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Author Archives: Hardeep Singh

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.”

Lord Singh of Wimbledon, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) has challenged measures proposed in the Assisted Dying Bill in a debate last Friday involving a record 130 Peers.

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 10-hour debate Lord Singh said:

“My Lords, the Bill is flawed on many counts. In attempting to show compassion to a few, it neglects due compassion to many thousands of others. It has created immense fear in vulnerable people that they are being seen as a problem by society, with consequent damage to their sense of self-worth. Much has been said about autonomy in this debate—about our right to take decisions about our lives. But all too often it ignores the reality that what we do or omit to do affects others. This narrow view of autonomy is little more than an unhealthy obsession with self, which is considered one of the five deadly sins in Sikh scripture. The reality is that all of us are part of a wider society. What we say or do affects others. Importantly, our attitudes and decisions are influenced by those around us. Relatives, through what they say or omit to say, or simply by not being around, can affect the mood or even the will to live of the vulnerable.”

He added: “The Bill stipulates the need for a “settled” state of mind for those contemplating assisted suicide. A feeling of not being wanted or of being a burden on others can, importantly, tip the balance towards a settled state of mind of not wanting to live. The proposed legislation moves us even further from focusing on enhanced care and compassion for the vulnerable in society. Worse, it can encourage uncaring or greedy relatives to persuade vulnerable people that their lives are not worth living. All of us can at times feel that what Shakespeare called the,“slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, are too much for us. However, it is also true that loving care and compassion can change our mood. This is particularly true for the infirm and vulnerable. Daily reports of abuse of those who cannot care for themselves by family members or in care homes remind us how far we have moved as a society from our duty to help the vulnerable. Sikh teachings remind us that our own sense of well-being lies in devoting time to the well-being of others. It is a sentiment echoed by all major faiths. Near where I live is a new housing development with a large hoarding advertising the development with the words ‘Assisted Living’. My Lords, the need of the hour is not to look to ways of helping people kill themselves in the name of compassion, but to make compassion and concern for the vulnerable, central to life in civilised society.”

Many Hon. Peers endorsed Lord Singh’s sentiments.

 

The Director of The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO), Lord Singh of Wimbledon has written to Chaplaincy HQ, after they requested advice following an email sent to them by the Sikh Council. Please see full response below.

I would like to make the following observations:

1. The Sikh Council is well aware of the fact that the Sikh Chaplaincy Service under the NSO, has been the nationally recognised body to look to the spiritual and pastoral care of Sikhs in prisons, for more than 10 years. It is a pity that the Sikh Council did not have the courtesy to discuss this matter with myself. They are well aware that I am the Director of the SCS and NOMS Faith Advisor.

2. I am both saddened and concerned that a senior officer of the Sikh Council is either totally ignorant of basic Sikh teachings, or perhaps is trying to bend Sikh teachings to support a faction that rejects the Gurus’ message of equality.

The Sikh Council officer writes:

Context of concern:  xxxxx is an initiated Sikh who strictly observes orthodox Sikh teachings. Part of his religious discipline is to follow the strict dietary laws of the Gurus teachings and in fact has taking an oath to God to practice such things. His observance of Sikhism is of the highest calibre and purity.

As you may already be aware, strict Sikh orthodox teachings of this nature require him to observe the following dietary law:

  • Being lacto-vegetarian (i.e. not consuming any meat, fish or eggs but allowed to consume milk products).
  • Only eating ‘cooked’ or ‘prepared food’ by spiritually disciplined initiated Sikhs.
  • Using only pure iron utensils to cook and prepare the food and eating and drinking from a pure iron bowl or dish.
  • Subsequently, Mr  xxxxx has not eaten a proper meal since he was sent to prison, which was 6th June 2014.  He has been eating one or two fruits which he washes before he eats, and drinking water using his cupped hands to drink as he refuses to use any of the plastic cups or bowls to drink or eat from.’

3. There is nothing whatever in Sikh scriptures to support eating out of a bowl made out of a particular material. Such superstitious beliefs are totally contrary to the whole thrust of Guru Nanak’s teachings.

4.The Sikh Council suggests that the prisoner says he will be violating his religious vows if he eats food served by anyone not of his particular sect. Sikhism does not do superstition. The Sikh Gurus stressed that the idea of pollution by eating food prepared by or served by others was totally contrary to the whole thrust of Sikh teachings which underline the importance of all people of all backgrounds and religions eating together to break down divisive taboos. This is the meaning of ‘langar‘.

