Vaisakhi, the day of the creation of the Khalsa, is one of the most important festivals in the Sikh calendar with colourful processions, bhangra dancing and displays of gatka martial arts. It is a time when we remember the courage of the five Sikhs who, in response to Guru Gobind Singh’s call, showed their readiness to give their lives for the inspiring and egalitarian teachings of the Gurus. It’s a powerful message relevant to both Sikhs and non-Sikhs in the world of the 21st century.
At Vaisakhi, Sikhs are required to pledge themselves to reflect on and uphold uplifting key Sikh beliefs. Let us remember them together. First there is belief in One God, the Creator of all that exists. Sikhs see different religions as different paths to God which should all be respected. This respect extends beyond mutual tolerance to a readiness to give our life for others to worship in the manner of their choice, as exemplified by Guru Teg Bahadur. Sikh teachings stress that no one religion has a monopoly of truth and are critical of those who argue that theirs is the only way, or that theirs is the final revelation. The Gurus also criticised all notions of caste or race in our one human family, and emphasised the dignity and full equality of women.
In Europe after the French revolution in 1789, the cry was for ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’. Nearly a century earlier, Guru Gobind Singh taught the same ideals, to which he also added the important need for humility.
Today we should pledge ourselves to eschew all factions in our community and unite as one in promoting these teachings for the benefit of our children and the wider world.
As we leave 2021 and enter 2022, it is important that we look closely at the forces and pressures that resonate in the Sikh community and reflect on how these help or hinder us in living true to our Gurus’ teachings.
The Sikh religion consists primarily of the teachings of the Sikh Gurus enshrined in the Guru Granth Sahib.
Our Gurus experienced several challenges to their leadership from false claimants to the Guruship seeking to use the popularity of Sikh teachings to further their own selfish interests.
Guru Gobind Singh was acutely aware that these challenges would continue after him and gave us his far-sighted injunction ‘Guru Manio Granth’. That is that we should shun those who try to bend Sikh teachings for their own ends and follow the teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib as we would a living Guru.
The Sikh Gurus incorporated writings of Hindu and Muslim saints in the Guru Granth Sahib to emphasise that no religion has a monopoly of truth. In the same way, leading Sikh scholars who compiled the 1945 Sikh Rehat Maryada also accepted the authenticity of some writings, popularly attributed to Guru Gobind Singh found in the misleadingly titled Dasam Granth (a 19th century compendium of mostly amorous exploits of gods and goddesses compiled by a Brahmin called Chiber).
PRIORITIES FOR 2022
As Sikhs we must heed Guru Gobind Singh’s clear warning about false gurus, and totally reject the siren call of sants and babas, distorting and offering questionable short cuts to the disciplined life taught by the Gurus.
As a community we must also be aware of political lobbyists here in Britain, who push an agenda which stands in contradiction to the uplifting teachings of our Gurus. Sikhism is a global world religion open to all, irrespective of race, class or any other background as the Gurus rightly intended. Those who continue to tell us we are part of some kind of ‘ethnic’ group, must be challenged and their arguments strenuously refuted at every juncture.
On the international front the NSO has supported the Indian farmers’ right to peacefully protest and briefed MPs on the developments since the farmers’ uprising against laws which not only disadvantaged them but risked their very livelihoods. We will continue to support them.
There is much work to be done, we have worked tirelessly in many areas including helping Afghan Sikhs, making sure Sikhs are included in the hate crime debate, and fighting for our right to freedom of expression. On the latter we were part of a coalition of free speech defending groups pushing back on elements of the draft Scottish Hate Crime Bill – now the Hate Crime Act. With our coalition of partners in Free to Disagree, we managed to defend free speech and get an amendment in the Bill, to allow people to freely discuss religion without censorship or fear of criminal proceedings. The fight for minority rights has been another aspect of our ongoing work, and we continue to collaborate with groups including The APPG for International Freedom of Religion or Belief to both challenge and shine a torch on those who persecute minority faiths overseas.
THE ROLE OF SIKHISM IN 2022 AND BEYOND
The Sikh religion is a strong faith rooted in compassion and common sense and has nothing to fear from discussion and questioning which can only make its teachings clearer and stronger. Our Gurus were far-sighted human beings who far from claiming special powers, warned us against superstitious beliefs and idle speculation about peripherals of belief.
