Author Archives: Hardeep Singh
I would first like to thank the MoD for hosting this second Vaisakhi Conference, and Secretary of State for Defence Rt. Hon Michael Fallon and other guests for their kindness on joining us to celebrate one of the most important days in the Sikh calendar.
Vaisakhi, marks the first day of spring in northern India. It’s a time of new hopes and new beginnings; celebrated with colourful processions, fairs and sporting contests.
For Sikhs, Vaisakhi has an added and deeper significance. It was the day chosen by our 10th Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, to give Sikhs a distinct identity, symbolised by the turban and symbols of our faith. The question arises, why did the Guru, who taught the equality of all human beings, deliberately choose to make Sikhs distinctive and recognisable?
For the answer, we have to go back to a cold winter’s day in 1675, when the 9th Guru, Guru Teg Bahadhur, was publicly beheaded in Delhi by the Mughal rulers, for defending the right of the Hindu community, not his own religion, but that of others, to worship in the manner of its choice. It was a unique martyrdom for the cause of religious freedom for all. 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 Bahadhur gave that noble sentiment brave and practical utterance.
Following the beheading, the Mughal rulers challenged the followers of the Guru, to come forward to claim their master’s body. But Sikhs, who then had no distinguishing appearance, hesitated to do so. As we celebrate the Christian festival of Easter, we see a striking parallel with a key moment in Christianity with Peter’s denial that he was a follower of Jesus Christ, at the time of Jesus Christ’s martyrdom.
The tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, thought long and hard about the momentary lapse of courage at the time of his father’s martyrdom. It was on the spring festival of Vaisakhi in 1699, that he decided to put the community to the test. Amidst all the fun and celebration, the Guru, suddenly emerged from a tent, sword in hand, and asked for volunteers who would be ready to give their lives there and then, for Sikh principles.
The crowed was hushed to silence fearing anyone who came forward might be harmed. A brave Sikh made his way to the Guru’s tent. Others followed.
After the fifth Sikh, had gone into the tent in response to the Guru’s challenge, the Guru again emerged from the tent, sword in hand. This time however, he was not alone. To the joy and relief of the crowd, the Guru was followed by all five Sikhs, wearing the five symbols of Sikhism, the most prominent of which is neat and uncut hair covered with a smart turban.
The Guru gave the five Sikhs Amrit (blessing and confirmation in the new Khalsa community), and said that in future, all male Sikhs would take the common name Singh, literally lion, as a reminder of the need for courage. At the same time, he declared that all female Sikhs would take the name or title ‘Kaur’, literally ‘princess’, as a reminder of the dignity and complete equality of women first taught by Guru Nanak. Guru Gobind Singh then did an extraordinary thing. He asked the first five members of the Khalsa, now known as the ‘panj piare’, to give him amrit. In a remarkable exercise in humility, master and disciple were now one.
The Guru was now confident that the infant Sikh community could now survive and flourish without a living Guru. He added the writings of his father Guru Teg Bahadhur to the Guru Granth Sahib and declared ‘Guru Manio Granth’. That is that Sikhs should follow the teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib as they would a living Guru.
Today, on this anniversary of that historic Vaisakhi, we need to consider the implications of the Guru’s injunction, Guru Manio Granth to life in the world of the 21st century.
In giving supremacy to the Holy Granth over all living leaders, Guru Gobind Singh warned us against false prophets who would try to distort the teachings of Sikhism to suit their own ends. Sadly, today, many Sikhs are chasing after people who are doing precisely this, and looking to superstitious short cuts to a supposed better afterlife, rather than to ethical living.
Guru Gobind Singh’s injunction, ‘Guru Manio Granth’, that is follow the teachings of the holy Granth as you would the founding Gurus, warns us against this distortion and dilution of Sikhism and the need to be true to the ethical teachings contained in our Holy Scriptures. It reminds us not to be passive in our belief, but be active in living true to the teachings. The message of Vaisakhi is that we must not only believe in the teachings, but also let these infuse into the pores of our very being and influence our action and reaction to the world about us, at all times.
