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Author Archives: Hardeep Singh

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.’

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY – 16/09/14

September 20th, 2014 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Thought for the day - (0 Comments)

Sikhs are often described as a martial race. Two things wrong with that. First, Sikhism is a religion open to all, and one of its basic teachings is that we all belong to the same, one human race. Nor are we particularly martial, and our Guru’s teaching on responding to personal affront is, (I hope metaphorically), ‘to kiss the feet of those who would do you harm’.

At the same time Sikhs are duty bound to stand up to injustice against the weak and vulnerable and if necessary and as a last resort, by the force of arms. Unfortunately, in a short history of constant persecution, we’ve had plenty of practice.

I was reminded of this last Friday when I attended an impressive function at the Royal Military College Sandhurst to commemorate Saraghari Day. On September 12th, 1897, 21 brave Sikhs holed up in a small brick and mud fort at Saraghari on the North West Frontier of India, held back an army of some 10,000 marauding and pillaging tribesmen, for nearly a day to give valuable time for their colleagues to regroup. Eventually they were all killed, but the thought of surrender never entered their minds. Their courage received a rare standing ovation in the British parliament and their achievement has been recognised by UNESCO as one of eight most inspiring stories of collective bravery in human history.

I saw more modern examples of uplifting courage in a visit to the Invictus Games, the brain child of Prince Harry. In the Games, wounded soldiers show how despite appalling injuries, they can still laugh, joke and compete in athletic activities. The Games, take their name from Henley’s poem Invictus, which reminds us that however difficult or unfair life may appear, we should never give up. It ends with the immortal lines:

It matter not how straight the gate; how charged with punishment the scroll, I am the master of my fate; the captain of my soul.

I saw limbless blade runners, one with severe burns to his face, and others racing in wheelchairs enthusiastically embracing life. They and the brave soldiers of Saragarhi remind us of the importance of courage and commitment. Courage that refuses to accept the bludgeoning’s of chance, and helps put all our petty aches and pains, and grumblings about the unfairness of life, into true perspective.

 

SARAGARHI DAY AT SANDHURST

September 20th, 2014 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Press Releases - (0 Comments)

On Friday 12 September Lord Singh, The Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) was given the honor of inspecting and taking the salute with Major General Nitsch at the Sandhurst parade, of the Sikh Platoon dressed as World War 1 soldiers.

The commemoration at the Royal Military Academy, remembered the fallen in Saraghari, whilst launching the British Army Sikh Association (BASA).

Full text of Lord Singh’s speech at the launch of the BASA and the commemoration of Saragarhi Day is given below:

Major General Nitsch, Lords, ladies, Captain Makand Singh and members of BASA, honoured guests, friends,

It’s a real pleasure to be with you on this commemoration of Saragarhi day and the launch of BASA – British Army Sikh Association aptly timed to coincide with one of the most heroic episodes in the history of warfare. On this day in 1897, 21 brave Sikhs of the then 36th Sikh Regiment holed up in a small brick and mud fort held back an army of some 10,000 Afghan tribesmen for nearly a day to give valuable time to their army colleagues. Eventually they were all killed, but the thought of surrender never entered their minds. They lived and died true to the Sikh teaching ‘Purja purja kat mare, kaboo na chadey khet’.

Always live true to what you beliefs and fight for them at the cost of your own life. Their courage received a rare standing ovation in the British parliament. All were posthumously awarded the Indian Order of Merit, then the highest gallantry award given to Indian soldiers. Their achievement has been recognised by UNESCO the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation as one of eight most inspiring stories of collective bravery in human history.

Saragahri Day sets the bar high for today’s Sikh soldiers but from what I’ve seen of our serving Sikh soldiers they will be up to the challenge of living true to the spirit of Saragarhi and I wish BASA every success. They add a miri dimension to the piri one provided by the Sikh Armed Services chaplaincy. Today, I believe there are about 200 Sikhs in the British Army. According to population ratios, there should be more than 1000. With BASA’s lead, I’m sure numbers will significantly increase.