Our responsibility as Sikhs is to live true to the teachings of our Gurus and make them known to a wider world which in many ways has lost its ethical direction. Many coming across Sikh teachings for the first time applaud its powerful emphasis on the equality of all human beings, gender equality respect for freedom of belief, and our responsibility to work for a just and peaceful society.
The challenge for all Sikhs in 2022 is to look beyond ourselves, and while being true to Sikh teachings, commit ourselves to living these values in serving the wider community. If we can overcome our petty internal divisions by focusing on the actual teachings of our Gurus and live the life they taught, 2022 can be an important year of unity and fulfilment for us all.
The UN Climate Change Conference or COP26, is underway in Glasgow this week with heads of nations who face the worst impact of climate change being the most vocal about the consequences of global warming. Rising temperatures are resulting in rising sea levels and extreme weather conditions – and island nations like Barbados face serious consequences with the rise in global temperatures. Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley told COP26 that for Island nations like hers a 1.5C rise in global temperature, ‘is what we need to survive’, while ‘two degrees is a death sentence’.[i]
Meanwhile, speaking at the opening ceremony The Prince of Wales told world leaders and delegates that a ‘war-like footing’ is necessary to tackle the climate crisis. He said, ‘I know you all carry a heavy burden on your shoulders, and you do not need me to tell you that the eyes and hopes of the world are upon you’. He talked of the need for countries to come together for a ‘global systems levels solution’.[ii] How nations work together to solve the climate conundrum remains to be seen.
Sikh scriptures tell us, ‘Air is the Guru, Water is the Father, and Earth is the Great Mother of all’ – thus we are encouraged to respect our environment and care for our planet. We have a responsibility like others to work to combat climate change, and initiatives such as EcoSikh are both important and commendable. Whilst considering COP21 and the global climate crisis, we happened to unearth a BBC Thought for the Day broadcast by our Director Lord Singh from March 1989.
Despite being over thirty years old, it is as relevant today as it was then.
16 March 1989 – TFTD Lord Singh (then Dr Indarjit Singh)
There is a saying in Sikhism that ‘We love the gift but forget the giver’. The words are used in a spiritual context, but they are also true of every-day life.
I’ve long forgotten who it was that gave us a present of a re-chargeable electric toothbrush, some ten or twelve years ago. It was never really suited to the sturdy demands of the Singh family – but it did give rise to a most unusual dream.
The dream started with isolated reports about a strange and deeply upsetting noise. Doctors blamed stress and prescribed tranquilisers. But without success. The complaint became more widespread not only in this country but also abroad, and soon became the subject of major world concern.
An international conference of scientists was called to consider the situation, and, after days of intensive deliberation, came up with a solution – specially designed earmuffs to filter out the offending noise:
It worked at first, but soon people complained that the earmuffs were beginning to lose their protection and that the noise was becoming even more distressing.
In despair, a conference of religious leaders gathered and, after much discussion, concluded that the noise was in some inexplicable way, nature’s reaction to the way in which human-beings were treating each other and destroying the environment in the process. I’ll never know what happened next. At that moment, I woke up to the noise of the toothbrush holder on charge in the bedroom.
This strange dream occurred many years before the current concern over the environment. Today it’s not nature that’s making a noise of protest but people all over the world, alarmed by the potentially lethal gap in the ozone layer, the hazards from excess carbon dioxide and other known forms of pollution, too numerous to mention, as well as others still unknown, undoubtedly lurking around the corner waiting to be discovered. It all adds up to the inescapable fact that the human race is proving far too clever and short-sighted for its own good.
Our Deputy-Director Hardeep Singh writes about the controversial Assisted Dying Bill 2021 which will be debated in the House of Lords tomorrow.
The push for legalised assisted dying for the terminally ill is back with a private members’ bill (PMB) introduced by Baroness Meacher. We’ve been here before, with Lord Falconer’s 2013 Assisted Dying Bill, and the 2015 Marris Bill – which was overwhelming defeated by 330 votes to 118 in the Commons. But this issue remains emotionally charged and goes to the heart of medical ethics. It is also true that euphemistic language is often deployed by advocates in framing the narrative – another way of describing ‘assisted dying’, is of course, the grislier ‘assisted suicide’, or ‘assisted killing’. Even euthanasia, which is the act of intentionally ending a life to relieve suffering means ‘good death’. Meacher’s PMB will be debated by more than 140 peers tomorrow, but has it addressed concerns like those highlighted by Lord Tebbit during the passage of Falconer’s Bill, when he said legalising assisted suicide, ‘will be a breeding ground for vultures, individual and corporate. It creates too much financial incentive for the taking of life’?
