Coventry & Warwickshire

Weapons seized at Leamington Spa Sikh temple 'ceremonial'

Tachbrook Drive, Leamington
Image caption The Sikh Federation has said Warwickshire Police overreacted in sending armed police to the scene

All but one of the "bladed weapons" seized after 55 people were arrested at a protest at a Sikh temple were ceremonial, police said.

Armed officers surrounded the Gurdwara Sahib in Leamington Spa after reports men entered the building in a row over inter-faith marriages.

The Sikh Federation pressure group said the Sikh community had concluded Warwickshire Police had "overreacted".

Officers "assessed the situation and responded accordingly," the force said.

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A statement from Sikh Youth UK said its members were peacefully protesting against an inter-faith marriage that was to be carried out as a Sikh marriage at the temple.

But a statement from the temple said a group of 50 people with their faces covered had forced their way in with the intention of stopping an inter-faith marriage between a Sikh girl and a Hindu boy.

"They were intimidating and using abusive and foul language," it said.

It apologised for the disruption and added: "A group such as this will not spoil our relations with any person, whatever their creed, colour or race within our Leamington and Warwick community or further afield."

Ceremonial weapons

Fifty-five men, aged between 17 and 39, were arrested on suspicion of aggravated trespass.

One of them - a 39-year-old from Birmingham - was also arrested for causing racially aggravated fear or provocation of violence by words.

Warwickshire Police said a "significant number of bladed weapons" had been seized.

Image copyright Google
Image caption Police said they got reports of a group of masked men forcing their way into the temple in Leamington Spa

The force later confirmed the majority of these were Kirpans - one of the five physical symbols of faith worn by Sikhs.

A Warwickshire Police spokesman said it responded to a report a group of masked men, initially thought to be about 20, who had forced their way into the temple.

He said: "These were reported to be carrying a range of bladed items, some of which were initially described as not being for ceremonial use.

"Blades seized so far have been ceremonial. Another non-ceremonial weapon was seized."

He said police would be investigating the initial claim that other weapons were involved.

Last year a resolution saying inter-faith couples could not have a Sikh marriage in Gurdwareh was approved at a meeting called by the Sikh Council UK and represented by 300 Sikh organisations, Sikh Youth UK said.

Analysis: The Sikh wedding ceremony

The ceremony, or Anand Karaj, should be reserved only for Sikhs, the Sikh Council (UK) argues.

Non-Sikhs can only be involved if they accept the Sikh faith and change their name to include Singh or Kaur.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption A voluntary code of conduct drawn up in 2015 said it is acceptable for Sikhs to marry people from other faiths, but not in a Sikh temple

Anand Karaj was given statutory recognition during the British rule in India by the Anand Marriage Act 1909.

Gurinder Singh Josan, from the Sikh Council, has said if somebody "really passionately wants to have an Anand Karaj they have to accept that the long-established code of conduct for Sikhs clearly states only a Sikh can be wedded by the Anand Karaj".

But many in the Sikh community say Sikhism teaches equality and acceptance.

The Sikh Council hosted a meeting of Sikh representatives from across the UK in August 2015 to discuss solutions. This included drawing up a voluntary "code of conduct" designed to address uncertainties around mixed marriages.

Marrying people of other faiths is acceptable, they said, but marrying them in a Sikh temple is not.

Sikh weddings were regularly disrupted by protesters opposed to mixed-faith marriages in Sikh temples, a BBC Asian Network investigation had previously found.

But this summer there had not been reports of any such protests until Sunday's demonstration, BBC Asian Network reporter Gurvinder Gill said.

Sunday's protest was an example of a "rogue Gurdwara committee creating discord among the UK Sikh diaspora" and it described the committee's behaviour as "inexcusable".

The BBC understands the wedding in Leamington Spa took place.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption In UK law it is illegal to carry a knife in public without 'good reason' - which could include religious purposes, as with the Kirpan.

One woman, who wished to remain anonymous, from Leamington, told BBC Asian Network that a religious ceremony for her nephew's birthday was "ruined" by the protesters.

"I'm not going to take anybody's side," she said.

"If the rules have been set up, then everybody should follow that but I think the way the protesters have done it yesterday…it was a very wrong way of doing it.

"Ok they didn't want the wedding to go ahead but it also ruined our ceremony as well, which we organised months and months back."

She added: "{The} police were doing their job. They were told some people had weapons and were looking after public safety."

Analysis: Raj Bilkhu, Asian Network

Mixed marriage is an issue that has the Sikh community divided in opinion.

Sikh Council UK says it has considered all views, including religious doctrine, and released a policy agreed by gurdwaras across the country last year.

However, yesterday's protest proves this policy is not always effective.

The Sikh Press Association says it is concerned protestors are being misrepresented as violent when wearing their ceremonial dagger - kirpan - which baptised Sikhs wear daily.

What is becoming more apparent is a greater discord between some of the youth of the community who believe the older management committee members of gurdwaras are not upholding this policy.

For second and third generation British Sikhs who are breaking away from marriages arranged by family; the ethical dilemma remains over whether love could cross religious barriers.

The Sikh Federation is a non-governmental organisation set up to promote the Sikh religion, philosophy and way of life.

Under UK law it is illegal to carry a knife in public - unless it's a knife with a folding blade 3 inches long (7.62cm) or less - without good reason, but a good reason could be if it is for religious purpose. The government information website gives the Kirpan as an example.

If someone gets charged with illegally carrying it, it is down to a court to decide if they were carrying it for a good reason or not under UK law.

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