x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

BBC response to Sikh complaint seen as 'not enough'

British Sikhs want BBC to apologise on air for DJ's comments about religion origins.

LONDON // British Sikhs are demanding that one of the BBC's most popular DJs deliver an on-air apology for saying their religion was merely a "hotchpotch" of Islam and Hinduism.

The BBC has offered an expression of regret - but offered no apology - after remarks in a phone-in programme by Nihal Arthanayake, a Briton born to Buddhist, Sri Lankan parents, who has his own show on the BBC pop music station Radio 1.

During his daily programme on the BBC's Asian Network radio station in March, the DJ, known simply as Nihal, who has presented live shows in Dubai, discussed the influence of other faiths when Sikhism was founded in the Punjab in the 15th century, describing it as a "hotchpotch" of other faiths.

He then received a text message from a listener complaining that it was "incredibly offensive" to suggest Sikhism was "made up from other religions, ie Islam and Hinduism".

Nihal responded on air: "I'm sorry. With all due respect, it is - absolutely, it is. It came around in the 15th and 16th Centuries in India, how could it not be influenced?

"A Muslim laid the stone to the holiest places (the foundation stone at the Golden Temple at Amritsar). With all due respect, I know more about your religion than you do."

The comments sparked a furious response from Sikhs, who accused the Asian Network of displaying an "irresponsible and misleading" attitude by suggesting that their religion was simply an amalgam of other faiths.

Lord Indarjit Singh, director of the UK Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO), is now demanding a public apology from Nihal.

He said that the NSO had initially written to the BBC to protest about the remarks but had received no reply. Lord Singh, a regular contributor to the BBC's Radio 4 news station, then wrote a personal letter and received what he described as a "very soft, lukewarm" expression of regret.

In a letter to the NSO, Kevin Silverton, the Asian Network's head of news, admitted that the discussion on Sikhism had been "less than satisfactory".

He added: "The Nihal phone-in deals with difficult subjects on a daily basis and very occasionally we don't get the tone exactly right.

"In this case, at the end of an hour of challenging debate, the presenter was unusually forthright about a point of view that some listeners have contacted us about concerning the influence other religions had on Sikhism.

But the reply has only heightened the anger of Sikhs in Britain, who this week discussed the issue during an hour-long programme on the Sikh Channel, a British satellite station, with contributors describing Nihal's remarks as "most disrespectful" and "an insult" to their religion.

Lord Singh said: "The BBC is saying: 'Sorry, we got it a bit wrong but we're almost perfect'. We are going to take it further because we want an on-air apology from the person who made these offensive comments.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae