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The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) is a registered charity no.1064544 that links more than 130 UK gurdwaras and other UK Sikh organisations in active cooperation to enhance the image and understanding of Sikhism in the UK.

What is good about the proposed legislation?

To start on a positive note – the blasphemy law will be repealed. This is something that has not been used in Scotland for over 175 years. The second thing which is noteworthy is age will become a protected characteristic under these proposals – this in our view is indeed a positive step. The Bill will thus extend protective characteristics to the following:

Age, Disability, Race, colour, nationality (including citizenship), or ethnic or national origins, Religion, Sexual orientation, Transgender identity, Variations in sex characteristics.

Could this Bill censor debate on matters of public interest?

We believe the answer to this is yes. The offences relating to ‘stirring up hatred’[i] in the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill are a real cause for concern and have serious consequences on being able to speak freely on matters of public interest – be it the ongoing debate around ‘transgender identity’, or matters of religious extremism, in particular in relation to the debate around Islam, and support for violent jihad by some in the Muslim community.

The Bill aims introduces these new offences related to ‘stirring up hatred’ in respect of the characteristics of age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity, and variations in sex characteristics. It is the vague elements of this Bill which are dangerous because they are open to wide interpretation and are highly subjective. Most controversially, a person will not even have to show intent to ‘stir up hatred’. It will be enough that his behaviour or communications are considered ‘threatening’ or ‘abusive’ and that a court deems it ‘likely that hatred will be stirred up’.[ii] This could result in a seven-year prison stretch. We believe this is repressive and insidious, and not befitting of a Western democratic nation. In its current form the Bill would make Scotland one of the most hostile places for free speech in Europe.

Additionally, the Bill also introduces offences of ‘possession of inflammatory material’,[iii] and the same issues apply here around subjectivity with the drafting of the legislation. We understand the only difference being the threshold for the conduct is that the material is ‘threatening, abusive or insulting’.

Self-censorship or prison

We believe these proposals could lead to an environment of self-censorship, or worst still a seven-year prison stretch for those who choose to express strong and legitimate opinions on controversial, but important issues. Offence archaeologists could wade through historical social media postings to garner evidence which may infringe the proposed legislation – this would amplify the curtailment of free and open discussion and have a chilling effect. It has been suggested the introduction of this legislation could result in the likes of J K Rowling facing proceedings for her position on transgenderism.[iv] This is because her views (which she has every right to freely express) could be viewed as ‘threatening’ and ‘abusive’ by transgender campaigners and therefore subject to a criminal complaint. The legislation would also have consequences for investigative journalists, historians and commentators who express criticism of Islam, expose Islamic extremism, or discuss the behaviour of Muslim extremists. For a start, the republication of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, would almost certainly be viewed as ‘inflammatory’ under the offence of ‘possession of inflammatory material’.[v]

Moreover, activists or groups who want to shut down opponents could easily interpret criticism of ideology or doctrine as an attack on their community. We have already seen an indication of what this might look like, with the publication of the APPG on British Muslim’s Islamophobia Defined report, which sought to secure a legally binding definition of ‘Islamophobia’. The APPG report asserts:

‘the recourse to the notion of free speech and a supposed right to criticise Islam results in nothing more than another subtle form of anti-Muslim racism whereby the criticism humiliates, marginalises, and stigmatises Muslims’.[vi]

The Scottish government and the Minister behind this Bill, Humza Yousaf, gives reassurances the Bill will not hamper free speech. However, if the same convoluted APPG reasoning is extended to this legislation, then it is indeed a slippery slope, which could incentivise various groups to weaponize the vague ‘threatening’ and ‘abusive’ (and ‘insulting’ for ‘possession of inflammatory material’) elements of this legislation to silence, persecute, or worst still attempt to imprison critics, by dragging them through the criminal courts for expressing legitimate opinions.

Following significant opposition to these proposals, we are pleased to hear Mr Yousaf is considering withdrawing clauses which will chill free speech, and agree unequivocally with the Scottish Police Federation who say the Bill could absurdly leave officers in a position where they have to determine what passes as free speech, or not.