It is sad that an officer of the Sikh Council refers to someone who flouts such teachings as ‘an initiated Sikh who strictly observes orthodox Sikh teachings’.

5. It is said that he is an Amrithari Sikh. The Amrit Ceremony specifically forbids Sikhs indulging in anti-Sikh practices. While the dietary practice of the individual concerned has nothing to do with Sikh teachings, the SCS is doing all it can to help the individual by supplying an iron bowl and helping with his dietary needs as far as practicable.

Lord Indarjit Singh (Sikh Faith Advisor to NOMS)

 

 

NSO Director Speaks in Lords Abortion Debate

April 8th, 2014 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Press Releases | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Lord Singh of Wimbledon, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations gave a Sikh view on abortion last week, during a debate secured by Baroness Knight of Collingtree.

He said, “My Lords, as a Sikh, I am totally opposed to abortion on any grounds except that of real and serious danger to the mother’s health, and it is important that those who facilitate gender-selective abortions should be punished with the full rigour of the law. However, laws cannot create good behaviour; they can only define the boundaries of unacceptable behaviour. We must also look to education in tackling negative and outmoded cultural practices.

The Sikh religion is not a religion in which “thou shalt” or “thou shalt not” are strictly imposed; Sikh teachings are couched in terms of gentle guidance about what we should or should not do to lead a responsible life. One of the few exceptions is a total condemnation of female infanticide. Sadly, this was all too common in the India of 500 years ago and was linked to the inferior status of women throughout the world.

From the very start of the religion, Guru Nanak taught the dignity and complete equality of women. Sikh women have always been able to lead prayers and occupy any religious position. The 10th guru, Guru Gobind Singh, gave women the name or title Kaur—literally, “princess”—to emphasise their dignity and complete equality. A Sikh woman does not have to take her husband’s name but remains an individual in her own right.

Despite the clarity of such teachings, negative sub-continent culture for some, even in the Sikh community, leads to discrimination against women and girls. Perversely, it is women who are often responsible, with mothers lavishing extra attention on male children. Even in the West today, a new birth is frequently accompanied by a joyous cry, “It’s a boy!”. It is not so long ago that the birth of a girl to royalty was greeted as a national calamity, on a par with the loss of a test match.

We all have to work much harder to fight gender discrimination and gender prejudice through tighter laws and education.”

Other Peers who participated in the debate, included Lord Patten, Baroness Barker, Baroness Hollins, The Lord Bishop of Leicester and Baroness Flather.

 

 

 

1.     On four separate occasions, I have asked in the Lords, why is the government  backing an independent UN led inquiry into human rights abuses against Tamils in Sri Lanka, but refusing to support a similat international inquiry into the attrocities of Sikhs in India. Are Sikhs lesser human beings? The government, in its consistent refusal to answer the question, clearly thinks we are.
2.     On 26th March 2014 Prime Minister David Cammeron effectively said that that the UK government is not concerned about the attrocities of Sikhs in 1984. All that matters is what Sikhs do for us in the UK.
3.     The last straw. The Sikh Council has been effectively sitting on a response from Baroness Warsi to the meeting of 24 February which effectively amounts to a huge slap on the face of all Sikhs, in its smugness about UK support for the persecution of Sikhs in 1984, and its arrogant refusal to support an international inquiry.
At the conclusion of the meeting of 24 February, Mr Kandola asked Baroness Warsi to send him her response to the points raised, undertaking to immediately forward the response to all who had participated. The Sikh Council has not kept to the promise made to all present. Even apologists for the Sikh Council like Gurmukh Singh will find the Council’s determination to sit on this latest slap on the face until after the photo opportunities at Downing Street, distasteful and insulting to still grieving families in India. The worldwide Sikh community expects a united response from the UK Sikh community to the smugness and indifference shown us.
Lord (Indarjit) Singh

Update on Downing Street Boycott

April 3rd, 2014 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Current Issues | Press Releases - (0 Comments)

Following pressure from the Downing Street boycott, and further discussions with Lord Singh, there is now a slight glimmer of hope that the UK government may offer some gesture of remorse over previous UK assistance to the government of India. This may be in the form of a statement by the Prime Minister at the Downing Street event, but it is by no means certain and we should continue to apply pressure in every possible way.

Sikh members of the Armed Services are also likely to support the NSO stance in not attending the Downing Street function. The boycott has however, posed a major ethical dilemma for some members of the Sikh Council. They have been asked to support it,  however there has been no response. It appears that some, considering a photo opportunity with the Prime Minister more important than standing up for Sikh values, will probably attend.

We wish them well.

UK Sikhs are deeply disappointed by the UK government’s attitude to Sikh human rights. While the present government cannot in any way be held responsible for support given by a predecessor government of 30 years ago, the present government’s statement that the assistance then given was ‘only minimal’, was deeply hurtful to Sikhs, and insensitive to others concerned with human rights.

The same seeming indifference to Sikh human rights was also evident in the House of Lords during questions on the UK government’s advocacy of a UN led investigation into human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. Director NSO, Lord Singh asked Baroness Warsi, the Senior Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, if the UK government would consider supporting a similar investigation into the highly organised mass killing of thousands of Sikhs in 1984.

Lord Singh cited evidence from the American Embassy in New Delhi that the number of Sikhs killed in just three days in 1984 exceeded the total number of victims of General Pinochet’s cruel and arbitrary seventeen year rule in Chile.

Baroness Warsi declined to answer the question, saying instead, that she had spent ‘an hour and a half’ in a meeting with the Sikh community.

Following discussions in the NSO and with other Sikh organisations, Lord Singh was asked to pursue the point and ask the UK government to show the same degree of commitment in addressing Sikh human rights, as they were showing in addressing human rights abuses against the Tamil population of Sri Lanka.

Lord Singh accordingly put a written question to Baroness Warsi, again raising the apparent lack of even-handedness. Baroness Warsi again gave a response which totally ignored the question. Lord Singh complained to House of Lords officials who agreed that his question had not been answered, and the Minister was formally requested to respond to Lord Singh’s original question.

During Questions on 26th March Adam Holloway MP asked the Prime Minister what more could be done to justice for the appalling events at Amritsar thirty years ago.

In his reply the Prime Minister acknowledged the continuing hurt to the Sikh community and described the events of 1984 as ‘a stain on the post-independence history of India’. He continued: ‘we cannot interfere in the Indian justice system, nor should we’.

As British citizens, we are entitled to a clear answer to the question put by Lord Singh, ‘why is it fine for our government to concern itself with human rights abuse in Sri Lanka but wrong for similar concern to be shown to Sikhs in India?’ Are Sikhs lesser human beings?

The Prime Minister concluded his reply with an all too familiar patronising comment: ‘The most important thing we can do in this country is celebrate the immense contribution that British Sikhs make to our country………’

The contribution detailed by the Prime Minister failed to mention the most important contribution Sikhs to society, whether here or in India. That is, in the spirit of our Gurus’ teachings, a total commitment to human rights, not only of Sikhs, but of all peoples everywhere.  The true message of Baisakhi is that we should always be ready to stand up and be counted in our concern for the human rights of all people whatever the cost. It is a commitment that cost our 9th Guru, Guru Teg Bahadur his life defending the right of Hindus to worship in the manner of their choice against Mughal persecution. It is the same commitment that led to the 1984 genocide against Sikhs for their earlier opposition to the three year dictatorship of Mrs Gandhi.

We believe that it will be a betrayal of still grieving families in India, for UK Sikhs to participate in a UK government celebration that not only ignores their trauma and suffering, but also ignores the underlying commitment to human rights central to the festival of Baisakhi.

We urge all Sikhs to boycott the Downing Street function as a charade that ignores the very meaning of Baisakhi.

STATEMENT FROM DIRECTOR: LORD SINGH OF WIMBLEDON

There is a tide in the affairs of men

                     Which taken at the flood leads on to fortune——–

  -On such a full sea are we know afloat

                                 And must take current when it serves or lose our venture

                                                                               Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

The need for an open independent inquiry into the genocide of Sikhs should be the most important demand for Sikhs in this 30th anniversary year of the Indian government’s planned massacre of Sikhs in 1984. We now have a better than ever opportunity to make this important Sikh demand a reality for the following reasons:

