Carnival of Chaos

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un launches another missile and Trump launches the twitter app on his phone. Both are troubled individuals who will do anything for your attention. 

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Rogue Republican Donald Trump does it again. We witness another display of his incredulous inability to lead the United States. He has demonstrated tweet after tweet, he is unfit for office. 

Sooner rather than later, there will be another mass shooting in the United States. Statistically, it will be sooner. 

Before the spent bullet cartridges have cooled down, Trump’s tweet to Prime Minister Theresa May ‘We are doing just fine!’ will be the headline splash to support the images being shared around the world. 

The words will haunt the USA and those advocating gun control, but not the President. Trump fails to understand the damage he inflicts on the country he is supposed to be leading. 

He knew exactly what he was doing when he re-tweeted those videos. The only explanation I can suggest is an attempt to distract from his inability to deal with Kim Jong-un’s rocket launch on Wednesday. China continue to ignore his pleas to impose sanctions on North Korea. 

Creating a diplomatic storm shifts attention away from another Trump failure. 

His invitation to visit the UK in 2018 has not been retracted. The security around the visit will be unprecedented and I fear our valued emergency services will be put at risk. 

Trump is a threat to world peace, social cohesion and public safety. His visit to the UK will be a carnival of chaos. 

Jas Sansi is a freelance photographer based in Birmingham @jassansi

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Brace for Impact

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As a country, we pay about £43 Billion a year to service the national debt. That’s an incredible amount of money. It would fund free University education for every British Student. 

£43 Billion would finance UK Defence for just under two years or cover the costs of Primary and Secondary Education for six months. 

With zero national debt, we would not have to pay a penny in interest charges. Never mind funding the NHS with an extra £350 Million a week, we could give the NHS that sort of money every two and a half days. 

Its a mind boggling figure. Without it, the Government could give everyone £700 a year, every man, woman and child. Do the maths for your own household. And they could do it every year. 

On the other hand, the interest paid by home owners, especially those on variable rates has been historically low since 2009. In fact it hasn’t been higher than 1% since January 2009. A decade of extremely cheap borrowing. 

The UK Government is paying a lot of money to service the national debt, but individual home owners are paying very little to finance their biggest asset.

Imagine the scenario if it were the other way round. Government with no national debt to service but home owners faced with 15% interest rates as in 1990. The public would be strapped for cash but Government could help by extending tax breaks including a lower VAT rate. 

Imagine the scenario of the Government paying £43 Billion a year to service the national debt AND interest rates creeping back up to pre financial crash rates. Government no longer having the funds to extend tax breaks and the general public stretched. 

Throw in a falling value of sterling making imports more expensive and the uncertainty around Brexit having a negative effect on inward investment. 

The Brexit Impact Reports are expected to be released this week. I would suggest you strap yourself in, and brace for impact. 

Jas Sansi is a freelance photographer based in Birmingham @jassansi

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sikh Identity

The founding fathers of the Sikh faith gifted us a unique sense of purpose. Ahead of the anniversary of Guru Tegh Bahadur’s death, Jas Sansi explains why our identity as Sikhs comes with a heavy responsibility. But one we can demonstrate we are worthy of.

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Sikh identity was forged in tragic circumstances. The ninth Guru of the Sikh faith, Guru Tegh Bahadur sacrificed his life defending the rights of all to practice the religion of their birth. Facing decapitation, he made it clear his head can be taken, his faith will remain intact. 

As a Sikh, the courage Guru Tegh Bahadur demonstrated in the face of horrific adversity is inspirational. It fuelled the bravery of Sikhs who became a martial race. Over 80,000 Sikhs lost their lives in World Wars I and II. 

The decapitated head of Guru Tech Bahadur was carefully wrapped by others who accompanied and returned it to his ten year old son, Gobind. The young boy asked if other Sikhs were present at the execution. He was told, there may have been, but it was impossible to identify them. 

The need to recognise members of the faith fostered the identity of Sikhs. This includes uncut hair, the turban and the wearing of a bangle. The purpose of this identity is to recognise a Sikh, able to come to the aid of others.

