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Yesterday Sikhs in Britain and worldwide woke up to the heart wrenching news of the cold-blooded murder of 25 worshippers (including one child) in a gurdwara in the Afghan capital Kabul.

Islamic State gunmen have been held responsible for the massacre of innocent worshippers, and disturbing images of the dead, along with videos of panic-stricken children sitting in a room in the gurdwara, have been widely disseminated online. The Afghan security forces were engaged in a gun battle with jihadists and helped some members of the congregation escape.

The terrorist attack against the Sikh minority is nothing new. In the summer of 2018, a suicide bomber struck a crowd of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus arriving to meet with President Ashraf Ghani as he visited the eastern city of Jalalabad, an attack that killed at least 19 people and wounded 10 others. Almost the entire Afghan Sikh and Hindu leadership were killed, including the only Sikh candidate running for election.

At the time Lord Singh our Director, tabled a written question to the government: ‘To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the suicide bombing resulting in the death of 19 Sikhs in Jalalabad, Afghanistan in July, what representations they intend to make to the government of India to encourage it to offer asylum or safe passage to Sikhs wishing to leave Afghanistan.’

The minister’s response: ‘The British Government condemned the 1 July attack on a group of Sikhs and Hindus in Jalalabad. The Minister for Asia and the Pacific publicly described it as “a despicable attack on Afghanistan’s historic Sikh and Hindu community”. As part of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, the UK supports the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces in its efforts to improve security for all communities in Afghanistan. NATO’s Resolute Support Mission is also assisting the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces with security planning for the upcoming elections. The UK regularly raises human rights issues with the Government of Afghanistan, including the need to protect the rights of all ethnic and religious groups in line with the constitution.’

At the time Lord Singh also asked the government whether they would provide asylum to Afghan Sikhs, to which they responded – ‘Those who need international protection should claim in the first safe country they reach – that is the fastest route to safety.’

In 2018 the Home Office put together a briefing paper highlighting the persecution of Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan. It cited an article that revealed, ‘prior to 1992 there were about 220,000 Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan with another putting that number as low as 50,000. By now, the very few remaining are concentrated in the provinces of Nangarhar, Kabul, and Ghazni’. Sikhs, Hindus and other minorities are being systematically ethnically cleansed from Afghanistan, a country Sikhs have resided in since the fifteenth century.

In response to the Kabul gurdwara massacre, we will continue to raise the targeting of Sikhs and other Afghan minorities with the government. We will also be raising the issue with members of the APPG for International Freedom of Religion or Belief as a matter of urgency.

We request Sikhs write to their MPs requesting asylum rights in the UK for Sikhs escaping genocide, and for strong UK condemnation of the attack on innocent Sikh worshipers.

For further information contact Deputy-Director Hardeep Singh at: info@nsouk.co.uk


Why we should seriously consider the temporary closing of normal gatherings in gurdwaras to prevent the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19)

We have been followed the evolving government guidance on the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic closely and are aware of guidelines being disseminated by other Sikh organisations in response to it.[i] Many gurdwaras have already taken steps to curtail or completely stop services.

Although it’s not an easy decision to make, following discussion with medical professionals some of whom are at the frontline of tackling the disease, we have concluded UK gurdwaras should seriously consider temporary closure of normal gatherings to prevent transmission of Covid-19.

The reason we have come to this conclusion are as follows:

  • Public Health England have advised that those who are at increased risk of severe illness include those over 70 (without underlying disease) or those over 70 with comorbidities.[ii] Many of those who regularly frequent gurdwaras are over 70, and many of them are likely to have comorbidities like diabetes or heart disease.
  • During services in the gurdwara the congregation normally sit near each other. Public Health England have issued guidelines around social distancing and advise to, ‘avoid large gatherings, and gatherings in smaller public spaces such as cinemas, restaurants and theatres.’[iii] Gurdwaras carry similar risks, especially large gatherings like the Anand Karaj (Sikh wedding ceremony).
  • Although recommendations on hand washing for 20 seconds with soap and respiratory hygiene[iv] have been issued, there remains a risk of transmission during the preparation and serving of langar (free kitchen).
  • As many Sikhs live in extended families, if someone were to pick up the virus from a gurdwara setting, there is a risk they could become a ‘super-spreader’ and Covid-19 could be transmitted to different generations in the same family, including the most vulnerable.

IMPORTANT

We have a wonderful religion and it would be useful if we devote some of the time that we and our children would normally spend in visiting the gurdwara, on reflecting on the Gurus’ teachings through studying Gurbani at home with our children, and through listening to, or watching Sikh religious programmes on radio, TV and the internet. Focusing on the teachings of Gurbani will help to carry us through these difficult times.

