A Birmingham MP said she would “never downplay” the impact of domestic abuse after a respected charity focused on Sikh domestic violence prevention asked her to apologize for alleged “offensive comments”.
Sikh Women’s Aid, the UK’s only frontline service for Sikh women, said Preet Gill MP, who represents Birmingham Edgbaston, appeared to question allegations of sexual abuse within the gurdwaras.
The dispute came after a report published in November 2022 by the anti-domestic violence charity Sikh Women’s Aid. Featured of 839 Sikh Women in Britain surveyed, almost two-thirds said they had experienced domestic abuse.
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According to the report first released Per The Guardian, Sikh members in a WhatsApp group called Sikhs in Labor have lodged a complaint with the Labor Party after Gill MP said those who call Sikh temples unsafe are using “very dangerous language”.
In the report, he urged them to apologize in writing to their gurdwaras. A member of the group was reported to be “disgusted” by the comments, calling them “unforgivable”.
When approached by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), MP Preet Gill said: “I worked with victims of abuse for twenty years before I became an MP and would never minimize the impact abuse had on those victims.
”It is never useful to make sweeping, sweeping statements about communities and institutions. It is important to focus on what needs to change to safeguard and support the victims.”
Supporters of Ms Gill suggest the allegations were a “personal attack” on her. Other Sikh organizations suggest that she provides “a powerful and articulate voice for her constituents, as well as for Sikh issues and women’s empowerment.”
In particular, Ms Gill is said to have criticized the “radical statements” in the report, reportedly adding: “Where is your evidence that guru ghars (gurdwaras) are not safe??? This is outrageous, you should apologize to the Sikh community.”
Later, she is also claimed to have said, “Calling guru ghars unsafe is very dangerous language… Send a written apology to guru ghars.”
It was also claimed at one point in the conversation that Ms Gill said that alleged rape victims in a particular gurdwara had had consensual relationships with their accused attacker, comments another member called “inexcusable”.
A statement issued by Sikh Women’s Aid on Friday (Feb 24) alleges that the organization had written to Labor asking them to intervene in Ms Gill’s behaviour, including “to ask her to stop attacking Sikh Women’s Aid”.
They also claimed that Labor chose “not to take any further action” with Ms Gill.
The statement read: “It is unfortunate and deeply upsetting to many in the community that Preet Gill, as the UK’s first Sikh MP, chose to undermine and cast doubt on a report, which was widely welcomed and supported in its methodology by several Leading women’s organizations working in the field of domestic violence.
“This comes against a backdrop of abuse suffered by Sikh Women’s Aid administrators and staff, which has included death threats against the organization’s president.
“It was in this context and with regard to the protection and well-being of all those who work and volunteer with Sikh Women’s Aid that we felt it necessary to write to Ms Gill’s employers, the Labour party, to ask her to stop attacking Sikh Women’s Aid.
“It is unfortunate that their employers decided not to take further action and did not understand the importance of supporting women’s organizations.”
The charity claims it invited Ms Gill to contact them about her concerns “in lieu of a public hearing”, adding: “Ms Gill can choose to face the reality of the situation and apologize for her offensive comments or continue working with those who seek to silence Sikh Panjabi women.”
Domestic abuse within the Sikh community was first highlighted in 2021 by Sikh’s Women Aid. He report – conducted over a four-month period – suggested of 700 respondents, 70% said they had experienced domestic abuse and almost half had experienced incidents with more than one perpetrator, including women in their family.
In that report, the charity suggests that while gender equality is one of the core beliefs of the Sikh faith’s patriarchal social practices, like concepts of honor, it means many survivors are afraid to speak out.
A source with close connections to Sikh Women’s Aid, who did not want to be named, told LDRS that the report must be open to help the Sikh community access specialist domestic violence services.
“She (MP Preet Gill) doesn’t like to be entertained or told about the failings of the Sikh community. We are just like anyone else. We drink, we fornicate, X, Y and Z. The more that comes out, we can deal with it and request and argue for services. There is no shame in it.
“Now you go to the temples. Why should they get away with it? It has been going on for years (…) we have strong evidence and we have strong data.”
He Labour he reached out to the party for comment.
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