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Festival of Lights goes dark in west London Gurdwaras

Sikhs will refuse to celebrate Diwali in protest of their treatment in India

The Central Gurdwara Khalsa Jatha in Shepherd's Bush

Sikh temples across west London will be plunged into darkness today (November 11) as worshippers refuse to celebrate Diwali .

Traditionally the holy Festival of Lights is marked by lighting of candles and letting off of fireworks.

But London’s biggest Gurdwara, the Southall Singh Sabha, will instead hold a sombre gathering, as will the temple in Shepherd’s Bush - said to be the oldest in Europe.

Similar gatherings will also take place at other Sikh temples in Hayes, Hounslow , Heston and other parts of London, but traditional celebrations have been cancelled.

It follows several cases of desecration of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, the holy Sikh scriptures, in the Punjab state of India.

Gurmel Singh of the Sikh Council said: “Issues in Punjab have currently reached a new level of aggravation against the Sikhs. Attacks against our Guru – Guru Granth Sahib Ji – are the most devastating and disrespectful thing that could possibly happen to our community.

“As we are still in the midst of what is seemingly sustained and planned attacks against the Sikhs, it has been ordained by the Akaal Takht, the supreme authority of the Sikhs in Amritsar, Punjab, that Gurdwaras the world over should not celebrate Bandi Chhor Divas through fireworks or lighting of candles this year.

"Many UK Gurdwaras have agreed to this and the Sikh Council supports this stance.”

Two people were shot dead and hundreds more injured when police opened fire on crowds in Punjab, according to the Sikh Press Association, during what it said was a peaceful protest against the lack of action by police there over the desecration of the Sikh holy book.

The last time Diwali celebrations were cancelled was in 1992, in protest at the hanging of political prisoners Harjinder Singh Jinda and Sukhdev Singh Sukha.

The only other 'Black Diwali' took place in 1984 following the anti-Sikh riots that year in which nearly 3,000 Sikhs are estimated to have been killed by mobs across India in retaliation for the assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi.

Navraj Singh, who is a committee member at the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Southall, in Havelock Road, said there would normally be hundreds of candles outside the gurdwara and a big fireworks display for families, but this year celebrations were being limited to prayer sessions inside the place of worship.

"It's very disappointing we've had to take this step, but we need to publicise the plight of Sikhs in Punjab," he said.

"What's happening there brings back awful memories of 1984. It feels like history repeating itself.

"We feel let down by not just the Indian government but poor leadership in Punjab for allowing this to happen.

"We want an apology from police, compensation for the families of those killed and injured, and an independent investigation into what happened."

Diwali is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains.

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