back wall overnight which is very disappointing. The graffiti was cleaned off and the matter was reported to the police,” he added.
“Working with the council, we won’t allow this vandalism to undermine the very strong message created by this new monument and the overwhelmingly positive reaction to its unveiling.
“What makes this incident particularly distressing, is the complete disregard and lack of respect for the significance of the statue and inscriptions, installed recently to commemorate the losses felt by many South Asian families who lost their dear ones during the First World War and mark 100 years since the end of the Great War.”
CCTV footage is currently being reviewed and West Midlands Police said officers were working closely with worshippers and management at the temple.
Sgt Bill Gill, from the Smethwick Neighbourhood Team, said: “We understand that this attack has caused a lot of concern in the community, and we are working to understand the reasons behind it and identify whoever is responsible.
“Officers had already planned to be at the remembrance event which is happening tomorrow at the statue.
“I’d urge anyone with concerns to speak to the officers attending the event.”
Anyone with information can get in touch with the force by calling 101, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.