Lord Singh of Wimbledon, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations gave a Sikh view on abortion last week, during a debate secured by Baroness Knight of Collingtree.
He said, “My Lords, as a Sikh, I am totally opposed to abortion on any grounds except that of real and serious danger to the mother’s health, and it is important that those who facilitate gender-selective abortions should be punished with the full rigour of the law. However, laws cannot create good behaviour; they can only define the boundaries of unacceptable behaviour. We must also look to education in tackling negative and outmoded cultural practices.
The Sikh religion is not a religion in which “thou shalt” or “thou shalt not” are strictly imposed; Sikh teachings are couched in terms of gentle guidance about what we should or should not do to lead a responsible life. One of the few exceptions is a total condemnation of female infanticide. Sadly, this was all too common in the India of 500 years ago and was linked to the inferior status of women throughout the world.
From the very start of the religion, Guru Nanak taught the dignity and complete equality of women. Sikh women have always been able to lead prayers and occupy any religious position. The 10th guru, Guru Gobind Singh, gave women the name or title Kaur—literally, “princess”—to emphasise their dignity and complete equality. A Sikh woman does not have to take her husband’s name but remains an individual in her own right.
Despite the clarity of such teachings, negative sub-continent culture for some, even in the Sikh community, leads to discrimination against women and girls. Perversely, it is women who are often responsible, with mothers lavishing extra attention on male children. Even in the West today, a new birth is frequently accompanied by a joyous cry, “It’s a boy!”. It is not so long ago that the birth of a girl to royalty was greeted as a national calamity, on a par with the loss of a test match.
We all have to work much harder to fight gender discrimination and gender prejudice through tighter laws and education.”
Other Peers who participated in the debate, included Lord Patten, Baroness Barker, Baroness Hollins, The Lord Bishop of Leicester and Baroness Flather.