They say: ‘concern the Bill seeks to criminalise the mere likelihood of ‘stirring up hatred’ by creating an offence of threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour, such offence to include both speech and conduct. This complicates the law and is in our opinion, too vague to be implemented’.[vii]

We note that people involved in the acting and legal industry in Scotland are equally concerned for the implications on free speech, and have asked the Scottish government for clarity on the massive ‘grey area’ for what exactly is ‘likely’ to stir up hatred as part of an acting performance.[viii] As it stands, if the Bill is passed an actor could be prosecuted for playing a character with bigoted views, because language in a script can fall foul of ‘likely to stir up hatred’, as charges could be brought regardless of intent.

How the proposed legislation will impact freedom of belief

All faiths have the right to express their beliefs, but this extends to the right of faith groups to hold critical views of the practices of others, without censure or the threat of prosecution.

According to the Rehat Maryada, or Sikh code of conduct, halal, and any other ritually slaughtered meat (like kosher) is strictly forbidden. The method of slaughter is considered inhumane (especially non-stun slaughter) but Sikhs also take the view that it is superstitious to believe reciting prayers whilst sacrificing an animal will serve to make it acceptable for consumption in the eyes of a lifegiving, nurturing and benevolent Creator. Many Sikhs are thus strict vegetarians, but those who consume meat are encouraged to eat an animal killed instantaneously with one blow – a method referred to as jhatka. If this legislation is passed then you can see how it could elicit complaints about criticism of such religious practices as ‘Islamophobia’, which in turn could be seen sufficient to meet the litmus of ‘stirring up hatred’, with no need for intent. The same would apply to criticism within Sikh teachings against any form of idol worship – which could elicit complaint from Hindus who adhere to this practice.

Both Sikhs and Hindus may well find themselves in a quandary when it comes to recounting parts of their history, especially persecution under Muslim rulers (The Mughals) in medieval India. Every year, Sikhs commemorate the martyrdom anniversary of two Gurus (Shaheedi Gurpurabs) Guru Arjan and Guru Tegh Bahadur, and countless others who were executed on the order of Mughal Emperors. An indication of where this could all lead has been previously provided with the APPG on British Muslims report Islamophobia Defined, where: ‘claims of Muslims spreading Islam by the sword or subjugating minority groups under their rule’[ix] may be ‘Islamophobic’. Alongside prominent historian Tom Holland,[x] we warned these proposals could censor discussion of historical facts, such as the gruesome aspects of the Mughal and Ottoman Empires or the Moor conquests, not to mention the crimes of modern-day ISIS. We fear this Bill will have a similar impact on British Sikhs, and gurdwaras who often adorn their walls with images of our hallowed martyrs or shaheeds.

Depictions of our history could be viewed as ‘abusive’ and ‘threatening’ or ‘inflammatory’ by those with a grievance and absurdly criminalised. Charges could be brought regardless of intent – in this case simply marking our history and honouring our shaheeds. Last year there was an attempt by the BBC to censor our Director, Lord Singh of Wimbledon for merely mentioning the martyrdom of our ninth Guru[xi] – Guru Tegh Bahadur who gave his life standing up for the freedom of belief of Hindus, who were being forcefully converted to Islam.  

We believe if this Bill passes then it could give a free pass to those who want to censor inconvenient chapters in history and curtail the freedom of religious belief of faiths (other than their own), which would result in pitting one religious group against another.

Core teachings of Abrahamic traditions which promote supremacy of their prophets over others, and the notion they are the only path to God, could be in difficulty. In John 14, Jesus said to His disciples, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.’

For vexatious complainants, this passage alone from the Bible could be viewed as ‘insulting’ and ‘inflammatory’ to their belief in another religious tradition.

In a submission to the Scottish government in opposition to this Bill, The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland write:

‘My main concern in this is the preaching of the Gospel, which involves declaring the truth in spiritual matters. There are such things as right and wrong in human life, and it is the duty of Christian ministers to explain these things. Among the many things that are wrong – such as lying, stealing, murder, adultery, abortion (in most cases), pride, and hatred of our fellow-men – are sodomy and false religion (such as Islam).’[xii]

The contents of this part of their submission could be viewed as ‘insulting’ to Muslims in itself.

They go onto say: ‘This bill would make the persecution of Scottish Christians for maintaining the truths of Christianity much more likely. Anyone who hears a Christian say something that he does not like (e.g. that his homosexual or transgender conduct is sinful) could claim that what was said was abusive (perhaps even just reading a passage from the Bible) and could have the Christian punished.’[xiii]

If the Scottish Government’s Hate Crime and Public Order Bill is passed unchallenged, some religious scriptures could be viewed as ‘inflammatory’ themselves, especially when they incite hatred and violence against ‘non-believers’.