In short it’s not enough to simply believe in teachings on equality, religious tolerance and social and political justice as worthy ideals. The message of Vaisakhi is that we must make the furtherance of these ideals the central goal of our lives. We must work together to ensure that the light of the Guru’s teachings reach the furthest corners of our troubled world.
Sikh teachings on human rights have much to offer to a world that has clearly lost its sense of direction. A world in which greed and profit are put before human rights; a world which daily reports of neglect of vulnerable youngster and the frail elderly; a world in which members of the so-called Security Council supply more than 80% of the means of killing in a world awash with arms; weaponry all too easily available to cruel and arrogant leaders. I could go on.
In the past, in India as well as in Europe, religious leaders often amassed power and wealth for themselves, ignoring the need for fairness and justice in society while telling the poor and suffering about promised rewards in heaven. Secular society has gone the other way, arguing that religion should be a private affair and not be allowed to interfere in a materialistic pursuit of wealth and happiness in its blind pursuit of a better life, not in the hereafter, but here and now; and the result is again, power and wealth for some and suffering and cruel hardship for others.
I’ve spent some time in building and construction, but it doesn’t need a construction qualification to understand that that a structure build on inadequate foundations will inevitably suffer damage. Similarly, a blind pursuit of material happiness that ignores the need for the ethical underpinning of society, inevitably results in the cracks in society that we see today.
True ethical underpinning means that human rights, gender equality and concern for others must predicate all we do. They should not subservient to trade and the pursuit of power and privilege as they were a century ago and still are in many parts of the world. Vaisakhi reminds us, that it is the duty of us all to demolish this divide between religious teachings and secular living.
At the same time, Sikhs are duty bound to break down the artificial barriers of superiority and exclusiveness between different faiths and show commonalities far greater and more important than supposed differences.
The task of moving society to more responsible living is not an easy one. It requires the dedication and total commitment inherent in the message of Vaisakhi.
Lord Singh’s talk at the Ministry of Defence on 19 April 2017
Last week the government of Ontario passed a motion which officially recognizes the 1984 anti-Sikh riots orchestrated by Congress politicians as ‘genocide’.
Legislator’s in Ontario’s provincial government passed the motion which was put forward by Liberal Member of the Legislative Assembly Harinder Kaur Malhi last Thursday. The Private Members Notice of Motion number 46, was passed with a majority vote of 35 to 5.
It was first introduced last year by the New Democratic Party (NDP) Deputy Leader Jagmeet Singh, but failed to get cross-governmental support at the time.
Lord Singh of Wimbledon, who has been tirelessly campaigning for justice for the victims of 1984 said:
“We applaud the initiative of Harinder Kaur and the Ontario Legislature in describing the widespread government killings of thousands of Sikhs in India as genocide.”
He went on: “We hope that other governments will follow, resulting in an international inquiry to punish the guilty and bring closure to thousands of still grieving families.”
In a debate in the House of Lords in 2014, Lord Singh said the widespread killing of Sikhs in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination was incited by the words ‘Khoon ka Badla Khoon’, meaning ‘Take blood for blood’ on All India Radio.
At the time he informed peers: “We know all about the disappearances and killings in General Pinochet’s Chile, but a WikiLeaks document carrying a signed report from the American embassy in India shows that more Sikhs were brutally murdered in just three days in 1984 than those killed in Pinochet’s 17-year rule.”
A detailed report on the subject, 1984 Sikhs’ Kristallnacht can be found here
Audrey Trushcke, Assistant Professor of South Asian History at Rutgers University said Aurangzeb executed Guru Tegh Bahadur because he was ‘causing unrest in the Punjab.’ The same comment has been recently made by the Professor on social media.
