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Author Archives: Hardeep Singh

In a debate this week on Faith and Free Schools, the Under-Secretary of State for Schools Lord Nash, said he was ‘impressed’ with the education provided by Sikh schools.

The positive comments were made in response to a question posed by Lord Singh of Wimbledon:

“My Lords, I declare an interest as the director of the network of Sikh organisations responsible for the inspection of Sikh faith schools. The teaching of gender equality and respect for other faiths is obligatory in Sikh faith schools. Does the Minister agree that any school that fails to do that should be treated as a failing school?”

Lord Nash said:

“I agree entirely with the noble Lord. I have visited a number of Sikh schools and have been extremely impressed with the education that they provide, which is not surprising given the ethics and ethos of community and service in Sikhism.”

Sikh Victim of Racial Attack Incorrectly Identified as Muslim on Flagship Radio Show

The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) has made a complaint to the BBC following misleading comments made by a guest on BBC Radio 2.

On 19th January, Jeremy Vine interviewed members of the Jewish and Muslim communities following the Paris terror attacks.

He asked a guest: “Are Muslims in Britain under pressure now?” to which the responder talked of attacks on mosques and Muslims adding:

“This year, you know a man…..was stabbed in Tesco as someone shouted white power at the height of the Charlie Hebdo……tragedy.”

In a complaint to the BBC the NSO clarified the victim of the racial attack in Tesco was in fact a 24 year old Sikh man, not Muslim as the guest implied.

The NSO added: “Sikhs continue to be victims of hatred following Islamic terror attacks. This is nothing new – the first person to be killed in retribution of 9/11 was a Sikh; the first place to be attacked after the 7/7 London bombings was a gurdwara (Sikh Temple) in Kent. In America a ‘white supremacist’ gunman went on a rampage in Wisconsin and murdered six people in 2012, injuring many others including a policeman. There have been a number of violent attacks on Sikhs in Britain post 9/11.

It is routine for Sikhs in Britain to be referred to as ‘Bin Laden’ or ‘Taliban’. The Sikh turban and beard, has been conflated with the attire of Islamic extremists. Although the community faces growing prejudice and an inevitable backlash, the government has done little to reassure British Sikhs following the Paris attacks. It is therefore, critically important that the BBC present accurate facts to its audience. We request you urgently make a correction on air so the public is clear the victim was Sikh not Muslim.”

The NSO is waiting for the BBC to formally respond to its complaint.

 

Peers Debate Terrorist Attack in Paris

January 17th, 2015 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Press Releases - (0 Comments)

Under-Secretary of State Sidesteps Lord Singh’s Question:

In a debate in the Lords, The Conservative Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office Lord Bates, repeated the Home Secretary’s statement on the Paris terror attacks.

A number of Peers joined the debate in condemnation of the brutal murder of journalists from the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Baroness Smith of Basildon raised the issue of British born jihadists returning from Syria, she said: “While some of those will have become seriously disillusioned and will have rejected radicalism, others will have returned to the UK more dangerous.”

Lord Davies of Stamford talked about steps to cancel or withdraw passports of British citizens enlisting in terrorist organisations. He asked: “Is there not a real danger that, if hundreds more people in this category come back to this country, the additional strain placed on our security services of monitoring them may be such as to create a significantly enhanced risk of an oversight at some point which could cost a lot of lives?”

Lord Singh of Wimbledon raised the issue of the boundaries of free speech, he said: “My Lords, much has been said since the attacks in Paris about the right to offend. If there is a right to offend, there is a right to be offended. People react to offence in different ways. Some will turn the other cheek, some will come out with expletives and some will resort to violence. Does the Minister believe that there is any merit in deliberately antagonising people?”

Although Lord Bates acknowledged the question posed by The Director of The Network of Sikh Organisations “goes to the heart”, rather than responding, he chose not to answer the question, reverting to another topic.

 

Lords Debate on Religion in British Public Life

December 4th, 2014 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Press Releases - (0 Comments)

Lord Singh – ‘Religion is an Important Ethical Sat-Nav’

A debate on religion and belief in British public life was held in the House of Lords last week.