We oppose the controversial clauses in this Bill and urge the Scottish government to withdraw them or Scotland will be transformed into one of the most hostile places for free speech in Europe.

Network of Sikh Organisations

[Ends]


[i] https://www.gov.scot/binaries/content/documents/govscot/publications/factsheet/2020/04/hate-crime-bill-what-it-will-do/documents/hate-crime-bill-general-overview-note/hate-crime-bill-general-overview-note/govscot%3Adocument/Hate%2BCrime%2BBill%2B-%2BDraft%2BInformation%2BNote%2B-%2BGeneral%2BOverview%2B-%2BRevised%2BJune%2B2020.pdf

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/news/politics/scottish-politics/2338172/jk-rowling-could-end-up-in-the-dock-if-new-hate-crime-laws-are-passed-critics-warn/

[v] https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/could-scotland-s-hate-crime-bill-make-depictions-of-mohammed-illegal-

[vi] https://static1.squarespace.com/static/599c3d2febbd1a90cffdd8a9/t/5bfd1ea3352f531a6170ceee/1543315109493/Islamophobia+Defined.pdf

[vii] https://spf.org.uk/new-hate-crime-bill-could-devastate-police-relationship-with-the-scottish-public/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-hate-crime-bill-could-devastate-police-relationship-with-the-scottish-public

[viii] https://twitter.com/RadioClydeNews/status/1305120257699446784

[ix] https://static1.squarespace.com/static/599c3d2febbd1a90cffdd8a9/t/5bfd1ea3352f531a6170ceee/1543315109493/Islamophobia+Defined.pdf

[x] https://twitter.com/holland_tom/status/1128756384537956352?lang=en

[xi] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/sikh-peer-leaves-bbc-radio-4-show-with-swipe-at-thought-police-m3vcjg77w

[xii] https://www.parliament.scot/S5_JusticeCommittee/Inquiries/JS520HC417_Free_Presbyterian_Church.pdf

[xiii] Ibid.

The Sikh Messenger podcast series

September 12th, 2020 | Posted by Singh in Current Issues | religious literacy | Sikhism - (0 Comments)

We are delighted to have launched the Sikh Messenger podcast series last month.

In the first of the series we interviewed Harbakhsh Grewal about his roles at the UK Punjab Heritage Association (UKPHA) and publisher Kashi House. We ask him about the seminal volume Warrior Saints, by historians Parmjit Singh and Amandeep Singh Madra, and the popular exhibitions hosted by UKPHA at the SOAS Brunei gallery – including The Sikhs and World War 1 in 2014. You can listen to the interview here.

Later in August, as part of the Catch ‘Together Against Hate’ 2020 project we interviewed Billie Boyd a Hate Crime Support worker at the charity Galop. We find out about her role and how she has made a tangible difference for her clients who have suffered discrimination and hatred for being part of the LGBT community. You can listen to the interview here.

As part of the same series – we then had the pleasure of talking to our Director Lord Singh of Wimbledon who told us about his early life in Britain, the challenges with racism at that time, which later included a backlash against Sikhs post 9/11 in so called ‘mistaken identity’ attacks. Lord Singh reveals how he used humour to deal with racism during those early years. You can listen to the interview here.

We then spoke to Suresh Grover, Director of the Monitoring Group in Southall – a veteran anti-racism campaigner who has led campaigns to help the families of Stephen Lawrence, Zahid Mubarek and Victoria Climbie. He talks about ‘Paki bashing’, the history of Southall and the role of the Punjabi community during the tumultuous period following the racist murder of schoolboy Gurinder Singh Chaggar in 1976. Listen to part 1 of the interview here: Listen to Part 2 here.

In our most recent interviews, we talked to our Deputy-Director Hardeep Singh who has co-authored a volume titled Racialization, Islamophobia and Mistaken Identity: The Sikh Experience, and also Chief Supt Raj Singh Kohli who surprised us with the prejudice he has faced over the years – from his early years at school, through to post 9/11. But he didn’t take it lying down – his story is both uplifting and remarkable. We will be uploading the interviews onto both Anchor and YouTube soon.

If anyone has any suggestions on who we should interview and the topics they’d like to hear about, contact us: info@nsouk.co.uk

Illuminated Adi Granth folio with nisan of Guru Gobind Singh. The manuscript is of the Lahore recension, late 17th to early 18th century. Gold and colours on paper; folio size 360 x 283mm, illumination size 256 x 193mm. Collection of Takht Sri Harimandir Sahib, Patna. Photograph: Jeevan Singh Deol.