In a communication to her this week the NSO stated: “As an expert on Aurangzeb you are no doubt aware he imprisoned his own father and murdered his own siblings. Not the actions of a loving son or brother, I’m sure you’ll agree.”
It went on: “His bigotry towards and persecution of India’s minority faiths is widely acknowledged and documented. It’s with this backdrop that a delegation of Kashmiri Pandits approached Guru Tegh Bahadur in 1675. They had been given an ultimatum by Aurangzeb to convert to Islam or perish, a policy we see with modern day ISIS in Syria and Iraq with the persecution of Christians and Yazidi minorities.”
We specifically asked: “How can standing up to religious extremism, bigotry and totalitarianism be possibly described as ‘causing unrest?’ Please do explain.”
At the time of writing we have had no official response from the Professor or the publishers of her book.
Members of the House of Lords called for a ‘credible investigation’ into the chemical weapons attack in Syria, which was responsible for over 70 deaths in Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib on Tuesday.
According to UK-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 20 children and 52 adults were killed in the chemical incident.
Calling for an investigation into the atrocity, Baroness Northover said: “If it turns out to be sarin from the regime’s stocks, what actions will be taken to ensure that this time there is full destruction of all Syria’s chemical weapons?”
Referring to a recent US military airstrike against IS which killed a significant number of civilians, Lord Singh said: “My Lords, does the Minister agree with the sentiments of the great human rights activist Andrei Sakharov, who said that there will be no progress on human rights until we are even-handed in condemnation?”
He went on: “Having said that, does she further agree that the indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Mosul should be equally condemned as the chemical attack? For survivors and for the relatives of those killed and maimed, it is equally bad.”
Around 2,000 people gathered at Westminster Abbey yesterday for a memorial service dedicated to the victims of the Westminster terror attack.
On 22 March Khalid Masood killed three people when he drove into crowds and stabbed a policeman to death before being shot dead at the UK Parliament.
The service was led by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend John Hall, and was attended by the Royal Family, the Mayor of London, MET Police, faith leaders and survivors of Khalid Masood’s murderous rampage.
Our Director, Lord Singh attended in his capacity as a faith leader, something he does routinely at civic occasions like the Commonwealth Service and the Remembrance Day Service at the Cenotaph.
American tourist Melissa Payne Cochran who lost her husband during the terrorist incident was also in attendance with her parents. She had been celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary with her husband on the day of the terror attack.
In a moving tribute to those who had lost their lives, Prince William read a passage from the Bible about the Good Samaritan. The Home Secretary Amber Rudd read from the Book of Jeremiah and PC J Garcha, a serving officer in the MET Police read from the Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh scriptures).
Some representatives from the Sikh Federation and Sikh Council were also among audience members.
Lady Singh has been unanimously elected to lead the Global Sikhs Council (GSC) at its annual general meeting (AGM) last week in Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia.
Former Vice-President Lady Singh’s election to head the group was met with approval from delegates from 18 countries at the AGM. A representative from an umbrella body of Malaysian Sikhs in attendance expressed his confidence in the new appointment. “She is a capable person,” he told Asia Samachar.
The organisation was initially set up in Australia in 2014, to establish a coalition of national Sikh organisations from across the globe that would fearlessly promote values and policies consistent with Sikhism.
On her appointment Lady Singh confirmed one of the GSC’s aims is to promote the primacy of the Nanakshahi calendar, so this gives uniformity to the celebration of Gurpurabs.
She said, “We will actively encourage the recruitment of bilingual preachers for gurdwaras in the West so young children and adults who don’t speak Punjabi can understand their faith.”
She is committed in dispelling misconceptions about Sikhism, which she said, “are being propagated in some influential quarters by those who are willfully attaching a false mythological narrative, which totally undermines Sikh ethos and teachings.”
Along with her new role, Lady Singh continues as Education Inspector and consultant responsible to inspect religious education in Sikh Schools for the Department of Education. She is also the Deputy Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations.