The Rt Revd Lord Harries of Pentregarth, formerly the Bishop of Oxford called for the debate in which many members of the Lords spoke, including Baroness Falkner, Baroness Massey, Lord Ahmed, Lord Singh and Lord Warner.

Lord Singh the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO), said religion including beliefs such as humanism provide a commonsense guidance of how to lead ‘a responsible and meaningful life.’

Lord Singh’s full speech can be found below:

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for securing this important debate. As a Sikh, I see religion—I include beliefs such as humanism—as commonsense guidance on how to meet the many challenges of trying to lead a responsible and meaningful life.

Unfortunately, not everyone sees religion in that way. A year ago in a debate in this Chamber, religion was blamed as being “out of step” with society. To me, that is a bit like someone complaining that his sat-nav was not following his directions. The argument for banishing religions to the margins of society would carry some weight if secular society was seen to be leading to a fairer and more contented and peaceful society. But all the evidence is that it is not.

Every day in this House, we have Oral Questions on the lines of, “What are the Government doing about this or that concern?” The general response, couched in elegant terms, is, “We are doing a lot more than the previous lot when they were in power”. This is not a criticism of government. The truth is that Governments can, at best, only put legal boundaries around unacceptable behaviour; they cannot make us better people.

I will give some examples. Monday was International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The need to have a day to remind us that women often suffer violence and gross abuse itself shows that all is not well with society. It was also mentioned that 77 women in the UK had been killed in domestic violence. There was reference to a Troubled Families programme—another reminder that all is not well. A report in the Times this week revealed that a staggering 230,000 people in England and Wales are going through divorce each year, with a devastating effect on children.

Two-thirds of children whose parents separate, often in acrimonious circumstances, are driven to drugs and alcohol abuse, eating disorders and poor performance in schools. Our current obsession with “me, my rights and my happiness” can have a devastating effect on those around us in this and other areas.

Religious teachings are essentially preventive. Without such teachings we tend to look to sticking-plaster solutions. Today, the response to domestic violence is to build more refuges. The response to drunken and loutish behaviour is, “Let’s extend licensing hours”; to rising drugs problems, “Let’s legalise the use of drugs”; and, to an increasing number of people in prisons, “Let’s build more prisons”. Let us extend this line of thinking to the behaviour of little junior who greets visitors to the house by kicking them in the shins. Solution: issue said visitors with shin pads as they enter the front door.

Whenever I am asked to do a “do-it-yourself assembly”, I throw the instructions to one side and quickly put the pieces together with nuts and bolts to spare. I then stand back to admire my handiwork and see it all skewed and ready to fall apart. Then, and only then, I turn to the book of instructions. We have become a bit of a do-it-yourself society in the way in which we have thrown our religious instructions to one side in constructing remedies to social problems that ignore deeper issues of right, wrong and responsibility—the essence of religious teachings. Jesus Christ taught that, “Man does not live by bread alone”. Bread, the material side of life is important, but there is much more to living than mere material existence.

The Sikh Gurus taught that we must live in three dimensions at the same time: reflecting on and living core ethical teachings; earning by our own honest effort; and, thirdly and most importantly, that we have a responsibility to look to the needs of those around us and the well-being of wider society. That putting of others before self is something that we need constantly to be reminded about, rather than living our current obsession with “me, my rights and my happiness”. Yes, religion is an important ethical sat-nav, but we must remember to keep it switched on and to follow its sometimes demanding directions towards a fairer and more peaceful society.

 

 

 

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY – 17/11/14

November 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Thought for the day - (0 Comments)

Last week we were celebrating the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall; a physical structure designed to keep the people of Eastern Europe isolated from the freedom and democratic values of the West.

This week is inter-faith week; a week in which we question equally divisive, barriers of belief between religions. Barriers built on claims of exclusivity and superiority seen in the use of language to denigrate those of other beliefs or ways of life. Today, we are all too aware of the way in which words can be used to promote active hatred and the mindless killing of thousands of innocents, as seen in the Middle East and many other parts of our world.

In the past, talking about distant religions in a disparaging way, though wrong, was fairly harmless and gave us a perverse sense of unity based on the superiority of our way of life over that of others. Today such thinking is food and sustenance for the fanatic. In our smaller and interdependent world, recognising that, that we are all equal members of one human family has now become an imperative.