Sikh identity remains critically important four centuries later. The case of Jagtar Singh Johal, presently in Indian police custody and rumoured to being tortured is a clear example. 

The 30 year old British national is accused of influencing youth on social media about Sikh human right violations. This is exactly what Sikh identity was forged for; to cast a light on injustice. 

Sikh identity remains critically important four centuries later…

Many Sikhs and indeed those of other faiths have highlighted the plight of Jagtar Singh Johal. Many Sikhs have adopted the identity inspired by the death of Guru Tegh Bahadur but have yet to exercise the spirit and purpose of that identity. 

The founding fathers of the Sikh faith gifted us a unique sense of purpose. They injected us with courage and resolve. It is our responsibility to exercise that courage to help Jagtar Singh Johal in his hour of need. 

Do it publicly using social media channels, use traditional and broadcast media or do it privately using your networks, contacts and relationships. I’m confident many have already done so. Do not stop until he is free. 

Some Sikhs have huge platforms that can be leveraged for the safe return of Jagtar Singh Johal. The biggest platform is the identity you have inherited. It was gifted to you for a reason, do not waste it. 

This Friday marks the 342nd anniversary of Guru Tegh Bahadur’s death. Demonstrate that his death was not in vain. Help support the campaign to #FreeJaggiNow. 

 

Jas Sansi is a freelance photographer based in Birmingham @jassansi

 

The Silence is Deafening 

With little news coming out of India on the welfare of Jagtar Singh Johal, the relationship between the UK and India is being tested. It is one worth fighting for.

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Prime Minister Theresa May accompanied by Midlands Mayor Andy Street on a visit to the region yesterday spoke to BBC Asian Network about Jagtar Singh Johal. Mrs May stressed the Government is concerned about the Scottish Sikh man’s well being; ‘Representatives from the Foreign Office have met with Jagtar Singh Johal, they are monitoring the situation and will take action as necessary.’ 

In addition to Jagtar’s local MP, Martin Docherty, there are two British Sikh MPs, Preet Kaur Gill (Edgbaston, Birmingham) and Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough, Berkshire) who sit in Parliament ensuring Jagtar has representation at the highest level. Voices beyond British shores have spoken out about this case with Canadian Sikh Politicians showing immense leadership on the matter. Their support is very much appreciated. 

The actions of Punjab Police risk reigniting tensions around the abuse of human rights, especially those of Sikhs in North India.

Nobody wants the dark days of the 1980s to return when Punjab was effectively a no go zone following Operation Blue Star and the assassination of Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi.  

The only ones to gain from such a situation would be security forces in Punjab. They alone would attract greater funding from central Government to tackle unrest and instability in North India. 

The safe return of Jagtar Singh Johal goes above and beyond the immediate angst of his family and friends who naturally want their grandchild, son, brother and husband back. It speaks for the stability of the entire Punjab. 

Equally worrying is the security of Indian Consulate staff around the world especially the UK, the rest of Europe and North America. There are sixteen million Indians living outside of India of which two million are Sikhs. 

Nobody wants the dark days of the 1980s to return…

The Indian Consulates around the world are the face of India and it is important they are allowed to function safely. The need for British nationals to secure a visa to travel to India means their presence is essential. 

The Indian Consulate were recently extremely helpful in getting me an emergency visa on a Saturday in order to fly out the following day. It took four years of hard campaigning here in Birmingham to reinstate the direct flights to India and they are a remarkable success. 

British and North American politicians have spoken out. It is now vital Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Indian President Ram Nath Kovind are made aware of the plight of Jagtar Singh Johal and a solution engineered.  

So much has been achieved between our two countries, and for Brits of Indian origin, it really is our ‘two’ countries, there is so much at stake here.  

Influencing youth on social media is no reason to incarcerate Jagtar Singh Johal. If it was a crime, most of the world’s corporates would be in handcuffs. 

Do not damage the relationship between India and the UK. Please release Jagtar Singh Johal, escort him to Amritsar Airport and send him back to Scotland unharmed. 