There is one thing that unites all Sikhs around the world irrespective of the status of their personal spiritual journey or background – that is the primacy of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) – the eternal Guru of the Sikhs and Guru Gobind Singh’s clear edict ‘Guru Manyeo Granth’, which recognises the Guru Granth Sahib as the only eternal Guru. But there are insidious forces at play – some with allegiance to Hindutva, who are looking to tarnish, distort and pervert the foundations of our great world religion.

Another iteration of this presented itself at the beginning of the month. On 1st September 2020, the Delhi Gurdwara Parbandakh Committee (DGPC) sanctioned discourses from the so called Dasam Granth (DG) to be read from the gurdwara. This action is a direct challenge to the primacy of SGGS. Following protests, we understand the DGPC have said this won’t happen again, but whether or not this is the case remains to be seen. As previously discussed, the authorship of parts of the DG is a matter of significant dispute. When the Sikh Rehat Maryada (SRM) was compiled in the 1940s, highly respected scholars at the time discarded the majority of the DG writings, which could not be attributed to Guru Gobind Singh. Some of these included amorphous and pornographic exploits of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, as well as misogyny and the denigration of women.

The DGPC should be ashamed of their decision to let this go ahead and we support the efforts of the Malaysian Gurudwara Council in their letter to the Akal Takht (pdf below) to take action against this flouting of the SRM. Although these events are in India, there are groups in the UK who are promoting this anti-Sikh agenda and we have pointed to this in the past. In 2018 there was the case of Amrik Singh Chandigarh – a preacher who promotes the primacy of SGGS, who was attacked by thugs associated with a sect called the Taksal. Sadly, the gurdwara committee in Southall where the incident took place did not condemn the thuggery, and at one point perversely sided with the Taksali bully boys. Another respected Sikh, is still have physiotherapy to this day, having been violently attacked over a decade ago by unsavoury elements in our midst.

All Sikh groups must openly challenge this kinds of behavior.

Sadly, groups like the tick box obsessed Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) previously failed to condemn the attack on Amrik Singh Chandigarh. We now ask them to join us in condemning the actions of the DGPC and their disregard for the SRM.

We note that in May 2019 the SFUK published a tweet which read:

‘Lord Indarjit Singh, Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations writes deeply offensive comments regards Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s Dasam Granth Bani (scripture) and his initiated Damdami Taksal. We demand Lord Singh apologies (sic) to the millions of Sikhs around the world.’

Although we understand from sources that the DGPC have promised protesters that the insult to Sikh teachings won’t happen again, all British Sikh groups should unequivocally condemn the course of action originally taken by them.

This includes The SFUK, Sikh Council UK, The Sikh Assembly and City Sikhs.

Silence will speak volumes.

The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) has produced a hate crime guide to help signpost members of the Sikh community to organisations who can support them, as well as encouraging victims to report incidents to the police. The charity has additionally produced a second guide designed to support organisations supporting Sikh victims.

The guides have been complied as part of a project, Together Against Hate, co-ordinated by the UK’s only specialist LGBT+ anti-violence charity Galop. The project has been funded by The Mayor’s Office for Policing And Crime (MOPAC).

There has been a clear trend in the targeting of Muslims as well as Sikhs in the aftermath of terror attacks as has been evidenced post 9/11 and the London 7/7 bombings. The Sikh identity, in particular the turban and beard of observant men, is often conflated with the appearance of Islamic extremists which has resulted in the targeting of Sikhs and Sikh places of worship (gurdwaras).

In 2015 a Sikh dentist was almost beheaded in a revenge attack for the murder of Lee Rigby, and the following year a case in which Sikh women were referred to in derogatory terms resulted in a conviction. In 2018 a Sikh environmentalist almost had his turban forcibly removed when visiting an MP in parliament, and in May 2020 a hate crime against a gurdwara in Derby appears to have been motivated by a geopolitical grievance in relation to the troubled region of Kashmir.

NSO Deputy-Director Hardeep Singh said:

Hate crime against Sikhs often goes unreported and victims do not always feel they need to inform the police of such incidents. Some will not know you can simply report hate crime online, rather than go to a police station to file a report, which can be time consuming.