Sikh teachings remind us that our different religions are different paths to responsible living and must all be respected. Religious teachings are not mutually exclusive and frequently merge in shared truths and a heightened understanding of our own faith

A popular Christian hymn states:

To all life Thou givest; to both great and small

In all life Thou livest the true life of all

The lines have a striking parallel in Sikh scriptures

There is an inner light in all

And that light is God

The Sikh Gurus frequently used parallel teachings in different faiths to emphasise important commonalities and shared values.

Today religion finds itself confined to the margin of society as a cause rather than a cure for hatred and violence. We see this in governments focussing huge resources on programmes to combat religious extremism. And yet…… if religions work together to live common core teachings of right, wrong and responsibility, who knows? Instead of programmes like ‘Prevent’, we might even have government programmes called ‘Enable’ to embed these values in daily living as the founders of our faiths intended. Not easy, but events like inter-faith week are at least a step in the right direction.

Lord Singh: ‘We need to place ourselves in the position of the patient.’

Lord Singh of Wimbledon, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) has once more challenged measures proposed by the government in the Assisted Dying Bill.

In a debate last Friday Lord Singh stressed ‘we need to place ourselves in the position of the patient.’ This follows from earlier statements in the House, where he viewed the bill as a ‘flawed’ attempt to show compassion to the few, whilst neglecting compassion to many others. The Bill is a Private Members Bill (PMB) put forward by Lord Falconer of Thornton, a former Lord Chancellor. If enacted the legislation would make it legal for adults in England and Wales to be given assistance to end their own lives, applying to those with less than 6 months to live.

During the debate on tabled amendments last Friday Lord Singh said:

‘My Lords, I very much agree with the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and I agree about the importance of total independence if we must go in the direction of this legislation. However, I still have great concerns about the direction in which we are going, especially in relation to independent capacity and settled will. In everything that we do we need to place ourselves in the position of the patient. Everything we do is influenced by those around us.

A person suffering mentally or physically will undoubtedly be affected not only by the pain but by his or her view of what effects their disability is having on the lives of others. A desire not to be a burden can sometimes be induced by others, but little thought seems to have been given to that. Equally, uncaring or selfish attitudes of others cannot but have an adverse effect on one’s desire to live. I fail to understand how a couple of doctors or even independent judges can know the finer points of a family’s interactions and what pressurises the individual to say, “I wish to end my own life”.’

He added: ‘Then there are the wider effects not only on the family but on society as a whole of going in the direction of this legislation. What are we saying to future generations when we know that palliative care can do so much? However, I know that so much more has to be done to improve it. Only this week we had a report saying that only 10% of nurses felt that they were properly equipped to deal with end-of-life decisions and end-of-life care. We can do much more in this direction rather than taking the easy route, which sets a marker to future generations that says, “You can go in this direction, you can end life”. That is something that I personally find totally wrong.’

Lord Carlile of Berriew said: ‘Those of us who lie in the bath or climb out of the shower at 7.45 in the morning are fortunate to hear the wise vignettes of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and the noble Lord, Lord Singh. We get our bonuses in this House, as we have enjoyed moments of real wisdom from both of them this afternoon, as we do fairly regularly on Radio 4.’

Sikh Courage and Sacrifice in World War 1

November 16th, 2014 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Current Issues - (0 Comments)

Lord Singh’s speech at a Parliamentary Commemorative Reception on the 10th of Nov:

sf-thumbs-main-Dr.-Indarjit-Singh

Friends, my thanks to Paul Uppal MP and Harbakhsh Singh, of the UK Punjab Heritage Association, for giving me an opportunity to say a few words.

By the time of the outbreak of the First World War, Sikhs, though only little over 1% of India’s population, made up to about 20% of the British Indian army.

By the end of the war around 130,000 Sikhs had seen active service. They fought on most of the war’s major fronts, from the Somme to Gallipoli, and across Africa. Over 138,000 Indian troops fought in Belgium and France, many of them Sikhs. More than one quarter of these soldiers became casualties.

They fought with great distinction in the freezing mud-soaked battlefields of Europe, and with equal distinction in the Middle East. In the ill-fated Gallipoli Campaign, the 14th Sikh Regiment sustained very heavy casualties.

