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THOUGHT FOR THE DAY – 09/06/15

June 10th, 2015 | Posted by Singh in Thought for the day - (0 Comments)

A weekend report that the Principal of Cheltenham Ladies College was considering ending homework to help reduce depression in children underlines the seriousness of a problem recognised by many. I’m not sure that the Head’s idea of ending homework will prove a solution but there’s no doubt there is a problem. A recent report found that whereas the peak of depressive illness used to be in the late 20s, it is now in the teens.

With conflicting pressures and distractions of social media, internet chat lines and other peer pressures it’s perhaps harder than ever for young people to distinguish between the trivial and the important in their own attitudes to life. Calls on young people are very real and can at times be overwhelming.

It’s a challenge for all of us; parents too have difficulty juggling with priorities – 2 wage earners in a household can mean less time available – no wage earners brings other stresses. Parents separating, can also have a devastating effect on children.

Similar challenges in deciding underlying priorities for balanced and responsible living existed in the less frenetic times of Guru Nanak some 500 years ago with the need for balance frequently giving way to extremes. Some saw their goal in life as a single-mindedly amassing of wealth, while others would live by begging in a search for spiritual wisdom.

Guru Nanak taught that the key to a balanced life was to live by three golden rules. The first of these is to establish priorities through reflecting on scriptural guidance to help us all distinguish between the meaningful, and trivial obsessions which can dominate our thinking. The second golden rule is earnest effort in all we do. The third and most important rule is the need to look outwards, to the needs of others.

This can take many forms such as the Sikh institution of langar; food for all served at our gurdwaras. Then there’s the importance of giving time to the needs of the vulnerable. Today, coming back to the pressures faced by the young, there is a particular need to give time to our children and, in line with a common teaching of our different religions, provide a stable and supportive family life. It’s now more important than ever to help the young distinguish between false and fleeting priorities, and the genuine challenges and responsibilities that lead to a contented and fulfilling life.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY – 02/06/15

June 2nd, 2015 | Posted by Singh in Thought for the day - (0 Comments)

The weekend news of 17 bodies being pulled out of the Mediterranean and the rescue of more than 4000 people in just 3 days, reminds us of the unbelievable suffering in the Middle East. Refugees, from brutal rule in Libya, Syria and Iraq are continuing to take their chance in leaky boats to escape further persecution. Their plight is mirrored by that of the Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, starving and adrift in ships for months on end, because no one will give them sanctuary.

A common feature of such tragedies is the manipulation of religious sentiment to further political power, with selective quotation of religious texts written hundreds of years ago being used to justify brutal behaviour. Paradoxically, similar selective quotation is used to argue that religions teach only peace.

Most religions suffer this problem of selective quotation to justify different views. Sikhism is a comparatively new religion with the founder, Guru Nanak born in 1469. The teachings of the Gurus were couched in lasting ethical principles and were recorded in their lifetime. Sikhs were asked to follow only these recorded teachings. Despite this clarity, we still suffer from selective quotation on emotive issues such as meat eating, and more worryingly, in attempts to introduce new teachings which many Sikhs feel to be of dubious authenticity.

Today, religious leaders now have the additional task of disentangling advice, given to meet the particular social or political climate of several centuries ago, from more lasting and timeless ethical teachings.

As a line from a favourite hymn reminds us:

New occasions teach new duties; time makes ancient good uncouth
They must upward, still and onward who will keep abreast with truth.

It is a line that resonates with the Sikh belief that our religious labels, or membership of different sects count for nothing in the eyes of the one God of us all. It’s what we do to counter poverty and work for peace and justice that really counts.

The challenge is not easy, but it is essential in our need to ensure that religion is what the founders of our different faiths intended it to be, guidance for responsible living, and the cure rather than the cause of conflict.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY – 18/3/15

March 18th, 2015 | Posted by Singh in Thought for the day - (0 Comments)

Yesterday, a Department of Health taskforce published a report recommending sweeping changes in the funding and operation of mental health provision for children and adolescents. The report follows a series of Times articles on a growing epidemic of mental health problems in children and adolescents resulting in a huge rise in children resorting to self-harm and exhibiting symptoms of anxiety and depression in schools.

Many are seeking treatment for mental health problems in hospitals, or worse ending up in prisons. In one of these articles, the columnist Libby Purves highlights the urgent need for parents, to re-set their priorities and recognise the ground realities of pressures on their children.

Her comments reminded me of a story of Guru Nanak meeting with a group of people in a mountain retreat searching for an understanding of God. They greeted the Guru with the words ‘ how goes the world below’ the Guru was not impressed and told the group that God was not to be found in the wilderness but in the service of family and wider society.

Today there’s not much wilderness left for retreat – selfish or otherwise – but it is all too easy to spend all our time on personal pursuits or lose, ourselves in the virtual wilderness of the internet to the neglect of those around. Worse, in the absence of comfort and support from parents, children may look to friendship, love and support on internet chat lines oblivious to the dangers of grooming, blackmail and the hurt that can be caused by on-line bullying.

While yesterday’s promise of enhanced provision will help, Sikh teachings and those of sister faiths suggest that the real remedy lies in the home.

