Where Unity Is Strength
Header

Last week our Director Lord Singh tabled a question to the government about Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) support for persecuted Christians. He asked Her Majesty’s Government, ‘what assessment they have made of the recommendations of the Bishop of Truro’s Independent Review of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s support for persecuted Christians.’

Minister for FCO Lord Ahmad, said the Bishop of Truro’s independent review of FCO support for persecuted Christians resulted in a series of ‘ambitious recommendations’, and that ‘we will take them forward as part of our work to support freedom of religious belief for all’. Thanking the Minister for his response Lord Singh who is also Vice-Chair for All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) responded, ‘Sadly the appalling treatment of Christian minorities around the world is mirrored in the persecution of other religious minorities, including the appalling treatment of his Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan. In Afghanistan a once-prosperous Sikh community of more than 20,000 people has been reduced to a few hundred. Does the Minister agree that the underlying cause of religious persecution is the religious bigotry inherent in aggressive assertions that the one god of us all, way above human emotions, favours one group of humans to the exclusion of others?’

The Minister agreed with Lord Singh and was grateful for his work in this area. He said where Christians were persecuted, other minorities were likely to be persecuted as well. Other contributors to the debate included Co-Chair of APPG FoRB Baroness Berridge, Lord Anderson of Swansea, Lord Alderdice and the Lord Bishop of Ely.

We have reproduced in full (below) notes of minutes circulated to members of The Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) run All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for British Sikhs.

 APPG FOR SIKH FEDERATION

Notes on Meeting held 23-7-19 to examine the Supposed Rationale of referring to Sikhs as an Ethnic Group

Venue: The meeting took place 9.45 am Room W4

Attendees: Preet Gill MP, Pat McFadden MP, Dominic Grieve MP, Mike Gapes MP, Tanmanjit Dhesi MP (joined halfway through the meeting), Lord (Ranbir) Suri, Lord (Indarjit) Singh of Wimbledon.

(Initials will be used to attribute comments in this Note).

Background to Meeting

IS, concerned that the Federation, the successors of the formerly proscribed ISYF were misleading Members of House, had for months been asking for an opportunity to present a view on ethnic monitoring that was consistent with majority Sikh thinking and with Sikh theology. PG, averse to open discussion initially tried to prevent this, and later, successfully minimised attendance by delaying the meeting to a relatively early hour close to the recess. Correspondence also shows that her office had repeatedly refused to provide a list of MPs (who had supposedly signed support for the Federation), for them to be sent briefing documents and a note on the importance of open discussion on the issue.

The Meeting

At the start of the meeting, PG questioned the credentials of IS to speak on this issue and IS began to respond saying he was Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) the largest umbrella body of gurdwaras in the UK. When IS began to detail some of the main areas of activity, PG interrupted to say that was fine. [Details of NSO Activities are appended]

The Presentation

The detailed presentation, for which there was general agreement and appreciation, is appended.

Ethnic Group

In response to a statement by IS that no other world religion called itself an ethnic group, MG said that the Jewish community (which unlike Sikhs, accepts converts only through marriage), could be considered an ethnic group. IS agreed, saying that Jews had considered this but saw no advantage. It was noted by all that Jews and Muslims had gained much more by successful lobbying.

Supposed Practical Advantages of calling Sikhs an ethnic group.

PG said we should not bring Sikh theology into discussions on calling Sikhs an ethnic group. IS disagreed saying Sikh teachings must underpin all policies affecting the Sikh community.

PG, supported by PMcF, raised the issue of Sikh families who had come to her area of Smethwick from Italy, and their difficulties over housing. IS said that they deserved support, but masking religion as ethnicity would not help. Public sector housing is allocated on need and not on supposed ethnicity. Also, many Sikhs would feel it insulting and contrary to Sikh teachings to have a world religion open to all, reduced to a single ethnicity tied to Punjab. They would put their country of origin in the ethnic tick box and tick Sikhism under religion. It was, in an aside, agreed by all, that Sikhs had an above average home ownership.

Reality behind Federation demand for calling Sikhs an ethnic group.