The Bill states it is designed to, ‘enable adults who are terminally ill to be provided at their request with specified assistance to end their own life; and for connected purposes’. A terminally ill individual having capacity to make the decision and is, ‘reasonably expected to die within six months’, must get the consent of a High Court judge. A witnessed ‘declaration’ is however first to be approved and countersigned by two independent medical practitioners. The doctors must examine the patient (and their medical records) and be satisfied the patient: (i) is terminally ill (ii) has the capacity to make the decision to end their own life; and (iii) has a clear and settled intention to end their own life which has been reached voluntarily, on an informed basis and without coercion or duress. But therein lie the inherent problems with these proposals.
Firstly, the Bill is founded on the premise that it is possible to ascertain the time of death for a terminally ill patient accurately up to six months. How can any doctor possibly know? Could a wrong diagnosis not also be made? Second, it is difficult, if not impossible to be certain if an asset-rich individual who feels, ‘they don’t want to be a burden’, has not been pressurised by relatives (or other ‘vultures’) into deciding to end their life. How to then safeguard the vulnerable at end-of-life? Section 8 of the PMB talks of ‘codes of practice’, but says, ‘The Secretary of State may issue one or more’ – ‘may’ is simply not good enough for what in practice would equate to intentional killing.
Supporters of change like the campaign group Dignity in Dying, argue dying people from Britain are already going overseas to end their lives. They say, ‘The absence of an assisted dying law forces dying people to take drastic measures to control their death’. Statistics, however, show that only 42 people travelled to Dignitas (Switzerland) in 2019, and 24 the year before – the highest annual number since 2002 was 47 in 2016. Given these small numbers, why should a right requested by the few be imposed on the majority in law? Dignity in Dying indicate 84% of the public support a choice in assisted dying for the terminally ill, and in September the British Medical Association (BMA) moved their position from opposition to ‘physician assisted dying’ to neutrality. But despite the polling and the BMA’s shift, which is now on par with the Royal College of Physicians, there remains a groundswell of opposition, not least the voice of Dr Gordon Macdonald, Chief Executive of Care Not Killing.
Macdonald told me, ‘It is disappointing that in the midst of the COVID pandemic, which has seen widespread discrimination against the elderly and disabled people, Baroness Meacher is pushing a dangerous bill that seeks to legalise assisted suicide for terminally ill people.’ He went on, ‘Setting aside the considerable issues with the Bill such as the difficulties in securing an accurate diagnosis, the whole thing seems based on a lie which perpetuates a dog whistle message that those with a terminal or chronic condition will die in pain, that current palliative care cannot help them and simply taking a pill will end their lives peacefully.’
Macdonald said in the US State of Oregon, six in ten people ending their lives in 2019 referred to the fear of being a burden on families as a reason. He warns of where things may head if assisted suicide is legalised here, citing the expansion of those qualifying for an assisted death in other jurisdictions. Several countries have legalised assisted dying, including a growing number of states in the US and Australia – a third attempt to legalise assisted dying is afoot in Scotland too. In the Netherlands, assisted death (legalised in 2002) is not limited to those with terminal illness and less than six months to live – but routinely extended to include the disabled, those with chronic non-terminal conditions and those with mental health problems, like depression and dementia – it also extends to children. Were the law to change, there are no guarantees we would not head down a similar and frankly frightening trajectory.
Right To Life UK are the secretariat for the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group. Their spokesperson Catherine Robinson told me all the main disability rights groups in the UK oppose any change to the law – including SCOPE, Disability Rights UK, Not Dead Yet UK and the United Kingdom’s Disabled People’s Council. She said, ‘We are calling on Peers to speak against and oppose Baroness Meacher’s assisted suicide Bill on Friday. The overwhelming majority of doctors who work in end-of-life care continue to oppose assisted suicide, according to the latest BMA survey. They know from experience that what vulnerable people need at the end of their lives is love and support, not offers to accelerate their death.’