I have long campaigned to see Sikhs and other faith in all walks of life, having proper spiritual support and we made real progress in prison and hospital chaplaincy. About 9 years ago, colleagues and I from other faiths managed to get the British Armed Services to agree on the establishment of chaplains for other faiths. I was nominated as the endorsing officer for the Sikh faith and took part in an interview for the first Sikh chaplain and we appointed Mandeep Kaur and she has proved an excellent choice. Not only has her work achieved recognition from her colleagues in other faiths, but she has done much to bring Sikhs in the services together, particularly in the annual Chardi Kala Chaplaincy Conference which helps in the re-charging of spiritual batteries. Her work has helped to bring serving Sikhs together: a prelude to today’s formation of BASA. We owe her a great debt.

I would also like to pay tribute to the work of the Maharaja Duleep Singh Centenary Trust, led by the tireless Harbinder Singh, Daljit Singh Sidhu and others who do so much to keep our heritage alive. But for their work, few, Sikhs or non-Sikhs in the UK would even be aware of Saragarhi and other inspiring episodes in our history. In 2001 the Trust persuaded my colleague in the Lords, Viscount Slim to give a memorial lecture at the Imperial War Museum in the series ‘Portraits of Courage’. Lord Slim, who had spent a lifetime in India particularly among Sikhs, chose the siege of Saragarhi as the theme of his inspiring address.

In the last couple of days, I have been lifted by the example of two moving events. Today we remember the courage of the 21 Sikhs at Saragarhi. Yesterday, I attended the Invictus Games, named after the poem Invictus, which reminds us that however difficult or unfair life may appear, we should never give up. The poem ends with the immortal lines:

It matters not how straight the gate; how charged with punishment the scroll, I am the master of my fate; the captain of my soul.

Yesterday I saw limbless blade runners, one with severe burns to his face, and others in wheelchairs enthusiastically embracing life. They and the brave soldiers of Saragarhi set a high standard. I am confident that BASA and others in the armed services will live true to their example of inspiring courage. Courage that refuses to accept the bludgeoning’s of chance, and helps put all our petty aches and pains and grumblings about the unfairness of life, into true perspective.

Please see link to coverage of the event on the British Army website: http://www.army.mod.uk/news/26554.aspx

[Ends]

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY – 09/09/14

September 13th, 2014 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Thought for the day - (0 Comments)

Media hype over this week’s launch of the latest smart phone and the million ways way it will help us connect to everyone and everything, leaves me a little cold. I’m a bit wary about sophisticated gadgetry telling us what to do with our lives. Admittedly I’m a bit of a Luddite about mobile phones, the social media and the internet. I envy those with the speed and dexterity of Madame Defarge who clicked away on her knitting needles while watching the guillotine in action I can’t cope with lengthy texts demanding instant replies. My granddaughter recently said she would send me an email because ‘you can’t text’. Determined to prove her wrong I slowly and ponderously wrote a text message signed ‘master texter’- and then, inadvertently sent it to her puzzled aunt.

My relationship with the internet lurches between love and hate. I can’t get over the power of the internet that gives near instant access to detailed information on the vaguest of topics—that is, when it works! At the moment we have lost our wi- fi and have only intermittent internet access due to a fault on the line. We’ve all had similar experiences.

My real concern is that it is all too easy to get hooked on such gadgetry in a way that takes us away from due attention to those around us. Guru Nanak too was concerned about the way people often neglected their responsibilities for more selfish pursuits. In his day, some people would leave their families and friend to go to the wilderness in search of God. The Guru once met some of these people on a mountain and they greeted him asking how the world below goes? He replied, the world is suffering and how could it be otherwise when those with knowledge and wisdom, desert it in a selfish way. God cannot be found in the wilderness but in the service of your family and fellow beings.

