British accountability and tackling hate crime: The wish list of Sikh voters in key target Labour areas

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They may not be as numerous as Muslim voters, and there are no rebel candidates stealing them away from Labour over conflicts abroad, but Punjabis are a specific electorate with their own concerns, and some of their communities happen to be highly concentrated in key target seats for Sir Keir Starmer's party.

The Sikh Federation UK estimates their community could have an impact in up to 80 constituencies, and so we've taken our parliamentary people's bench to two seats in South East England, to find out what Sikh voters are looking for in the next government.

First, we visit a Punjabi sporting event - the ancient game of Kabaddi.

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Described as Sikh sumo wrestling, and played in teams, it originated as a military training exercise on how to take captives and win ground.

In a circular arena, teams of well-stacked men send players to "raid" the opposition territory and touch their opponents without being pinned down or shoved out of the circle.

The event is taking place in the constituency of Ealing Southall, known as The Little Punjab.

Dabinderjit Singh from the Sikh Federation UK

Image: Dabinderjit Singh from the Sikh Federation UK

Fuel, shopping and rent

Sikhs make up 30% of the population here but spectators come to the event from across the country - and sharing their thoughts, seated on our parliamentary bench at the edge of the kabaddi pitch, they expressed views similar to those we've heard elsewhere.

"Fuel, shopping, rents, it just goes up and up," says Kabaddi referee Sucha Singh Thind. "Every government comes in. They promise a lot of things, 'we do this, we do that', but nothing happens in the end."

Kabaddi referee Sucha Singh Thind

Image: Kabaddi referee Sucha Singh Thind

Southall resident Arshpreet Singh Randhawa adds: "The current cost of living as we all know is through the roof and it is becoming extremely difficult to live and sustain, evident that with the amount of homeless on the streets."

Ealing Southall is a safe Labour seat, but our next stop, Gravesham in Kent, is more of a knife edge.

Home to the largest Gurdwara in the UK, it is currently held by the Conservatives, but is a Labour target.

Arshpreet Singh Randhawa, resident in Southall

Image: Residents in Southall

Here, 8% of the electorate is Sikh, and with a recent survey showing they are inclined to vote Labour and are also likely to turn out in large numbers, they could tip the balance over who wins here.

Accountability for the past

Outside their place of worship, a giant banner commemorates the 40th anniversary of the Sikh massacre at the Golden Temple at Amritsar in India.

Classified documents released in 2014 raised questions over the involvement of the British government and the SAS in events leading up to the killings. Sikhs at the Gurdwara in Gravesend said they want politicians to commit to a public inquiry into British actions.

Sky's parlimentary bench outside a Sikh temple in South East England

Image: Sky's parlimentary bench outside a Sikh temple in South East England

Dabinderjit Singh, from the Sikh Federation UK, says: "We're marking the 40th anniversary of 1984, and I remember 10 years ago when those papers came out, we just thought, why did our government advise on attacking a holy place?

"It's something that changed my life and changed the lives of many people."

Even younger Sikhs at the Gurdwara, who weren't born in 1984, tell us this is an important issue for them.

Jeremy Corbyn's Labour committed to a judge-led inquiry, but it's not clear what Labour will do under Sir Keir.

It's not a manifesto pledge, however, his deputy Angela Rayner tweeted on 1 June.

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"We mark the 40th anniversary of the rain of the Golden Temple," she wrote, adding that Labour stands with the Sikh community in calling for an inquiry into the historic role Britain played.

The latest survey of Sikh voting intentions shows 43% Labour and 20% for the Conservatives. But many are still undecided.

Mr Singh adds: "The surveys we've done suggest 85% of Sikhs actually come out and vote. There are probably one million Sikh voters.

"Sikhs exist in every single constituency in the UK. And on top of that, we have towns and cities where there are 20 to 25 thousand Sikhs, and therefore the Sikh vote really matters on the 4th of July."

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Tackling hate crime

Another issue, raised by several worshipers, is tackling hate crime specific to Sikhs.

Jagjit Singh Dhaliwal, a volunteer at the Gurdwara, says: "Whereas Islamophobia, antisemitism are widely recognised for specific hate crime, nothing exists for the Sikhs, but because of our dress we can become targets for hate crime exactly the same as Muslims do.

"That needs to be recognised so we can start taking some action to eradicate that."

Jagijit Singh Dhaliwal said the government should be tackling hate crime against his community

Image: Jagijit Singh Dhaliwal says the government should be tackling hate crime against his community

Again, the community have expectations that Labour may address things that the Conservatives have not, but there is nothing down in print in Labour's manifesto.

The Sikhs pride themselves on being humble, shrewd and community-minded - organising outreach projects and free food for the homeless in every Gurdwara in the country.

Read more:
How the young are engaging with election

What the parties are promising
How Beth Rigby prepared for Starmer and Sunak grilling

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"We represent the nation very well. We hold its core values and as a community we are very close-knit," says student Rickvir Singh Randhawa.

Their wish list from politicians is not hugely expensive and, with Labour's Muslim votes potentially depleted in certain areas over their stance on the events in Gaza, Sikhs believe their vote could become even more crucial in certain constituencies.

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