We hope the guides provide clear, relevant, and timely advice to members of the community. They need to know they are not alone and there are people out there who can help. We also believe it’s important they report incidents to the authorities, which can be done anonymously if need be.

Mel Stray, Galop, Hate Crime Policy and Campaigns Manager said:

These new hate crime guides are a vital resource for the Sikh community and organisations working with Sikh victims of hate crime. We are delighted that the Network of Sikh Organisations has come together with nine other organisations as part of the Together Against Hate project, to stand up alongside each other against hate targeting our communities.

– Ends –

  • Notes to Editors:The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) is a registered charity no.1064544 that links more than 130 UK gurdwaras and other UK Sikh organisations in active cooperation to enhance the image and understanding of Sikhism in the UK.
  • There are two hate crime guides (i) Guide for Sikh victims (ii) Guide for organisations supporting Sikh victims – you can download them below
Sri Guru Singh Sabha Hounslow © Copyright Des Blenkinsopp and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

This advice is primarily for the 130 NSO gurdwaras and other affiliated Sikh organisations. Please feel free to share it with other gurdwaras and groups.

Around 17th March 2020 many places of worship including churches, mosques and synagogues made the difficult decision to restrict or hold back services due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This followed direction from the Church of England (CoE), the Muslim Council of Britain, and the Office of the Chief Rabbi. The CoE recommended live stream sermons as an alternative to worship in church. At the same time, the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) gave advice along similar lines to gurdwaras we collaborate with. On 20th of March we announced:

‘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.’

We followed this up with telephone calls to individual gurdwaras and management committee members.

Filling the gap caused by the temporary closure of gurdwaras

Our gurdwaras provide two main functions:

1. Congregational prayer or prayer in the sangat, which enhances individual prayer.

2. Strengthening Sikh community cohesion and a commitment to service, through langar (free kitchen) and social activities. The Covid-19 pandemic should be seen as a ‘chardi kala’ (high spirits) opportunity by Sikhs, to look afresh at the teachings of out Gurus, individually and within the family, and to reflect on how these can help us in our journey through life. The internet can help us through the establishment of a virtual congregation. Sikh women’s groups have already taken a lead through the establishment of Zoom facilitated Sukhmani Sahib prayer and similar initiatives. A gurdwara in Reading is now relaying kirtan (devotional hymns) from members’ homes to a wider audience in a way that keeps the local congregation together.

When is it safe to reopen gurdwaras?

The government is hoping that that places of worship will be able to function normally by 4th July 2020 (subject to scientific recommendations.) The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government taskforce have stressed it has to be a ‘phased and safe reopening of places of worship’. Unfortunately, the politically driven taskforce concept fails to understand the very real differences between Sikhism and the Abrahamic faiths, as well as different degrees of risk from Covid-19. We are sadly aware of the controversy surrounding the appointment of a Sikh ‘faith leader’ to the government taskforce, his resignation following community disquiet and the related harassment. The unseemly jostling to replace him has also been regrettable. It appears the government has been playing musical chairs with ‘prominent’ Sikhs.

Gurdwaras have a responsibility to follow government guidance. Before considering reopening gurdwaras it is important that management committees firstly follow existing government advice on mass gatherings and social distancing to help prevent the transmission of Covid-19 and control the spread of the virus.

One size does not fit all

We must also remember what applies to the CoE or synagogues may not necessarily apply to gurdwaras – the setting, environment and practice are different, as is the congregation’s demographic. For example, we have higher risk congregations in gurdwaras than most churches. As BAME communities and the over 70s are higher risk groups, gurdwaras need to be especially mindful. Many of the congregation who visit gurdwaras are almost always from the BAME community, being predominantly of Punjabi heritage. They also include a larger proportion of the elderly who are likely to have risk factors like diabetes and heart disease.

Other factors to consider

We must also factor in risks associated with the preparation and distribution of langar, and our ability to be able to socially distance in langar halls, as well as the Darbar hall. This may not be possible in all gurdwaras, due to limited space and it may not be feasible to create one-way systems for queueing as we have seen in supermarkets and in some gurdwaras. The installation of further sinks and facilitates to allow hand washing, and the availability of hand sanitising equipment should also be considered carefully when planning for a phased reopening. We should respect local autonomy in ensuring gurdwaras only open with necessary preparedness.