Robinson is right. Moreover, if the law were to change, vulnerable people at end-of-life are at risk of interpreting it as, ‘a duty to die’ to alleviate emotional burden, whilst Tebbit’s point on financial incentive remains. Assisted suicide has been debated and rejected in parliament before, it must surely be rejected again.
Hardeep Singh @singhtwo2, journalist and Deputy-Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations
Give the gift of life after your death, please talk to your family. This will give them the certainty that they need to support your decision at a difficult time. Talk about your faith, what the Gurus say.
Organ donation is when a healthy organ is given to someone who needs it. Thousands of lives are saved every year by organ transplants. For many patients in need of a transplant the best match will come from a donor from the same ethnic background. Kidney donors and recipients are matched by blood group and tissue type, and people from the same ethnic background are more likely to have matching blood groups and tissues. For other organs there is a need to match blood groups, but less of, or no requirement to match tissue types. People can donate organs and tissues whilst they are alive, but today we’re mainly going to discuss organ donation after death.
Due to a shortage of suitably matched donors, Black, Asian and minority ethnic patients often have to wait significantly longer for a successful match than white patients. If more people with these ethnic backgrounds donated their organs after death, or as a living donor, then transplant times would reduce.
Most donated organs come from people who have severe brain injury in which really important parts of the brain that are vital to maintain life are damaged. These patients receive treatment on a ventilator in an intensive care unit. When these areas of the brain become damaged, the chance of survival is very low and the patients are essentially kept alive by machines.
When all efforts to save the patient have failed, death is certified by a doctor who is completely independent of the transplant team. It is important to remember that the patient is the priority of the doctors. NHS staff are committed to saving lives; they do everything in their power to avoid the death of patients.
A panel of doctors have to declare the deceased as brain dead before the organs can be taken out. People who die of natural causes are usually not able to donate, because the donor’s heart must be beating recently for the organs to remain alive and viable for transplantation.
Organs that can be donated by people who have died include the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreas, and small bowel. Tissues such as skin, bone, heart valves and corneas also can be used to help others. One donor can help save up to 50 lives. During organ donation, the donor is kept alive by a ventilator, which their family may choose to remove. When organs are removed by the medical team, the body remains as intact as possible. The removal of organs is carried out with the greatest care and respect. The family can see the body afterwards and staff can contact the religious leader if the family wishes.
There is no age limit for organ donation. The oldest donor was 92 years old in the USA, in May 2020. There are a few certain conditions that will limit patients from donating, but the doctors will be aware of this at the time of donation. You can find out more information on the NHS website.
England has an opt-out system. This means that all adults in England have agreed to potentially become an organ donor when they die and can choose to opt-out if they wish. However, just because you’re on the register it doesn’t mean that when you die your organs will automatically be donated. At the time of death, the family is always involved in the decision and their consent is still needed in order for organs to be donated. It is therefore really important that you discuss the possibility of organ donation with your family beforehand, so that they are informed of what happens and are aware that this is a possibility.
At the time of death, the family will likely be processing a lot of thoughts and there is only a short window in which to donate, so a conversation beforehand is of utmost importance. It is a difficult and emotional conversation to have but will potentially save many lives. You can find out more information on the NHS website and by talking to your doctor.
Sikh teachings about organ donation
The Sikh philosophy and teachings place great emphasis on the importance of giving and putting others before oneself.
Importance of service
ਮੁਇਆ ਗੰਢ ਨੇਕੀ ਸਤੁ ਹੋਇ। p 143 Guru Granth Sahib (heron inward GGS)
The dead sustains their bond with the living through virtuous deeds
The true servants of God are those who serve Him through helping others.
There is only one certainty that physical life comes to end. Life is grounded in death. Death is the natural progression of life.
Physical death for everyone
Physical death is certainty
We all are in queue waiting for death
The death is the return of the basic elements to their origins.
Like water in the water of the sea and the wave in the stream, I shall merge with God. Meeting with the supreme soul, my soul shall become impartial like the air.
The Sikh faith stresses the importance of performing noble deeds. There are many examples of Sikhs doing selfless service such as giving free food, groceries, and oxygen to the victims of coronavirus COVID-19.