  • The revelation of the then UK government’s involvement, places a moral obligation on the present government to make amends by giving a measure of support for an independent inquiry, on the same lines as it is calling for a UN led inquiry into the massacre of Tamils in Sri Lanka
  • The centenary commemorations of the start of the Great War (1914-18) give an added reason to remind the UK government that 83,000 Sikhs gave their lives in the two world wars strengthening our demand for reciprocation of support
  • Wikileaks documents now available provide USA confirmation that more Sikhs were killed in just 3 days in India than in the 17 years of General Pinochet’s widely condemned cruel and arbitrary rule in Chile
  • India has a General Election in May. Two of the three main political parties have said they support an independent inquiry into the events of 1984 and Raul Gandhi, leader of the Congress Party has publically admitted that some Congress party members were involved
  • PM Manmohan Singh is also on record as speaking in the Indian Parliament on the genocide of 84 of ‘questions ‘still unanswered’
  • A General Election is to be held in the UK next year. There are sizable Sikh populations in many marginal seats and we can make it clear to political parties that Sikhs expect support for Sikh human rights

If we ignore this real opportunity, we will as Shakespeare observes, ‘lose our venture.’ This unusual combination of political developments will not occur again. UK Sikhs will betray the families of those who lost their lives in the genocide of Sikhs if we fail to make the need for an open inquiry the single- minded focus of Sikhs, to the exclusion of all side issues (including a time wasting inquiry into the minutiae of British government involvement which could take years without getting us any further).

Highlighting the Sikh Demand for an International UN-led Inquiry

My position in the Lords gives me a unique opportunity to constantly press politicians on this important issue, and with NSO support I have done this on four separate occasions. Yesterday I met the then Cabinet Secretary, Lord Butler to try to get his support, and am planning to ask a written question to Baroness Warsi as a follow up to the debate. It will not be easy but I will continue trying. One of the difficulties is the game of divide and rule, with the government saying other Sikhs are not necessarily backing the NSO demand. It is important to show Sikhs are united on this issue.

Need for Strategic Thinking

It is a matter of concern that although we are now fast approaching the June anniversary, and that May will see important elections in India, the Sikh Council appears to have no clear policy on what needs to be done. This has been admitted in recent email correspondence in which the Council asked the NSO for information on ten questions relating to background information so that they can begin consultations with constituent members.

Even more worrying, the Sikh Federation faction of the Council is actively seeking to divert attention and destroy momentum with a demand for a time wasting, judge led inquiry into British involvement that could take months, if not years without getting us any further!

In what many consider a historic House of Lords Debate on Monday 3rd March, I said all we want from the UK government is its backing for an International UN led inquiry into the 1984 genocide, on the same lines that HMG is supporting the need for a UN inquiry into human rights abuses against the Tamils in Sri Lanka.  I believe that the stance of the Federation faction of the Sikh Council in pursuing minutiae of UK involvement could prove counter-productive in alienating the UK government at a time when we need its support.

Unabashed, the Council are trying to claim credit for Monday’s historic debate in the Lords supposedly achieved with Sikh Council cooperation. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the Federation faction of the Sikh Council successfully muddied the waters by briefing Lord Triesman to shift the focus away from my demand for a UN backed inquiry into the behaviour of the Indian government, to instead, a time wasting inquiry into missing documents

Clarification

As I closed my speech in a strictly time limited debate, in which I had just 10 minutes to set the scene for the debate with a full history of the causes and details of the genocide of 1984,

I tried to impress on the government that Sikhs were united in our desire for an international inquiry and referred to the Sikh Council alongside reference to the NSO. This caused some ambiguity in the relationship of the Director NSO with the Sikh Council.

I would like to make it clear that I and the NSO have no desire to be involved with an organisation that includes factions that do not subscribe to the primacy of the Guru Granth Sahib, and on the current issue, acts in a way which I believe, seriously damages the Sikh cause. I have sympathy for Mr Kandola presiding over a group with conflicting agendas, but in this he is on his own.

My concern over the behaviour of the Sikh Council is that their lack of support may seriously harm this important Sikh demand. What I have written is backed by fact and I will be happy to debate it on any Sikh TV channel.

Conclusion

The NSO asks UK Sikhs and non-Sikhs committed to human Rights, for unqualified support for its demand for a UN-backed international inquiry into the genocide of Sikhs in 1984. It will be a betrayal of the families of victims if we allow ourselves to be deflected from this course.

Note: In preparing this statement the Network of Sikh Organisations wrote to Mr Kandola in an attempt to gain clarity on the Sikh Council’s strategy. Although Mr Kandola responded copying in colleagues, we are still no closer in understanding what their policy on the matter is. In the last communication Mr Kandola promised he would conduct consultation on the issue ending with the words ‘bear with us.’ We now understand Mr Kandola and his team have gone to India to help the UK government deal with asylum seekers.


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