Coventry & Warwickshire

Leamington Spa Sikh temple protest: Fifty-five arrested

Tachbrook Drive Leamington
Image caption Police are at the Gurdwara Sahib temple in Leamington

Fifty-five people have been arrested after an eight-hour protest at a temple in a row over mixed marriages.

Police said a group of men, some carrying weapons many of which were ceremonial knives, entered the Gurdwara Sahib in Leamington Spa at 06:45 BST.

Former treasurer Jatinder Singh Birdi said a marriage between a Sikh and non-Sikh had been due to take place.

A group called Sikh Youth UK said it had staged a "peaceful protest".

'Lack of respect'

Mr Birdi said: "There have been tensions that have been going on for a couple of years with some people objecting to mixed marriages in taking place in the gurdwara.

"The general consensus is people are respectful of mixed marriages if the traditions are respected.

"Nothing has happened on this level before.

"This is meant to be one of the happiest moments of somebody's life - it shows a lack of respect."

'Act of faith'

A statement from Sikh Youth UK said the protest was carried out in "objection to an interfaith marriage that was to be carried out as a Sikh marriage at Leamington Gurdwara".

The group said that in 2015 a consensus had been reached that a Sikh place of worship would "no longer offer a Sikh marriage for an interfaith couple".

It said: "Local Sikh youth attended the early morning prayers at the Gurdwara and began a sit-down peaceful protest by reciting prayers."

Mixed marriages taking place at Sikh temples in the UK have been disrupted by protesters in the past.

The Sikh Council has argued that the marriage ceremony, known as Anand Karaj, should be reserved only for Sikhs. Last year it also called for a halt to protests.

Supt David Gardner said the protest came from "the escalation of a local dispute". He said a "significant number of bladed weapons" were seized, but no injuries were reported.

"Over the coming days we will be working with the local Sikh community to address some of the ongoing issues that have culminated in today's events," he added.

A force spokesman said several of the weapons seized were kirpans, ceremonial daggers that are carried by Sikhs as an act of faith.

Officers remain inside the temple on Tachbrook Drive and a police cordon is in place outside.

Meanwhile, the group Sikh 2 Inspire said in a statement on their Facebook page that sending armed police in response to "peaceful protestors" showed how the kirpans were misunderstood and the Sikh faith was being "victimised".

"They don't have have an appropriate understanding of the Sikh community and have not found appropriate representatives from the Sikh community to balance the malicious viewpoints presented," they said.

Correction 12 September 2016: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the group Sikh 2 Inspire was involved in organising the protest.

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