Today there isn’t much wilderness left, but it is all too easy to drift into a virtual wilderness in pursuit of virtual friendships to the neglect of real people around us. I am reminded of the poet’s words:

‘We flatter those we scarcely know, and rush to please the fleeting guest, but heap many a thoughtless blow on those who love us best. Now there’s a ‘Thought for the Day’ -in less than 140 characters!

A BRIEF HISTORY: SIKH PRISON CHAPLAINCY IN THE UK

August 5th, 2014 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Current Issues - (0 Comments)

One of the first Sikh Prisoners in British jails was Shahid Udham Singh, a friend of my parents. Udham Singh was hanged in Pentonville prison in 1940 for shooting Sir Michael O’Dwyer at a meeting in Caxton Hall, London. O’ Dwyer was Governor of Punjab at the time of the infamous Jallianwala Bagh massacre. He was regularly visited in prison by my father Dr Diwan Singh who would travel up from Birmingham.

In the 60s and 70s the hippy movement was in full swing and long hair became fashionable. Restrictions on long hair in prisons led to a problem for the Church of England (CoE) Chaplaincy, with some inmates claiming that they were Sikhs and should be exempt from the requirement to keep their hair short.

Although the law stated that it was a wholly Church of England Chaplaincy, there was some provisions for other Christian denominations and for Jews.   With some people now calling themselves Sikhs, the Chaplain General realised that he needed guidance on other faiths. He invited myself and a Muslim from the Regent’s Park Mosque to join us at the quarterly Chaplaincy Council meetings. (A few years later we were joined by a Hindu and a Buddhist).

The meetings were conducted around a long table and we were made to sit at one end while the agenda was being discussed at the other end. If we raised any issue or concern, the Chaplain General would look at us in a hostile way. Fortunately we both had thick skins!

By the middle of the 80s, the number of Sikhs in prison had increased significantly from a handful to nearly 300 (now more nearly 800) mainly due to political agitation connected with the attack on the Golden Temple and the mass killing of Sikhs throughout India in 1984.

I felt every Sikh in prison should receive regular visits and support. I persuaded a few friends around the country to act as contact points or Regional Managers and it was their duty to find granthis or other retired people to visit prisons in their area. Much later, and with great difficulty, I got agreement from the Chaplaincy Council for the Sikh Chaplains to be paid for travelling and attendance time.

There were many battles with the Chaplaincy Council over bringing in Krah Prashad and occasional langar for Sikh Services, and over the right of Sikhs to wear karas and a turban, and for Sikh Ministers to wear a kirpan. Eventually it was agreed that a kirpan of up to six inches in length, could be worn by the Sikh minister providing it was concealed from view.

Respect for other faiths improved considerably with the appointment of a new Chaplain General, William Noblett in the 90s. He had lived in India and had a great regard for Sikhs. On our first meeting he greeted me with Sat Siri Akal and a big smile. William was determined to change the Anglican Chaplaincy to a Multi Faith Chaplaincy.

For the first time we were invited to the Annual Chaplaincy Conference with the designation of Faith Advisors. Additionally, we were allowed a Sikh Training Day. We also began having Sikh Chaplaincy meetings at our own expense. The Home Office gave each Other Faith Chaplaincy a small annual grant, currently £17,000 (less than the cost of a part-time secretary) to manage spiritual and pastoral care for every Sikh in every prison and young offenders institution in the whole of England and Wales. The grant helps pay a small part of the office and administrative expenses, with the Director, Deputy Director and Regional Managers all working without payment. Sikhs are now ahead of other chaplaincies in also extending chaplaincy services to Scotland, with the help of resources from the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO).

Much has been achieved with the recognition of special provision for religious festivals. We have also compiled Prison Service Instructions (PSIs) giving an outline of the Sikh faith and faith requirements. Another area of progress is that we now have three full-time and one part-time salaried Sikh chaplains.