Many plaudits were showered on Sikh soldiers by the British and their allies, and rightly so. Their courage and record in battle is second to none and we should remember them with pride. They have set the bar high and we, and succeeding generations must show we are equal to their challenge.

History records that Britain reneged on its promise of a measure of self-rule for India on the successful conclusion of hostilities and the people of the sub-continent found themselves subjected to further repression. The Rowlett Act, passed on March 10, 1919, effectively authorized the government to imprison any person suspected of supposed terrorism to imprisonment for up to two years without trial, and gave the imperial authorities power to deal with all supposed revolutionary activities.

Sikhs will note the irony of how, a little over a half century later, Indira Gandhi used almost identical repressive measures to stifle Sikh protest over the genocide of 1984.

But history can have some strange twists. The repressive legislation of 1919 and the now, universally condemned massacre, of hundreds of innocents at Jallianwalla Bagh on Baisakhi 1919, lit the torch of freedom for the sub-continent. It was a torch kept aflame by the sacrifice of many Sikhs

Friends, in the many centenary commemorations I’ve attended it was said WW1 was then considered as the war to end wars. What we need to reflect on is why didn’t it? In this centenary year of remembrance of the courage of the British, the Sikhs and others who gave their all, we need to redouble our efforts to honour their memory by working for a more lasting peace that looks beyond narrow conflict inducing national self-interest, to the well-being of all members of our one human race.

Finally, a word to the leaders of our political parties. As well as commemorating the centenary of WW1, Sikhs are, as you know, also commemorating the 30th anniversary of the state sponsored mass killing of Sikhs throughout India in 1984.There is no lack of evidence that this was a deliberate genocide, described by PM David Cameron as ‘a stain on the history of independent India’. The then Congress government role in this state sponsored genocide has been similarly condemned by India’s new PM Narendra Modi.

I know that all- important trade led to government reluctance to question the then Congress government, but a new situation now exists in India under PM Narendra Modi, who has himself sympathized with the suffering of Sikhs. I appeal to our main parties, to show similar sympathy for the genocide against Sikhs, by backing in principle at least, the establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to identify the guilty and bring a measure of dignity and closure to thousands of still grieving families of victims of genocide. Reflecting on Sikh sacrifices in WW1 it is a very small ask.

 

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY – 06/11/14

November 8th, 2014 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Thought for the day | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Today, Sikhs celebrate the birthday of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith. The Guru was concerned at the way different religions in his day, seemed to be more intent on rubbishing the beliefs of sister faiths than in living the values taught by their own.

In his very first sermon he taught that in God’s eyes there was neither Hindu nor Muslim, and by today’s extension, neither Christian, Sikh nor Jew. That the one God of us all is not interested in our different religious labels, but in how we live and what we do for our fellow beings.

With a Hindu and Muslim companion the Guru travelled the length and breadth of India, and to Sri Lanka, Tibet and to the Middle East preaching the importance of religious tolerance and a recognition of the equality of all human beings.

Guru Nanak was particularly concerned about the plight of women on the subcontinent who, as in much of the world, were treated as inferior beings. He taught that women should be given full equality with men, not simply as the wives or daughters of men, but as individuals in their own right, playing a full part in society.

Unfortunately, as we are daily reminded in the news, deep rooted cultural practices often tend to blur or subvert  the teachings of religion which challenge unthinking attitudes and behaviour. I was vividly reminded of this while working as a young mining engineer in a remote area of Bengal, I had just received news that my wife had given birth to our first child, a daughter. I was over the moon and excitedly rushed to the house next door, that of a Sikh and told him the wonderful news. Contrary to clear Sikh teachings, his culturally conditioned response was ‘never mind, it will be boy next time!’ I was not then the gentle, easy going soul that I like to think I am today, and it took great restraint not to clock him one!

Today, as we celebrate the birthday of Guru Nanak, we should all resolve to do as he did and continually challenge all forms of unjust or oppressive which often masquerades as religion, and instead focus on true religious teachings of respect for and service to all members of our one human family.