[ENDS]

Contact us: info@nsouk.co.uk

 [i] http://www.citysikhs.org.uk/2020/03/coronavirus-covid-19-update-for-gurdwaras-united-kingdom/

[ii] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-on-social-distancing-and-for-vulnerable-people/guidance-on-social-distancing-for-everyone-in-the-uk-and-protecting-older-people-and-vulnerable-adults

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

It is no secret our relationship with the Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) has been difficult over the years, especially considering our opposition to their ‘ethnic’ tick box campaign. The SFUK has previously described our Director as ‘an 85-year old dinosaur’,[i] brought the Sikh community into disrepute with a ‘karma’ tweet following the death of Sir Jeremy Heywood,[ii] and falsely claimed that a gurdwara which rejected their ‘ethnic’ tick box argument, had written in support of the APPG’s (their) campaign.[iii]

We point to another issue which requires urgent investigation. In response to evidence we submitted to the Scottish government[iv] the APPG on UK Sikhs issued a statement, which was also later published by the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, in which they write:

‘Some MPs may have received a briefing last week titled “Why Sikhs should not have a Sikh ethnic tick box and are not a distinct ethnic group” from the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) headed by cross-bencher Lord Singh. Disappointingly the NSO briefing is biased, misleading and includes matters that are totally irrelevant to the issue at hand.

The NSO and its head have shockingly described MPs on all sides backing the Sikh community in this campaign as “naïve” and “bewildered”. This sort of language is hugely discourteous to hundreds of elected MPs who have had letters from constituents in support of this campaign and in many cases discussed this issue locally at Gurdwaras on many occasions and with individual Sikh constituents.’

The SFUK issued a press release on 19 February 2020, titled: ‘Conservative MPs issue briefing on Sikh ethnic tick box and rebuke biased and misleading note from Network of Sikh Organisations’, (attaching the APPG statement).

Contrary to what is written, we did not use the word ‘bewildered’ so it’s odd that this has been included. However, more significantly still, the introduction to the APPG document appears to have been agreed in principle with three newly elected Conservative MPs.

We wrote to all three MPs, when we first heard about the briefing and the related Indian press coverage which cited them,[v] when the latter was publicised alongside their images on Twitter by the SFUK on 16 February 2020. We indicated they appear to be a signatory to, or at the very least in agreement with the contents of the document whose introduction we have cited above.

We asked them if they were aware of the document and or the related Indian press coverage.

One of the three got back to us and said they were not aware they had signed anything, nor had they read the coverage, which was published in Punjabi in the Daily Ajit publication in any case (and would have required translation) – adding:

‘I’m happy to consult my constituents on this issue rather than take a particular view myself.’

This response not only indicates an open mind on the census issue, but makes it clear they are not party to the SFUK/APPG position on the census.

We believe it is difficult in the circumstances, to then imagine the same MP support a briefing which attacks our charity and is egregiously partisan.

We have written to Preet Gill MP the Chair of the APPG, and the SFUK (the APPG secretariat) to ask them to confirm as a matter of urgency if the MPs whose names have been included at the bottom of the briefing published by the Scottish government provided their express authority to do so.

We believe the Sikh community requires an explanation and will be reporting the matter to the Conservative party to investigate further. At the time of writing we are yet to hear back from either Preet Gill MP or the SFUK, but we are willing to publish their response if we receive it.

[Ends]

[i] https://twitter.com/SikhMessenger/status/1234886709529190403

[ii] https://twitter.com/SikhMessenger/status/1234885755580952576

[iii] http://nsouk.co.uk/why-we-need-the-appg-for-british-sikhs-to-be-transparent-with-their-ethnicity-campaign/

[iv] https://www.parliament.scot/S5_European/General%20Documents/20200131_NetworkOfSikhOrgs.pdf

[v] https://twitter.com/SikhFedUK?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

Sikh prison chaplains at the residential training event at the Prison Service College

Our charity is proud to be run the Sikh Prison Chaplaincy Service and we provide both spiritual and pastoral care for all Sikhs in prison in the United Kingdom.

One of the areas in which we’d like to see more emphasis is in prison chaplaincy initiatives to help reduce reoffending rates. It’s a no brainer that if we can keep Sikhs who’ve been in prison, out of prison – that can only be for the betterment of the community, and wider society at large. Of course, once ex-offenders are out, there must also be opportunity to encourage them back into work, motivate them to contribute positively to their community and reengage with broader society as responsible citizens. Indeed, we believe gurdwaras, not just the National Probation Service or multiagency management have an important role to play in this regard.

In a House of Lords debate on prisons and radicalisation, our Director Lord Singh of Wimbledon highlighted the importance of reducing reoffending and our desire to reduce this for Sikhs.

He said: ‘I declare my interest as director of the Sikh Prison Chaplaincy Service. Does the Minister agree that chaplains must be at the forefront of any move to tackle radicalisation in prisons? To do this, they have to place dated social and political norms embedded in religious texts in the context of today’s times.’

He went on: ‘Will the Minister agree to meet me to discuss Sikh chaplaincy initiatives to do this and reduce reoffending rates, and how this experience might possibly be used to the benefit of other faiths?’

The NSO believes that a measure of the success of a positive, effective and engaged prison chaplaincy service must surely be a reduction in reoffending rates.

We will be following up to discuss this with the government and believe this aim should extend to prison chaplaincy services for all faiths and none.

 

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