Progress has not however been uniform. The Prison Chaplaincy is only advisory and is not a part of the management structure of the Prison Service. When a Sikh Minister at one prison was summarily dismissed, I was told I could not be given the reason because I was not a paid employee! I upset the new Chaplain General by appealing to the Head of the Prison Service who finally condescended to tell me that the Minister’s kirpan had fall loose and he was seen picking it up from the floor. He, like all other Sikh Chaplains at the time and most still now, was a ‘Sessional Chaplain’ paid only for the hours he worked with no employment rights of appeal.

There have also been some self-created problems. There was a court appearance with a Sikh prisoner threatening to go on a hunger strike for special facilities. I attended court to assist him and saw him being slipped a packet of cigarettes by a friend. There are warnings not to bring in food from outside. Despite this, a well-meaning chaplain inadvertently brought in drugs laced samosas. Another Sikh Chaplain was caught smuggling drugs in his turban.

Dietary Problems

We have worked to ensure that the Sikh Chaplaincy PSI contains accurate information on Sikh dietary requirements in accordance with the teachings of the Gurus and the Sikh Reyat Maryada. The PSI, in line with the Sikh Reyat Maryada, explains that Sikhs do not eat halal but other than this the eating of meat or vegetarianism is an individual choice. The PSI also explains that many Sikhs will not eat beef and a fewer number will not eat pork.

Pressure from the significantly more numerous Muslim inmates has led to the frequent serving of halal meals. Patient negotiation with the Head of Prison Catering with veiled threats of resorting to Equalities legislation has resulted in an acceptance that if halal meat is provided, there must also be a non-halal meat option; something sadly still not yet achieved in schools and public services catering.

Whereas langar used to be brought in from gurdwaras, the official prison line now is that it must be prepared in-house to meet health and safety requirements for which they are ultimately responsible. They have agreed that this can be done by the Sikh prisoners or under the supervision of Sikhs. Some prisons however, still raise no objection to langar being brought in from outside. Some Sikhs are vegans and we work with prison catering to accommodate their needs.

More recently, a member of a Sikh sect says that he will not eat food cooked or served by those outside his sect, including the sharing of krah prashad. He also insists that he can only eat food cooked and eaten in an iron vessel. Unfortunately some outside members of his sect claim that this amounts to religious discrimination, misquoting Gurbani and the Reyat Maryada to justify an exclusiveness that goes against the whole thrust of Sikh teachings on equality. We have managed to help this individual by securing an iron bowl and spoon and a supply of cereals and he is happy with this. While we will continue to help, we are not prepared to bend Sikh teachings as some would like. One Sikh website has suggested that ‘Lord Singh has refused to support an Amritdhari Gursikh in practicing Sikh teachings.’ The same website declined to publish a reply and an offer to discuss the issue on any Sikh TV channel.

Other Challenges

There are still many other challenges. The main language now spoken by Sikh prisoners is English, with many Sikhs (mostly non-practising) being sent to prison for drink and drugs offences and crimes of passion. Some Sikh chaplains still have a poor command of English, and there is a need for more focussed recruitment. Some Managing Chaplains who are all non-Sikhs, to save money, try to pressurise Sikh Ministers to forgo their statutory weekly visit and come in fortnightly or once a month. We believe this is unfair to Sikh prisoners and are working to stop this. We are also pressing for Sikh chaplains to be accorded the same hours for religious teaching and prison duties as is given to those of the Christian and Muslim faiths.

Conclusion

I am concerned at the growing number of educated young Sikhs who seem to believe that they are doing their bit by looking for faults in the work being done by others trying to live our Gurus’ teachings. My message is emulate, and hopefully surpass their work, for the benefit of our community.

In conclusion, I would like to express my grateful thanks to the Sikh Chaplaincy team, particularly to Honorary Deputy Director Inder Singh Chawla, Gagandeep Singh Recruitment and Training Manager, and all the Regional managers and chaplains for their unstinted and selfless support in this important seva to vulnerable members of our community. Thanks to their enthusiastic efforts, and that of all Sikh chaplains, hundreds of Sikhs have now turned their lives around and are making a valued contribution to society.