 

Jas Sansi is a freelance photographer based in Birmingham @jassansi

For Whom the Bells Toll 

Jagtar Singh Johal’s only crime is being in the wrong place at the wrong time. What price do we put on human life?

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I’ve just glanced at Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon’s timeline on Twitter. It’s disappointing she’s made no mention of Scottish born Jagtar Singh Johal, presently imprisoned in North India. His crime; influencing youth on social media. 

The crime did not warrant him being refused a visa to travel to India. British Asians of Indian origin will understand the complexities of getting a visa to travel there. The process often sees applicants turned away from one of the Indian Consulates across the UK for very little reason. 

This case is worthy of Nicola Sturgeon’s comments. An acknowledgement of the predicament Jagtar Singh Johal from Dumbarton, 20 miles from Glasgow finds himself may provide some comfort for his family. I’m reminded of what Martin Luther King Jr once said; ‘In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.’  

The case is politically sensitive. The UK does not want to upset India at a time it is trying to navigate the infinite complexities of exiting the EU. India is one of the key countries we are targeting for post Brexit trade deals. 

Consider these details to grasp an idea of what is at stake; India consumes more Whisky than the rest of the world combined. Scotch Whisky represents 25% of the UK’s total food and drink export value. There is a 150% tariff on Scotch Whisky in India, something which may be removed if the two countries strike a Free Trade Deal.

The relationship between Scotland and the rest of Britain is uneasy. The 2013 Scottish Referendum narrowly retained the Union. The EU Referendum saw Scotland vote Remain whilst the rest of Britain chose to Leave. 

If the SNP (Scottish National Party) want to campaign for a second referendum on Independence given the ‘change of circumstances’ bought about by Brexit, it’s feasible the vote may go the other way. 

Scotland will be reliant on the foreign currency its Whisky distilleries attract as an independent country. 

All of this politicises the position of Jagtar Singh Johal. He has been released from Police custody, where he may have been exposed to torture and transferred to prison until 30th November. Jagtar’s only crime is being in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

This is a predicament for Nicola Sturgeon and the UK Government. It’s a challenge for our Diplomatic Service. 

The question is, do we turn a blind eye on Jagtar’s welfare in order to protect our future trade with India? For Nicola Sturgeon, its a question of for whom the Bells, the Famous Grouse and the Glenfiddich toll? 

Bring him home Nicola. 

Jas Sansi is a freelance photographer based in Birmingham @jassansi

#FreeJaggiNow

 

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In 1984, the Indian Government under the leadership of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered tanks to enter the holiest site of the Sikh faith, The Golden Temple. It was a decision that would prove fatal for unimaginable numbers of worshippers who were there for no other reason than to meditate, pray and carry out the duties of their religion. 

In an interview with Narenderpal Singh on 12th September 1984, Indira Gandhi, pressed on the attack answered;

 ‘I know the sentiments of the Sikhs have been deeply hurt. But I want to assure you that my sentiments have also been hurt because their pain is my pain. It is true that the (Indian) army never went into the Golden Temple before. We tried not to resort to army action. We tried to avoid it altogether, because it was a hard decision to take. I have never felt so bad about any decision as I have about the decision to send the army there. Normalcy should return at the earliest and the hurt feelings be assuaged.’

49 days later, ‘normalcy’ came in the guise of 33 bullets from her Sikh bodyguards ending her Premiership and unleashing hell for Sikhs living in New Delhi. 

I was twelve at the time, too young to understand politics but acutely aware of the power of the images I saw on television of tanks entering the holy shrine. A place I had visited five years earlier being ripped apart by the shells of tanks crushing the marble steps I had walked down hand in hand with my dad. 

Halloween 1984 was celebrated by Sikhs worldwide. In the 33 years that have passed, the ‘hurt feelings’ uttered by Indira Gandhi have not been ‘assuaged.’ How can they? The dead cannot forgive and the living cannot forget. We, the Sikhs, have learned to live with those painful memories.  

