London Sikhs lead fightback against riots

The fires which have raged in London's worst rioting for decades have forged a sense of community rarely seen in the British capital, with Sikhs in the western borough of Southall leading the way.

Hundreds of turbaned men gathered outside their gurdwara, or temple, to defend the west London borough on Tuesday after rumours circulated on social networking website Twitter that it was next on the looters' hitlist.

Men sporting traditional garb including the kirpan, a ceremonial Sikh dagger, led chants as others patrolled the area by car and motorcycle looking out for the looters who have terrorised the city since Saturday.

Residents stand at the crime scene where Haroon Jahan and two other Asian men were hit by a car and killed in the early hours Wednesday in Birmingham, central England, on August 10, 2011.

The Sikh religion obliges every devotee to carry a small stylized dagger sewn in a closed scabbard under their clothes but most were steadfast in their of rejection of violence.

Sikhism is a monotheistic religion founded in 15th century Punjab, India, on the teachings of Guru Nanak and 10 successive Sikh gurus. Its principal beliefs are faith and justice.

Amarjit Singh Dhillon, an adviser to the hastily-convened committee, explained to AFP that the operation was "not about vigilantes, just self-defence".

"Being a Sikh means that you can never attack anyone, but if somebody attacks you... enough is enough!" he added.

"My house can be rebuilt...but this is a place of worship, it is for everybody," he said, adding that he would be ashamed of himself if he didn't protect it.

Committee President Himat Singh Sohi, sporting a lustrous white beard and black turban, stressed that "the message of our guru is peace, live in harmony and work hard".

Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara, the biggest Sikh temple in Europe, serves as the focal point for local worshipers, who make up 23 percent of the area's population, according to the 2001 census.

Sunny Bangea, 23, said he was prepared "to fight fire with fire" to protect the temple and surrounding community.

"A lot of stupid things happened here," he said. "On Monday night, gangs tried to set the temple on fire, but there was no damage. Since then, we look after the temple 24 hours a day."

"It's just a bunch of idiots creating trouble."

The community mobilised after a tweet from rioters was intercepted Monday reading: "All my...niggas that linked up today Roll thru tomoro at 6pm sharp in Southall broadway hit up the jewellers!"

Although centred around the temple, the operation extended to all members of the community, one of Bangea's friends explained.

"It's the local area, we have to help, even if it's the pub across the street," he told AFP.

Community defence groups have sprung up across the capital since unprecedented rioting and looting began late Saturday after a protest against the death of a man in a police shooting turned violent.

Sympathy for the rioters was in short supply among the men of Southall.

Investment bank worker Davinder Singh, who called on his fellow Sikhs to uphold their reputation as "saints and soldiers", bemoaned the descent into anarchy.

"From a spiritual and religious view, it's the dark ages we're living right now," he said. "There was a little bit of a disturbance and then people just go to gain whatever they can. It's just pure selfishness."

A warden at the grand marbled temple said the lack of police presence had forced them to act.

"Two days ago, black Muslims came here to fight," he said. "We called members of the community to defend the temple and we pushed them back.

"Then the police came and told us that we should unite to defend ourselves," he added.

Increased police numbers appeared to have quelled the disorder, but the Southall Sikh community continued to maintain their vigil as night fell Wednesday.


Other news