‘It is entirely consistent with the spirit of service that we consider donating organs after death to give life and hope to others. In my family we all are for donating organs after death and would encourage others to do so.’ Right Honourable the Lord Singh of Wimbledon CBE, Director Network of Sikh Organisations, UK
Donating one’s organ to another so that the person may live is one of the greatest gifts and ultimate seva to humankind.
Seva or selfless service is at the core of being a Sikh: to give without seeking reward or recognition and know that all seva is known to and appreciated by the Eternal. Seva can also be donation of one’s organ to another. There are no taboos attached to organ donation in Sikhi nor is there a requirement that a body should have all its organs intact at or after death. Physical body is only a vassal in its journey, left behind and dissolved into elements.
‘One of Sikhism’s most basic messages-as advocated by Guru Nanak is for a human being to be of service to humanity. I believe every Sikh who has understood and inculcated this aspect of spirituality would consider his or her greatest honour to be of use to another human being in death. It certainly would be for me.’ Says Sikh scholar and writer, Dr Karminder Singh.
I end with the wisdom of our Guru, the Guru Granth Sahib:
On the inference members of the House of Lords are indifferent to the plight of Jagtar Singh Johal
(above) screenshot from Reprieve’s website:
Question from Lord Singh (Director NSO) to Foreign and Commonwealth Office Asked 13 November 2017
Jagtar Singh Johal
‘To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of India concerning the arrest of UK citizen Jagtar Singh Johal; and what response, if any, they have received.’
‘The British High Commission has raised this case with the Indian authorities. Following high level lobbying, consular staff visited Mr Johal on 16th November. The Rt Hon Field, the Minister for Asia and the Pacific met with Mr Johal’s MP and brother on 27 November. We will continue to raise this case with the authorities to ensure we have regular and full consular access.’
Answered 27 November 2017, By Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Conservative, Life peer)
Lord Singh and other crossbenchers working with Reprieve
In February this year Reprieve got in touch with Lord Singh and other peers to request support for a letter to the Foreign Secretary raising the alarm about India’s treatment of Jagtar Singh Johal. Lord Singh and some of his fellow crossbenchers signed the letter and are continuing to work with Reprieve and others moving forwards.
Difficulty to Mr Johal with advocacy from the Sikh Federation UK
The Sikh Federation UK is the successor group to a formerly banned extremist organisation. It does not help Mr Johal to have them speaking for him.
The Sikh community with the support of the DfE have made tremendous efforts to establish their local faith schools over the last three decades. Most of the schools are thriving and outcomes are high however when a school seriously underperforms and is threatened for academisation or re-brokerage, the issues can rapidly become highly sensitive for the local community. In some cases, this is due to the increasingly complex religious sectarian issues within the Sikh community. The NSO have been involved in tackling such situations which can lead to tensions between the DfE and the Sikh community which in some cases have led to complex, lengthy and costly legal challenges.
History has shown that when Sikh faith schools have underperformed, the reasons can be varied and complex. Local political barriers can sometimes prevent rapid school improvement support and system leadership to be provided to standalone academies or in some cases to schools within a multi-academy trust.
The NSO have introduced a range of school improvement services to help support rapid school intervention and support to enable the school to recover and at the same time provide confidence to the regulators that academisation or re-brokerage can be avoided.
Our school improvement services are provided by individuals that work closely with the NSO and are often experienced headteachers who are or have run outstanding schools as well as field experts in specialised areas such governance, safeguarding, curriculum and SEND provision. The NSO will provide these school improvement partners directly to schools who will pay them for the support. The amount of intervention will depend on the needs of the school and vary from a few days per term to longer in some cases.
Once again Sikhs throughout the world are celebrating the festival of Vaisakhi, one of the most important days in the Sikh calendar. Vaisakhi is a tale of brave martyrdom followed by the challenge of new beginnings.
The story of Vaisakhi begins with the martyrdom in Delhi of Guru Teg Bahadur, 9th Guru of the Sikhs, whose 400th birth anniversary we are celebrating this month. The Guru, who disagreed with many aspects of Hindu teachings was publicly beheaded by the Mughal rulers for trying to protect the Hindu community’s right to freedom of belief and worship. The Mughal emperor then challenged the Sikhs who at that time, had no distinguishing appearance, to claim their master’s body. But in the event no one came forward. The Guru’s young son Gobind now became Guru, and as he grew into manhood, he constantly stressed that Sikhs should always be ready to stand up for their beliefs, however difficult the circumstances. Then he decided to put the community to the test.