The Director of The Network of Sikh Organisations describes the move as a ‘tidying up of the law’

In a debate in the House of Lords earlier this week, Lord Singh, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations, gave his support to government proposals in the De-regulation Bill. The proposed legislation aims to extend the existing exemption for turbaned Sikhs to wear hard hats on construction sites, to other less hazardous places of work.

Lord Singh’s speech has been reproduced in full below:

My Lords, I support the retention of the original clause [and against the amendment to delete it] I speak on behalf of the Network of Sikh Organisations, the largest Sikh organisation in the UK, and as an expert witness in the famous Mandla case in the early 1980s which, incredibly, had to go all the way to the House of Lords to secure the right of a Sikh schoolboy to wear a turban in school and make religious discrimination against Sikhs contrary to the Race Relations Act 1976.

Sikhs are already free to wear turbans on building sites. This measure is simply a tidying-up exercise to ensure that Sikhs are not harassed by insensitive health and safety zealots in offices and workshops where there is minimal risk of injury.

I spent a day and a half in the witness box in the Mandla case and would like to take just three minutes to explain to the House the significance of the turban. It is not cultural headgear like the hijab but a religious requirement to remind us and others, of the need to stand up and be counted for our beliefs, particularly our opposition to religious bigotry in all its forms, and for the freedom of people of different faiths and beliefs to worship in the manner of their choice.

So strong is this belief in Sikhism, that our 9th Guru, Guru Teg Bahadur, gave his life defending the Hindu community’s right to practise their faith—a religion different from his own—against alarming Mughal attempts at forced conversion.

It was Voltaire who said, “I may not believe in what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. Nearly a century earlier, Guru Teg Bahadur gave this noble sentiment practical utterance. The Guru was publicly beheaded in the centre of Delhi. The executioners challenged Sikhs, who then had no recognisable symbols, to come forward and claim their master’s body. They hesitated to do so. There are parallels here with the Bible description of Peter denying his closeness to Jesus Christ at the crucifixion.

The 10th Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, decided to give Sikhs visible symbols of their commitment to Sikh beliefs—a sort of uniform like that of the Salvation Army. The turban is now the most recognisable of these symbols.

Sikh teachings of tolerance and respect for the beliefs of others are a powerful antidote to the extremism and persecution of minorities all too evident in our world today. Our world would be a happier and more peaceful place if more people were ready to stand up and be counted in the fight against intolerance.

This clause is a sensible tidying up of the law to extend existing exemptions for building sites to sensibly include other workplaces. I give it my full support.

 

LORD SINGH SPEAKS IN DEBATE ON ISLAMIC STATE

September 29th, 2014 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Press Releases - (0 Comments)

In a motion to take note moved by Baroness Stowell of Beeston in the Lords on Friday, Lord Singh of Wimbledon spoke on plans for military action against Islamic State, (IS) whilst reflecting on Sikh teachings. Please see full text of speech:

‘My Lords, Sikhism teaches that we should resort to the use of arms only when there is no other option to stop the killing of the weak and innocent. This situation has now been reached and we must give military support to the Iraqi Government in their fight against the brutal behavior of the Islamic State.

However, we must be clear about our objectives, both short and long-term, and, importantly, make these clear not just to the Government but to the people of Iraq and adjoining countries. Yes, there must be targeted air strikes, but air strikes alone are not enough. Parallel support for action on the ground will be needed to destroy ISIS.

However, at best this can only bring us back to the instability that followed the defeat of Saddam Hussein. The Middle East has for decades been one of the most unstable and fractured regions of the world, with national boundaries that split communities carved into countries by the West following the demise of the Ottoman Empire.

For too long, initially Britain and France and more recently the United States and Russia, have propped up one dubious dictator after another, turning a blind eye to brutal repression in return for trade and political advantage. It was not too long ago that I was invited to a reception at No. 10 for President Assad, who was being heralded as a torchbearer for peace and religious freedom in the Middle East. Today, the situation has been made worse by new players such as China looking for trade and strategic interest before human rights.

A paradigm shift to new criteria is needed, which must be honoured by those seeking our military support. They must pledge themselves to uphold freedom of religion and belief, gender equality and protection of minorities as a condition of our support. These rights must trump all considerations of trade and supposed strategic advantage in the cradle of civilisation and in the rest of the world.’

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