Lord Singh, Director Network of Sikh Organisations

Lords Debate on Article 18

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

Lords Debate on Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Lord Singh asks Government to Look at the Reasons why People Become Perpetrators of Religious Violence

In a debate led by Lord Alton last week, members of the House of Lords debated the importance of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whilst reflecting on religious violence across the world.

Lord Singh the vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom said:

“We have heard moving accounts of Muslims in Burma and Tamils in Sri Lanka persecuted by militant Buddhists, with Christians persecuted and marginalised in much of the Middle East, Sudan and other parts of Africa. Yesterday’s Times carried a moving article by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on the plight of Christians in Iraq. We are all disturbed by the loss of life in conflict between the Shias, Sunnis and Alawites in Syria and Iraq and the persecution of Ahmadiyyas and Shias in Pakistan. I could go on. We can continue to condemn such killings, but if we are to make real progress, we need to look hard and dispassionately at why people of religion become either victims or perpetrators of religious hatred.

I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I speak frankly. Religions do not help themselves by claims of exclusivity or superiority. This simply demeans other members of our one human race and suggests that they, the others, are lesser beings. We all know what happens in the school playground when one boy boasts—it is usually boys—that, “My dad is bigger or stronger or cleverer than your dad”. The end result is fisticuffs. My appeal to our different religions and the leaders of religion is to stop playing children’s games. Guru Nanak witnessed the suffering caused by this children’s game of “my religion is better than yours” in conflict between Hindus and Muslims in the sub-continent in the 15th century. In his very first sermon, he declared that the one God of us all is not in the least bit interested in our different religious labels, but in our contribution to a fairer and more peaceful world.”

He added: “There is another important area that must be tackled if we are to move away from continuing conflict between religions. Most religious scriptures were written many years after the death of the founder of the religion. Scriptural texts often contain a complex amalgam of history, social and cultural norms of the day that can easily become dated. They can easily mask and distort important underlying ethical imperatives about our responsibilities to one another and to future generations. It is sometimes claimed that often-contradictory texts in different religions are the literal word of God. Those who wish to resort to violence in the name of religion can all too easily ignore the context and use quotations in scriptures to justify negative attitudes and violent behaviour towards others.

I believe that what is required is greater open dialogue that puts transient social and cultural norms embedded in scriptures in their true context. It is not easy. My plea to our Government is for them to give an energetic lead in promoting true interfaith dialogue that puts distorting history and culture in their true perspective to reveal common underlying ethical imperatives in our different faiths. Such a dialogue would provide sane and uplifting guidance for responsible and peaceful living in the complex world of today.”

Question of China-Britain Business

July 26th, 2014 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Press Releases | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Lord Singh asks Government to Consider Human Rights Whilst Marking ‘Record Level’ Trade:

During a debate on ‘record level’ British trade with China chaired by Lord Popat in the House of Lords this week, Lord Singh spoke about the untenable position Britain finds itself in, whilst trading with a nation notorious for human rights violations.

Lord Singh said: “My Lords, according to a report on 17 June in the Times, the Business Minister, Michael Fallon, said that human rights must not stop trade with China. Does the Minister agree that that statement demeans the very concept of human rights?”

Lord Popat, failed to directly answer the question.

Last year Lord Singh raised the issue of Britain’s ‘selective’ approach to human rights, where the government was swift to condemn the use of sarin in Syria, but silent over the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam.

He said other world powers like India, China, Russia and the USA behave in the same way, making a coordinated approach on human rights “virtually impossible.”

Lord Singh quoted, Andrei Sakharov, the Russian nuclear physicist, turned human rights activist, who said: “there will be little progress in our universal yearning for peace and justice unless we are even-handed in our approach to human rights.”


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