IS explained that the Federation were deliberately conflating a misunderstanding of the limited nature of the Mandla case under the (now repealed) 1976 RR Act), to claim that Sikhs were an ethnic group per se, so that Sikhs could call themselves a nation (see their website). This would, in the Federation’s view, help them advance the case for a homeland in India. DG concurred that he was aware of this political dimension.

The downside of pursuing an ethnic category for Sikhs.

This is detailed in the attached Presentation.

At the meeting, IS also stressed that obsessional focusing on ethnic monitoring is diverting attention from unfairness and discrimination being suffered by Sikhs for being members of the Sikh Faith. The Government’s Hate Crime Action Plan gave 45 examples of hate crime suffered by members of the Abrahamic faiths. There was no mention of the suffering of Sikhs, Hindus and others. A FOI request by the NSO showed that the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group paid expenses to 11 members as well as supplying considerable government support. IS asked where is the Anti-Sikh Hatred Working Group? IS continued by reminding the meeting that the MET records most attacks on Sikh as Islamophobia. He also noted that the NSO was alone in their successful campaign to exclude Sikhs from being described as a Dharmic Faith in MHCLG correspondence. He added that no support was given to the NSO by the Federation in other areas of concern. He did not elaborate as DG indicated that he had another meeting to go to and because these issues were more internal to the Sikh community. Further information can be given if requested.

At the conclusion of the meeting, DG commented that the debate on ethnicity could be academic if the Federation won their case. He thanked IS for an informed and thought-provoking contribution.

The meeting ended at 10.35 am.

 

Back in October 2018, we published a post titled is the All Parliamentary Group (APPG) for British Sikhs truly representative?

The post referred to the issue of Seva School in Coventry, a dispute subsequently covered by Schoolsweek quoting our Director Lord Singh.

Concerned parents had called on the government to intervene in a dispute related to Seva School being compelled to join Nishkam School Trust, a trust which parents said did not fit with their beliefs. Some of the parents independently echoed concerns to our Director, Lord Singh of Wimbledon. He raised it with the APPG for British Sikhs, after all what’s the point of having such a group if it doesn’t consider Sikh interests, or in this instance the concerns of Sikh parents.

As described in our previous post this is an account of what transpired:

By chance I learnt of Tuesday’s AGM and accompanied by Lord Suri, attended the AGM to try to get the Group to issue a statement of concern over the bullying attitude of the Department for Education (DfE) in giving of a 2-week ultimatum to withdraw funding and move to a closure of a Sikh school, Seva School in Coventry unless it agreed to be run by Nishkam. Nishkam is a group regarded by many Sikhs as outside mainstream Sikhism, with a spiritual Head to whom some followers owe total allegiance.

Lord Suri and I were surprised at the poor attendance at the AGM, with one MP brought in for a while to make a quorum. After Preet Gill MP asked the 5 MPs present to confirm her as Chair, I spoke about the widespread concerns of parents, governors, staff, the Council of Gurdwaras in Coventry, the Sikh Council and the Network of Sikh Organisations and others. I also mentioned that an earlier complaint made by me of racist behaviour towards the school (in which Sikh teachings were labelled extremist and negative) had been upheld in an investigation by Sir David Carter a top civil servant with the DfE, with a promise of more supportive behaviour by the minister Lord Nash. Unfortunately, the harassment has continued culminating in a 2-week ultimatum of a cessation of funding unless the school agreed to be run by Nishkam.

Preet Gill MP seemed irritated by both my presence at the meeting, and because I had raised an issue about which she had clearly not been briefed by the Sikh Federation UK, the official secretariat of the APPG. She expressed her admiration of Nishkam. However asking a mainstream Sikh school to join Nishkam with its different ethos, is like asking a Church of England school to join a group led by Jehovah’s Witnesses. She then queried my credentials in raising the widespread concerns of the Sikh community. Ignoring the need for urgent action, she said that she would have to carry out her own investigation and consult local MPs, as if their views counted for more than those of the Coventry Sikh community and two national Sikh bodies.

On 25th March 2019, Preet Gill MP sent an e-mail titled ‘APPG British Sikhs’ in which she talks of Seva School following Lord Singh’s plea on behalf of concerned parents.

She writes, ‘As agreed, I wrote to the DFE and received a full and helpful response from Damian Hinds assuring us that the school would not be closed, and they had asked an outstanding Sikh academy trust to take over.’

