A peaceful protest in Central London against the killing of two Sikh men by police in India turned violence this afternoon resulting in an injury to a police officer and dozens of arrests.
Hundreds of Sikhs gathered outside the Indian High Commission in Holborn for the protest, a week after police in the Punjab shot and killed two young men who were protesting against the alleged desecration of the Sikh holy book – the Guru Granth Sahib.
Hundreds of protestors – most from the group Sikh Lives Matter – gathered at the Indian Mission on Thursday afternoon to express their solidarity with their brethren in India.
Protestors also denounced Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s upcoming visit to the UK and called for the establishment of Khalistan – a separate homeland for India’s Sikhs.
Clashes broke out an hour into the demonstration after one group of protestors decided to block the busy ring road in front of the High Commission, prompting riot mounted police to move in.
One police officer suffered an injury to the head in the scuffles that ensued and had to be taken to hospital.
According to reports 20 arrests were made.
A number of protestors expressed disappointment with the way the protest had ended suggesting that a peaceful protest had been hijacked by some unruly elements.
One protester told the International Business Times: “This is not what I thought would happen. A select few suddenly decided to block the road and then everyone else followed them.
It’s not right to disturb people who are trying to go about their daily lives.
“We wanted to come here today and protest peacefully to raise awareness about what is happening to the Sikh community back home in India.”
According to the Sikh Press Association, the escalation came after one protestor had had his Kirpan – the ceremonial sword carried by Sikhs – confiscated by a police officer.
In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said: “Whilst it was initially a peaceful protest the demonstrators blocked the roadway at the Aldwych and caused significant disruption to the central London road network. Police liaison officers attempted to negotiate with those present in order to facilitate peaceful protest and minimize the disruption to the public,” the force said.
A number of incidents involving the alleged desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib have been reported across the Punjab during October – the first was when pages torn from the holy book was discovered near a village in Faridkot in eastern Punjab.
Protestors soon took the streets leading to a confrontation with police when two men were killed. Police insist that they had fired into the air.
There have been half a dozen other incidents of desecration since that first one. Dozens of people have also been arrested over the desecrations.
The events have led to wild speculation about who is responsible. Some media organizations in India have alleged that the desecrations have been orchestrated by Pakistani intelligence – a claim that was given added credence after Indian police revealed an alleged “foreign hand” in the funding of the perpetrators.
The protests have extended beyond Punjab’s borders.
During the BBC’s Sunday Morning Live program last weekend, a Sikh activist from Canada, Jagmeet Singh, interrupted host Sian Williams to protest against “the killing of Sikhs in India”.