Specific suggestions to minimise risk of Covid-19

  1. Write to gurdwara members and place notices reminding those wishing to attend for private prayer or services that they must be responsible for their own head covering and that scarves, dupattas or rumals will not be provided.
  2. A recommendation that sanitising hand gel is applied as soon as practical on entering the gurdwara premises. (although we are cognisant some gurdwaras may not want to install alcohol gel dispensers on their premises, it will ultimately be their personal decision based on pragmatism, and the overriding objective to deal with Covid-19 in order to safeguard the community).
  3. Ensuring adequate hand washing facilities and (or) a supply of sanitising hand gel at convenient points.
  4. Disposable paper towels or air dryers that do not have to be operated by touching or the press of a button.
  5. Bags or bins to collect disposable paper towels.
  6. Reminders that members and visitors walk in the gurdwara keeping to one side, without coming in contact with other worshippers.
  7. On entering the Darbar hall, individuals should respect social distancing rules and bow before the Guru Granth Sahib without touching the ground with their head or hands, and then move to a place in the congregation respecting social distancing requirements. Two-meter gaps to guide the sangat could be marked on the floor with masking tape.
  8. We have given advice on funeral arrangements separately here.

The congregation’s health and safety are paramount

We believe gurdwara management committees need to consider the health and safety of the congregation (sangat) above and beyond anything else. A phased and managed reopening of gurdwaras in line with government guidance, but taking special precautions as mentioned previously is paramount. Although the financial implication of lockdown and the restrictions on gurdwaras is regrettable, this is a secondary issue and should under no circumstances be the primary focus of management committees. The most important thing is the health and safety of the sangat. Gurdwaras that choose to compromise on this may well be held accountable.

4th June 2020

Network of Sikh Organisations

E-mail: info@nsouk.co.uk

Website: www.nsouk.co.uk

Twitter: @Sikhmessenger

[Ends]

Disclaimer: This document is advice for UK gurdwaras affiliated to the NSO rather than strict guidance and should be treated as such. All gurdwara management committees ultimately have a duty of care to the congregation, they must follow government guidance and we recommend they also consider our advice carefully in looking to the safety and well-being of the congregation.

(religion is already adequately recorded in the census)

Peers debated the contents of draft Census (England and Wales) Order 2020 in the Lords earlier this week. The flawed Sikh ‘ethnic’ tick box argument was raised following a debate in the Commons last week in which Labour party politicians briefed by the Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) cited questionable statistics.

Our Director, Lord Singh who has been a prominent opponent of the SFUK’s tick box campaign told peers about the misunderstanding of the Mandla case from the 1980’s which SFUK rely upon and for which he was expert witness.

He said, ‘The law then protected ethnicity, but not religion, against discrimination. The Law Lords ruled that as most Sikhs in the UK then were born in Punjab and had Punjabi ethnicity, Sikhs were also entitled to protection. The criteria of birth and origin would not be met today, as most Sikhs are born in the UK, nor is such a convoluted protection necessary. The Equality Act 2010 gives full protection to religion.’

He went on, ‘The politically motivated federation falsely claims mass support, with questionable statistics. The ethnicity argument was discussed at the large gurdwara in Hounslow, in front of ONS officials, and was firmly rejected, yet the federation includes Hounslow among its supporters. Many Sikhs and people of other faiths are appalled at the way in which some politicians, anxious for votes, are willing to trample on the religious sensitivities of others and accept as fact the absurdities of those who shout the loudest. I urge that we look to what the different religious groups actually do for the well-being of their followers and wider society.’

Supporting Lord Singh’s position on the issue, Former Bishop of Oxford and crossbench peer Lord Harries of Pentregarth, said: ‘I believe that ​Sikhism is a great and very distinguished world religion. I do not think there should be any blurring of that fact and I worry that putting this in the ethnic minority category will somehow diminish what Sikhism has to offer as a world religion.’

Once the Order has been approved, Census Regulations will be laid before Parliament. According to the House of Commons Library, ‘the ONS aims to publish an initial set of census reports one year after it has taken place, and to make all outputs available within two years.’

We hope the British Sikh community can now move on from this debate and focus on the uplifting teachings of our global world religion, and all it has to offer today’s fractured society.

There is general guidance for Sikhs at a time of bereavement detailed in the Sikh Code of Practice (Sikh Reyat Maryada).

This will need to be amended/adapted in view of the necessity of limited contact to ensure safety in the current pandemic. General Sikh practice is described first, followed by specific suggestions to meet the current emergency.