NOTE. The request was not for her to write to the DfE, but to contact the Sikh community in Coventry and support them to stop the DfE abusing its authority to force the school to be run by Nishkam, a controversial Sikh sect. She totally ignored Lord Singh’s request to assist the worried Sikh community in Coventry.

A statement from the Board of Trustees (Sevak Education Trust) dated 3rd July says, ‘34 parents brought a legal challenge to the decision made by the Secretary of State for Education on 21 February 2019 to appoint Nishkam Schools Trust (“Nishkam”) as the sponsor for the re-brokerage of Seva School.’

The parents were successful, and the government conceded it had failed in providing alternatives to Nishkam School Trust. They go on to say, ‘This has been an incredibly difficult time for all those associated with the school.’

We are delighted the parents have won their legal battle, but surely this issue could have been resolved amicably sooner without parents having to resort to initiating legal proceedings against the state?

In our view, there are two issues which arise from the Seva School saga. The first relates to improving religious literacy in the DfE and across government circles to get them to appreciate doctrinal differences, and importantly, what is, and is not mainstream Sikh belief.

Secondly, given Preet Gill’s response to the matter, it begs an important question – can she really claim to represent British Sikhs?

 

cause célèbre – Asia Bibi

Earlier this week Lord Alton of Liverpool tabled a question in relation to aid programmes and human rights pertaining in particular to the treatment of minorities in Pakistan.

Our Director, Lord Singh contributed to the debate. His full speech can be read below:

‘My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton on securing this important debate, and pay tribute to the wonderful work that he does in the field of human rights. When India was partitioned in 1947, as we have heard, the founding father of the new state of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, then terminally ill, said that it would be a country that respected all its minorities. He did not live to see his hope tragically ignored. A rigid and intolerant form of Islam, Wahhabism, funded by Saudi dollars, now pervades the country.

Strict blasphemy laws are used to prevent open discussion of religion, and the death penalty can apply to Muslims who try to convert to a different faith. As we have heard, a convert to Christianity, Asia Bibi, sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy, spent nine years on death row before eventually being allowed to flee to Canada. Others have not been so fortunate. In one case, children were made to watch as their parents were burnt alive in a brick kiln. Minorities are frequently allocated menial tasks such as the cleaning of public latrines. Homes of minorities are frequently attacked and women and girls kidnapped and converted or sold into slavery.

I have at times questioned the appropriateness of Pakistan, with its ill treatment of minorities, still being a member of the Commonwealth, a club of countries with historic ties to Britain. Members are required to abide by the Commonwealth charter, with core values of opposition to, “all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds”.​

By any measure, there is a clear case for expelling Pakistan from the Commonwealth, but this will not help its suffering minorities and could make their plight worse. The way forward is to look beyond charters and lofty declarations to clear targets and measures of performance for all erring members—Pakistan is by no means the only one—to nudge them to respect human rights. We must also target aid to specific projects geared to fight religious bigotry and prejudice. Pakistan is a country revered by every Sikh as the birthplace of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith. He taught reconciliation and respect between different faiths. In this, the 550th year of the Guru’s birth, the Prime Minister Imran Khan, in welcoming Sikhs to visit the birthplace of their founder, stated his desire to move in this direction, and we owe it to Pakistan’s minorities to redouble our efforts to help him and nudge him to do so.’

The full debate can be read here: https://bit.ly/2S08ec8

UK Parliament Week 2019

July 7th, 2019 | Posted by Singh in Current Issues | UKPW - (0 Comments)

 

 

The NSO is delighted to be an official partner for UK Parliament Week (UKPW) 2019.

Here’s a blog on why we believe it’s important for young Sikhs to effectively engage with the democratic process:

 

Please follow the link to download a copy of this year’s UKPW NSO booklet:

17_STG3_Booklet_STG3_Network of Sikh Organisations_26 June 2019.

If you’re planning an event or want to get in touch drop us an e-mail at info@nsouk.co.uk or tweet us @SikhMessenger.

Follow @YourUKParl on Twitter and share your activities using
the hashtag #UKPW

Skip to toolbar