Reflecting on parental responsibility, Guru Nanak reminded us that the birth of a child comes with an attached responsibility for the child’s care and comfort that continues even if parents split. It is the family rather than on the internet that children should share both triumphs and concerns and receive time consuming but necessary encouragement and support. Today, obsession with personal fulfilment has replaced a search for God. Our different faiths remind us that both personal fulfilment and God can be found in looking beyond ourselves to the care and support of those around us.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY – 11/3/15

March 11th, 2015 | Posted by Singh in Thought for the day - (0 Comments)

At the start of the Millennium, some of us from different faiths met in Lambeth Palace to reflect on the record of the 20th century in which more people were killed as a result of war than in the rest of recorded history. Not knowing the horrors of the conflicts that lay ahead, we resolved that people of all faiths should adhere to common values and we set out to establish what those should be. After a series of meetings we published a grandly titled document ‘Common Values for the New Millennium’. The list included looking to the needs of others, considering responsibilities as well as rights and understanding and respecting diversity.

We thought we had formulated a Holy Grail to lasting peace and social justice. But after a short burst of publicity, the document was soon forgotten. On reflection perhaps we were being simplistic and naive. As Sikh scriptures reminds us, we can’t effect change by simply wishing it.

A few years later, I attended another meeting in the very same room in Lambeth Palace to hear a lecture by a visiting American Preacher on working for lasting peace. He declared ‘what we need are common values’, and now a high powered Commission is engaged on yet another extensive consultation exercise to define British values.

All the values in the Lambeth list are found in Sikh teachings and are also evident in other faiths. The real problem is how to embed these in the fabric of a society that looks to individual fulfilment rather than the needs of society as a whole. How can we walk the talk, or as Sikhs put it, how can we move in a gurmukh or Godly direction. Not easy. A colleague in the Lords reminded me of this when he stated in a debate that religion was out of step with society. To me it was a bit like saying ‘my satnav isn’t following my directions’.

Sikh teachings on the need for cooperation between different faiths suggest that if we synchronise our ethical satnavs, we can begin to make a real difference. Perhaps the first step would be to recognise that despite following different road maps, in reality, we all share common aspirations and concerns, and resolve to work together to make these central to social and political action.

 

 

Sexual grooming and the culture of denial

March 5th, 2015 | Posted by Singh in Current Issues - (0 Comments)

Sir, For many years political correctness has led to the identity of the community involved in the sexual grooming of children and young women in the UK being described as Asian rather than Muslim. We are consequently encouraged to hear the prime minister’s assertion that “a warped sense of political correctness” will not stifle attempts to fight these crimes — which he now classes as a “national threat”.

Sikh and Hindu communities have for decades been at the receiving end of predatory grooming by members of the Muslim community and have for some time been campaigning in the UK for the recognition that there seems to be a clear pattern emerging in recent high-profile sexual grooming gang cases. This pattern clearly highlights that these gangs seem to predominantly originate from a Pakistani Muslim community, while their victims are almost always of a white, Hindu or Sikh background.

We urge the prime minister to tackle head-on why so many young Muslims in the UK have this disrespectful attitude towards women in other communities, and to urgently engage with the leaders of the Muslim community to find answers to a problem that demeans women, does incalculable damage to interfaith harmony and harms the public perception of members of the Muslim community.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon Network of Sikh Organisations (UK)

Anil Bhanot Hindu Council (UK)

Ashish Joshi Sikh Media Monitoring Group (UK)

Mohan Singh Khalsa Sikh Awareness Society (UK)

[Letter published in the Times 5th March 2015]

A question tabled by Baroness Thornton earlier this week led to a debate on the issue of the leisure industries support for turban wearing Sikhs.

Lord Singh, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO), informed peers that the Sikh turban is a religious requirement.

He said: ‘My Lords, I have played cricket and rugby to a respectable level without mishap. Will the Minister remind the leisure industry and assorted health-and-safety and conformity fanatics who argue that we cannot even change a light bulb without protective clothing that the Sikh turban is not cultural headgear but a religious requirement to remind us of a commitment to ethical living, gender equality and a respect for all faiths and beliefs?’

Baroness Garden of Frognal responded thus:

“Indeed, my Lords, there is a very rich and valuable tradition, culture and religious faith behind the turban.”

Lord Singh’s contribution was well received by those who participated in the debate.

NSO Letter to BBC Head of Religion & Ethics

February 14th, 2015 | Posted by Singh in Current Issues - (0 Comments)

Dear Sir,

The Sunday Programme 8th February 2015

This morning’s programme carried a lengthy piece on the CST Report on the increase in incidents against Britain’s Jewish community. The increase was attributed in a large measure to what some see as the Israeli government’s heavy-handed action against Palestinian’s in Gaza.

Sikhs sympathise with the wholly innocent members of the British Jewish community, but we are concerned over the continual emphasis on the concerns of those of the Abrahamic faiths to the total indifference to those of others.

Sikhs are particularly vulnerable to ‘mistaken identity’ attacks on members of their community resulting from anger over Islamic extremism. The first person killed in a ‘revenge attack’ after 9/11 was a Sikh, and a similarly motivated attack on a Sikh gurdwara in the USA resulted in the massacre of many innocent worshippers. More recently, following the Charlie Hebdo massacre, a young Sikh in a TESCO supermarket in Cardiff suffered life-threatening injuries from a machete attack, in yet another case of mistaken identity. Incidentally, this is equal to the total number of serious assaults identified in the CST Report.

We have referred to the plight of the wholly innocent Sikh community by way of example. Other faith communities also experience bigotry. Name calling and worse. The BBC should provide better balance and perspective, or be more open and honest and re-title the Sunday Programme ‘the Sunday Programme for Abrahamic Faiths‘ and acknowledge the rest of us don’t matter.

The Network of Sikh Organisations

Correction: [subsequent media reports confirmed the machete attack was in Mold (N Wales), not Cardiff]

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 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.

 

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