THE BLOG
18/11/2013 07:32 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Sikhs Should Honour Joginder Singh's Memory by Fighting Islamophobia

The news that an elder from the community has passed away is apart from the deep immediate sorrow an event that causes many to look on the future with some trepidation.

Death in this context is so much more than just the passing of an individual. It represents the severing of a link to times and sacrifices that are all too distant for many second, generation immigrants.

Many of our elders saw extremes of poverty in their motherland and discrimination in their adopted homeland, all in order to give their progeny a better life.

In 2005 a Joginder Singh who came to Coventry in 1956 talked about some of these experiences saying, "There was discrimination, our people did not get the top jobs, I was able to save about £40 a month, which was only 40 Rupees at that time."

His death last week following on from the horrific attack perpetrated against him in August gives these words a greater resonance.

Before the attack Joginder's experience was little different to that of many immigrant elders. They who have put in the hard yards in life are enjoying the last vestiges of their earthly existence in the relative comfort of which they are fully deserving. But his passing was not as serene as that experienced by many of his contemporaries.

Although it is not proven that his death was as a result of the attack he suffered, that is not the point here. A man who put so much effort into bettering his situation in life deserved greater dignity in his last days.

It is painful to think of what he must have gone through mentally after being attacked at an age where he could not physically defend himself. An even greater insult to his dignity was to be disunited from his turban; a crown of sanctity to people of his faith, and then spat on whilst lying helpless on the ground.

The graphic nature of this description is of importance as it shows the dichotomy between the selfless life Mr Singh lived and ignominious treatment he received towards the very end.

I believe the ordeal of this Sikh man is wrapped up in the wider climate of hostility towards people who may not share the same faith as him but look similar and share many cultural traits.

Many of the UK's Muslim immigrants come from the Indian subcontinent and a significant number of them from Mr Singh's native Punjab. They share ethnicity, language, interests and culture. Yet despite following different religions, to the bigot's eye they are all a legitimate target for abuse and attack.

Those who have jumped onto the anti-Muslim bandwagon care little for who they take aim at as long as the victim fits their own profile of who is a Muslim and who isn't. Sikh men in particular are very distinguishable in society given some of the major symbols of their faith be it the turban or the beard are outwardly visible. The fact that they share a semblance of these features as well as skin colour with many of their Muslim counterparts means they are very much caught up in the web of hate.

This is why I believe it is vital for Sikh communities to join in the fight against Islamophobia. The failure to combat what is fast becoming the greatest civil rights crisis of our age will mean that more and more Sikh's will be vulnerable to physical attacks their places of worship and sacred symbols will likewise become open targets. Evidence of this was seen in various locations across the country following the 9/11 and the 7/7 bombings.

More important than buildings and even sacred symbols is the dignity of the elders, which is increasingly at stake. For all the sacrifices they undertook we owe it to them in their old age to make society safer for them to function. Joginder Singh's memory would best be served by this noble undertaking.

The words of the famous Sufi poet Mian Muhammad Baksh held in high regards by Muslims and Sikhs from the Punjab and beyond are apt here. "Destroy the Mosque, destroy the Temple, break all that you want, but never break a human heart for that is where the Lord dwells."