The fallout continues. On Saturday 4th November, a British citizen, Jagtar Singh Johal was seized by plain clothed Punjab Police and bundled into a van. He is presently in custody for ‘influencing young people on social media around the 1984 attack.’ 

There is rumour he is being tortured in order to extract a confession. There is a social media campaign to have Jagtar released and returned to his home in Scotland. 

In 1984, Sikhs did not have a political voice. We may not have enjoyed much influence or power 33 years ago. It’s no longer 1984. And we want Jagtar back, unharmed. 

The Sikhs rarely ask for help. We’re asking now. #FreeJaggiNow

Jas Sansi is a freelance photographer based in Birmingham @jassansi

India UK Free Trade Deal 

As the UK hurtles towards an exit from the EU tearing up a Free Trade Deal with the richest trading bloc in the world, Jas Sansi asks, ‘Will increased trade outside of the EU offset tremors we will experience come 11pm on 29th March 2019?’ 

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I have learned, nothing is free. There is no such thing as a free lunch, a free download, the free item in a buy one get one free offer. Nothing is ever free. 

Consider our Free Trade Deal with the EU. The benefits of this relationship saw the UK grow to become the fifth richest country in the world. There is no doubt, post Empire when USA and USSR became super powers and Asia became an economic tiger, we were in danger of becoming an irrelevance. And yet, we found a place in the world, exercising our soft powers and world class education to punch repeatedly above our weight. 

The Free Trade Deal with the EU was many things, but it was never free. The UK is the second biggest net contributor to the EU budget. If you were one who believed the statement splashed across the red Brexit Bus, this free trade deal cost us £350 Million a week. An unimaginable stretch of £50 notes stretching from here to Brussels. 

And in return, what did we get? A flow of European workers who injected energy into the NHS for an ageing population. Academics who built our country’s reputation as home to the world’s greatest Universities; London boasts more academic institutions in the top twenty than any other city in the world. Here in Birmingham, we have more Universities than Florence, where Prime Minister Theresa May delivered her recent EU Speech. 

There are approximately 17,000 Universities in the world, Cambridge University is recognised as the world’s number one. It juggles that honour with another university less than 87 miles away. 

An infinite number of innovations from the Magnifying Glass to the World Wide Web began right here in the UK. An island race that helped shape the entire planet changing it beyond recognition. 

The UK is a country built on values, they may not be perfect values but they are values we share with our European neighbours; Freedom, Equality, Liberty, The Rule of Law, Human Rights, LGBT rights, Respect, Health Care and Education for all. 

As we look beyond the EU, for trade partnerships in distant lands, are we confident these values are shared by other countries? It is the foundation of these values that will cement the trade relationships with India, China and beyond. 

And to those who say priority lies in trade and not shared values, I say a relationship that compromises who you are as a person, a community, a company and a nation is not a relationship. It is little more than a weak association that will end in acrimony and feud.

India is the country of my ancestors. My DNA was shaped by a religion founded in India, the Sikh faith. It is the values of this faith my parents bought with them to the UK and instilled in me as a child. These values were complemented by British values and European values.  

Faith in India has been shaken this week with the news of a British citizen, Jagtar Singh Johal being snatched off the street in India and bundled into a van by plain clothed officers. His whereabouts, welfare and safety remain unknown. There is rumour of this 30 year old from Scotland being interrogated by Punjab Police. Interrogation in India is rarely good cop, bad cop. 

This example illustrates the gap between the values of both countries. It reflects the impossibility of replicating a European trade deal with India. The two countries are too different in their value of human rights to engage in a free trade deal. The UK cannot turn a blind eye to institutional abuses as demonstrated in the case of Jagtar Singh Johal. 

UK trade with the EU and the 50 countries who enjoy a free trade deal with the EU represents 61% of UK exports. 

For a country like India to make up any future shortfall would require a free trade deal the like of which is politically impossible to deliver including visa restrictions lifted between the two countries. 

The Jagtar Singh Johal case illustrates how far we are from even opening such a dialogue with India. 

 

Jas Sansi is a freelance photographer based in Birmingham, UK @jassansi