Tuesday, December 27, 2005
"Oih Bin Laden!!"...
Last Thursday I went to town with my brother. He was going to the gym, so he dropped me off in town. He gave me his suite to get dry cleaned. So I looked around town looking for a dry-cleaners shop, because the main one has shut down. Chalo, eventually I found one. I browsed through the shops and took a gentle stroll through the shopping centre.
My brother told me to meet him at 3 o'clock outside the gym but I thought usually he takes longer than he says so I decided to walk to my cousins house nearby. Kill two birds with one stone - have a cup of tea and also have gap shap with my cousin.
I was walking down the High Street. Generally the people where I live, have got used to me wearing a pagh (turban) and so don't find me too strange and so I don't get stares (well not very many!). When I initially kept my Kesh and starting tyng a pagh in December 2000 then people did look and stare. I suppose its expected because its something new and there are not many Sikhs where I live.
As I was saying, I was walking down the High Street and I notice three youths walking down. Two boys (a bit scruffing looking I must say), and a girl. They looked about 14 or 15 years old. I could see them looking at me while I was walking, however I could also sense some negativity. The three people were sniggering and laughing amongst themselves and then all three were staring at me. Chalo, Rab Bhalla Kare and bless them with samat (wisdom). I carried on walking. As I walked pass, from behind the girl shouted "OIH BIN LADEN."
Sat Naam. I was bit overwhelmed because its been a while since people said silly things to me like that. Udhaa its nothing new, but its been a long time in my town, since I have experienced something like this. I looked back and saw them laughing but I thought chalo rab rakha thats a part of life.
In November there was a meeting at Scotland Yard held by Mr. Gafoor with members of the Sikh community. I had a chance to go the meeting. A point was raised about racist comments and what one should do, and is there much that really can be done. One Met police representative said that all race crimes and racist incidents, however small or insignificant should be reported to the police so that they can monitor things. It was stressed that reporting small racist comments said in the street is not wasting police time and that you can easily and conveniently report it to the police on their website www.police.uk.
For this reason I thought to myself when I get time in the evening I will report this incident to police on the website to help their statistics etc. I forgot to do it in the evening so I did it the next day in the evening (well it was quite late - 9.30pm). Then the next day I got a call from Thames Valley police at 11 o'clock in the morning. I was pleasantly suprised because (1) it was Christmas eve, (2) it was not a serious crime, (3) didn't know that police would take any steps because you can't really do much about people making silly comments in the street.
After ringing, a police officer came to our house.
To be continued...
The policeman arrived at our house around 1pm or so. He was a very friendly chap. He sat down and noted down the details of the incident, description of the offender and asked me whether I feel okay. I said to him that there's no big deal and that after Sept 11 its nothing new that a Singh recieves a racist comment. However, I told him I was kind of taken back because I have not recieved any "overt" racist comments since I was at school and college.
The police officer seemed shocked by how I felt and how I felt this incident was insignificant. He said, "I have big ears as you can see (Note: he pointed to ears at this point). If someone called me big ears while walking down the street, I would feel upset. Yes if a friend said something then that is different. However, if someone walking down the street insults me then this is unacceptable." It was kind of a bizzare example, but chalo, bechaara tried to give the nearest example he could find.
The police officer said "No! It is unacceptable. You should not find it normal that someone insults you." I was impressed by the police officer's attitude. He then said, "I don't know why someone would want to insult a Sikh? Sikhs are the most respectable, loving and peaceful people in the whole world." I was pleasantly taken back by his comment.
My dad also told him about another incident which happened with my in our town centre. Last April I was walking in the shopping centre and my Kirpaan was popping out of my jacket. I was window shopping and just browsing. I went inside M&S and looked at jumpers, shoes etc. I noticed that a Gora security guard looking at me. I didn't take much notice. I continued to walk to the other shops. I could sense someone following me. I looked back and couldn't see anyone. There was a security guard standing, but he was staring the opposite way. Chalo! I went to Burtons. The shop was empty with no other customers. Suddenly the shop phone rings and the shop-assistant picks it up. While she was on the phone she began to stare at me as I looked at the clothes in the shop. I sensed that something is not quite right.
As I walked past the shops I looked back again and I saw the SAME security guard from earlier standing behind. But he was suspicously pretending to look the other way. I felt as if I am being followed and traced. I was near Ottoka's Bookstore, when I looked back and saw three security guards rushing towards me. Sat Naam, Waaheguroo!
They pulled me to the side infront of the public and said, "We suspect that you are carrying an offensive weapon. You are carrying a knife. Is this true?" "No. I am not carrying a knife. I am WEARING a KIRPAN, an ARTICLE OF FAITH." I opened my coat jacket and showed them my 9" Kirpaan. One of them started speaking on his walky talky saying "The suspect is wearing a large blade..." Waheguru! I explained "Why am I being stopped? I am not wearing anything illegal. The Kirpan is an article of faith, which is part of the Sikh Saint-Warrior uniform. It is not an offensive weapon! I have been to parliament, a high securit place, 5 or 6 times wearing my big Kirpaan and I have never faced any problem. So why is there a problem in the shopping centre?" The man then spoke to someone on the walky talky and all three of them ended up saying "We are sorry for stopping you, please excuse us. We were unaware about your article of faith." I said "Are you given training about these issues?" They replied "No".
So when I got home I wrote a letter to the shopping centre. They replied back with an apology and said that they are sorry that they don't train their security guards about the articles of faith. After the incident the security guards were informed about the Kirpaan. Though there was a positve outcome, it was VERY STRANGE to be followed around the shopping centre as if it was a secret operation monitoring me or something.
The police officer was shocked at hearing about this incident. He said, "Thats awful. All security should be informed about the Sikhs. All police officers are educated about Sikhs and the 5Ks. Even if I saw Sikh wearing a Kirpan in town and it visible, there should be no problem. He or she is not doing anything wrong, other than practice their religion. The only time I would be concerned by a Kirpaan is if a Sikh got it out of it's sheath and started wielding it around town. I would only confiscate the Kirpan off someone if someone used it against me and ONLY when they put it against my neck. Other than that it is outrageous and disrespectful to ask a Sikh to remove his or her Kirpan or be offended be seeing a Sikh wear it." I was overwhelmed by the police officer's positve comments about the Kirpan and Sikhs. I did not expect this.
So the police officer left our house (after eating some Barfi, which he found extremely tasty and drank a cup of chaa). He took down the details of the girl who had shouted the abuse and said he would the CCTV cameras. If he found her he would let me know. Udhaa, it didn't seem a big deal to me because it was a small silly comment, but the police was adament to clamp down on any racism however small or big. :)