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Southall Sikhs lead fightback against riots

The fires which have raged in London’s worst rioting for decades have forged a sense of community rarely seen in the British capital, with Sikhs in the western borough of Southall leading the way.

Hundreds of turbaned men gathered outside their gurdwara, or temple, to defend the west London borough on Tuesday after rumours circulated on social networking website Twitter that it was next on the looters’ hitlist.

Men sporting traditional garb including the kirpan, a ceremonial Sikh dagger, led chants as others patrolled the area by car and motorcycle looking out for the looters who have terrorised the city since Saturday.

The Sikh religion obliges every devotee to carry a small stylized dagger sewn in a closed scabbard under their clothes but most were steadfast in their rejection of violence.

Sikhism is a monotheistic religion founded in 15th century Punjab, India, on the teachings of Guru Nanak and 10 successive Sikh gurus. Its principal beliefs are faith and justice.

Amarjit Singh Dhillon, an adviser to the hastily-convened committee, explained to AFP that the operation was “not about vigilantes, just self-defence”.

“Being a Sikh means that you can never attack anyone, but if somebody attacks you... enough is enough!” he added.

“My house can be rebuilt...but this is a place of worship, it is for everybody,” he said, adding that he would be ashamed of himself if he didn’t protect it.

Committee President Himat Singh Sohi, sporting a lustrous white beard and black turban, stressed that “the message of our guru is peace, live in harmony and work hard”.

Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara, the biggest Sikh temple in Europe, serves as the focal point for local worshipers, who make up 23 per cent of the area’s population, according to the 2001 census.

Sunny Bangea, 23, said he was prepared “to fight fire with fire” to protect the temple and surrounding community.

“A lot of stupid things happened here,” he said. “On Monday night, gangs tried to set the temple on fire, but there was no damage. Since then, we look after the temple 24 hours a day.”

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