BEREAVEMENT GUIDANCE FOR NORMAL TIMES

(a) No rituals derived from other religions, or from any other source, should be performed when a death occurs. Solace must be found in reading the Guru Granth Sahib and meditating on God.

(b) Deliberate exhibitions of grief or mourning are contrary to Sikh teachings. The bereaved should seek guidance and comfort in the hymns in the GuruGranth Sahib and try to accept God’s will.

(c) A dead person, even one who dies very young, should be cremated. However, if arrangements for cremation do not exist (e.g. at sea) the body may be disposed of by immersion in water.

(d) Cremation may be carried out at any convenient time whether day or night.

(e)For baptised (amritdhari) Sikhs, the five Ks should be left on the dead body, which should, if possible, be cleaned and clothed in clean garments before being placed in a coffin or on a bier.

(f) Hymns should be said as the body is taken to the place of cremation.

(g) A close relative should initiate the cremation and those assembled should sing appropriate hymns from the GuruGranth Sahib.

(h) The cremation ceremony is concluded with the Kirtan Sohila prayers and the saying of the Ardas.

(i) Prayers for the departed soul should then be commenced at the deceased’s home or at a convenient Gurdwara. These prayers should commence with the usual six stanzas of the Anand Sahib, the saying of Ardas and distribution of Kara Prashad, and should be continued for about ten days. The near relatives of the deceased should take as large a personal part in reading and listening to recitals from the Guru Granth Sahib as possible.

(j) The ashes of the deceased may be disposed of by burial or by immersion in water, but it is contrary to Sikh belief to consider any river holy or especially suitable for this purpose.

(k) The erection of a memorial in any shape or form is contrary to Sikh belief.

GUIDANCE ON BEREAVEMENT DURING THE PANDEMIC

While we should bear the above guidance in mind, social distancing requirements will result in only a few close relatives of the deceased being present. In some circumstances no one may be able to attend. We should bear in mind that funeral rituals are designed to help surviving relatives and friends accept their sad loss in a dignified and contemplative way. This helps us understand that the soul has left for its heavenly abode and that the physical body of the deceased is no more and should be disposed of in a hygienic way, preferably by cremation.

Prayers in remembrance of the departed can be done at home by the family members or remotely (via video-telephony apps) with other friends and relatives participating. A donation to an appropriate charity in memory of the departed should also be considered. A full service in memory of the departed can, assuming pandemic restrictions are eased, be held on the first anniversary of the bereavement.  

Lord Singh of Wimbledon CBE

Director, Network of Sikh Organisations

A tribute to Manjeet Singh Riyat

April 21st, 2020 | Posted by Singh in Current Issues | Uncategorized - (Comments Off on A tribute to Manjeet Singh Riyat)

The NSO is saddened by hearing about the death of Mr Manjeet Singh Riyat (52), Emergency Medicine Consultant at University Hospitals of Derby and Burton, who passed away yesterday (Monday 20 April) after contracting COVID-19 at Royal Derby Hospital.

Mr Riyat was a widely respected Accident & Emergency (A&E) consultant who played a lead role in developing the Emergency Medicine Service in Derbyshire over the last two decades. He was widely respected amongst his peers and seen as a role model in the British Sikh community.

Gavin Boyle, Chief Executive of the hospital, said:

‘I want to pay tribute to Mr Manjeet Riyat, who has sadly passed away. Mr Riyat, known to his colleagues as Manjeet, was a widely respected consultant in emergency medicine nationally. Manjeet was the first A&E consultant from the Sikh community in the country and was instrumental in building the Emergency Medicine Service in Derbyshire over the past two decades. He was an incredibly charming person and well loved. Manjeet knew so many people here across the hospital, we will all miss him immensely.’

Our Director, Lord Singh said:

‘Manjeet Singh Riyat embodied everything a Gursikh should be. Although he was a leader in his field, he was always ready to work at the sharp end of A&E, setting the highest standards of care and inspiring all those who worked with him. Sadly, his dedication to duty cost him his life. May Waheguru bless his soul. Our thoughts are with his wife and family. May Waheguru help them bear their sad loss.’

Mr Riyat leaves behind a wife and two sons

At this time of national crisis, we also pray for the health and safety of the hundreds of doctors and care workers working tirelessly to help COVID-19 victims.

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


Advice for gurdwaras on coronavirus

March 20th, 2020 | Posted by Singh in Current Issues | Press Releases - (0 Comments)

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.

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