The European court of justice’s (ECJ) recent ruling on religious symbols which grants companies the right to ban employees from wearing visible religious symbols will not apply to the UK according to a government Minister.
Europe’s highest court decided on cases involving two Muslim women and their right to wear headscarves at work. The court ruled the garments could be banned, but only as part of a broader policy for all political and religious symbolism in the workplace.
Minister of State, Baroness Williams of Trafford confirmed the ECJ decision would not have a bearing on the UK, she said: “We will protect and uphold the freedoms that have been allowed in this country, as we always have done. It will not affect our domestic law.”
Lord Singh said, “I thank the Government for the clarity and forcefulness of the Statement protecting religious minorities. The law in Europe seems to be in a mess because of the two conflicting judgments. They are conflicting because if the Human Rights Council says that people have the right to manifest their religion, that should be absolute. Otherwise, it becomes very difficult.”
He went on: “Who decides? In France and Belgium, the Governments overrule that judgment. Sikh schoolchildren cannot go to a public school with a turban and people who want a passport photo have to take their turban off. This is just absurd. I do not know whether there is anything the Government can do to explain that absurdity to those in Europe.”
The full debate can be read here.
Yesterday’s Commonwealth Day Service in Westminster Abbey was on the theme of peace. But, with the firing of Kim Jung Un’s ‘look at me’ rockets fuelled by the blood and sweat of his impoverished people, Russia muscling in on the chaos and suffering in the Middle East, and a record 20 million refugees without, food and shelter, a truly peaceful world still seems a distant dream.
I found the service and prayers at the Abbey, both moving and uplifting. In the Sikh view, prayers are essentially a charging of spiritual batteries to help us move in a better ethical direction. In this case, to a more active search for peace. And for this we clearly have to look beyond today’s policies of deterrence and containment.
Sikh teachings remind us that peace is more than the absence of war; it is a universal respect for the rights of others, and I find it hard to believe that this can be achieved by narrowly focussing on deterrent might, with its inherent dangers of an escalation of rival power. New technologies and new ways of killing make yesterday’s lethal weapons obsolete, not to be disposed of, but sold to developing countries, fuelling conflict in a world awash with arms.
A moving Christian hymn reminds us that new occasions teach new duties; time makes ancient good uncouth. They must upwards still and onwards, who would keep abreast with truth. Today’s strategic alliances, while providing a measure of mutual security for some, do nothing to prevent continuing human right’s abuse for others. Guru Ram Dass, writing of pacts and alliances made in self-interest, taught that the only pact or commitment worth making was to God to be committed and uncompromising in our pursuit of social and political justice, – not only for our side, but for all people; a sentiment that has its echo in the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
Today, while many agree with such sentiments, some political leaders find it expedient to overlook human rights abuse in what are sometimes called friendly countries. The great human rights activist and scientist Andre Sakharov, made clear his view that there can no lasting peace in the world unless we are even-handed on the abuse of human rights. Words we must take on board in our search for a more peaceful and fairer world.
The extraordinary contribution of Indian soldiers to the Great War effort was highlighted with launch of the ‘Legacy of Valour’ exhibition in Parliament last week.
The exhibition marked the inordinate contribution of 1.5m Indian soldiers who fought in the many theatres of war during 1914-18. The exhibition launch last Monday was attended by His Excellency Mr. Y.K. Sinha (Indian High Commissioner), Baroness Flather, Lord Singh of Wimbledon and Reading West MP Alok Sharma.
Organiser Inderpal Singh Dhanjal said that the overwhelming reaction of those who attended the opening ceremony was that it was both inspirational and informative. Mr Dhanjal said attendees told him the exhibition “must be shown in other cities to educate and raise awareness of the sacrifices of Sikh and other Indian soldiers in WW1.”
Although the exhibition in Parliament is now closed, Mr Dhanjal informed the NSO he is in negotiations with interested parties and will be organising another viewing in the South East.