On Vaisakhi day three centuries ago, as crowds were celebrating the gathering of the spring harvest, the Guru, sword in hand, asked for anyone willing to give his life for his faith, to come forward. A brave Sikh stepped forward and accompanied the Guru into a tent. To everyone’s dismay, the Guru then emerged alone, his sword apparently covered with blood, and asked for a second volunteer. After five Sikhs had come forward, the Guru again emerged from the tent. To everyone’s joy he was now followed by all five Sikhs who were clearly alive and well and dressed in turbans and other symbols that have ever since formed a uniform or badge of Sikh identity.
The Guru was clearly overjoyed. The infant Sikh community had proved its courage and he was now confident that it could now continue to flourish, if it remained true to the teachings of our Gurus and the Guru Granth Sahib, while being on its guard against those who wish to distort or destroy the independence of Sikh teachings.
We have survived many direct challenges before. Today the threat is from India’s PM, Narendra Modi, a lifetime follower of the RSS agenda to turn India into a Hindu State. Disguised as praise for Sikh teachings, and aimed at absorbing Sikh teachings into Hinduism, it poses an insidious threat. The clue is in the PMs own words.
He writes – “our Sikh Guru tradition is a philosophy of life in itself.”
What does an extremist Hindu leader of a supposedly secular country that has passed discriminatory laws against Muslims, mean by ‘our’ Sikh Guru?
Guru Arjan emphasised independent Sikh identity when he wrote:
‘I neither keep the Hindu fast; nor the Muslim Ramadan. I serve the one God who is both Allah and Ram.’
The Guru taught that Sikhism cannot be caged in Hinduism or any other belief system. On this anniversary of Vaisakhi, we should pledge ourselves to resist both threats and blandishments; and live and promote Sikh teachings of equality, tolerance, and freedom of belief in a world that has lost its ethical direction.
Lord Singh of Wimbledon, Director, Network of Sikh Organisations
The Scottish Parliament voted in favour of the controversial Hate Crime Bill yesterday despite a groundswell of opposition from civil society groups including the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO).
The NSO joined the efforts of the campaign group Free to Disagree last year, because we realised proposals in the Bill would have a significant impact on civil liberties and a ‘chilling effect’ on free speech. We worked with our allies in playing a major part in pushing back against controversial elements of the Bill, with some success, and gave both oral and written evidence to the Scottish Justice Committee.
The NSO lobbied alongside the National Secular Society, Catholic Church, the Free Church of Scotland and The Humanists Society to secure an amendment to extend free speech for discussion of religion and belief. Expressions of ‘antipathy, dislike, ridicule or insult’ towards religion are now protected, whereas prior to this only, ‘criticism and discussion’ was safeguarded when it came to matters of religion. This is more in line with parallel legislation in England & Wales and allows for more robust discussion, without fear of investigation or censorship.
Notably, the original Bill was drafted without including the need for ‘intent’ to bring a conviction, and the threshold was merely ‘stirring of hatred’ was ‘likely’ to occur – something that would have put actors, or those working in theatrical arts (amongst others) in real difficulty. Lobbying efforts succeeded and the ‘intent’ modification is included in the legislation.
Our Deputy-Director who led on our campaigning, was quoted on BBC Politics Live and in the stage three debate yesterday in Holyrood by the Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Justice Liam Kerr MSP, who said:
‘Let me finish with a quote from Hardeep Singh, ‘for ordinary people there will be a serious ‘chilling effect’ on free speech. MSPs must therefore put free speech first when making the decisive vote on this ill-conceived legislation. The only way to do that is to vote against it. At decision time tonight presiding officer, the Scottish Conservatives will do just that’.’
As we pointed out in evidence to the Justice Committee, the Hate Crime Bill puts women who want to discuss women’s rights and transgender issues in real difficulty, as there is not enough free speech protection for them. It also does not protect conversations in the privacy of one’s home, as there is no dwelling defence – something that is included in legislation in England & Wales. There is now a risk conversations around the dinner table could be investigated.
Hardeep Singh said: ‘The Bill is deeply flawed and will no doubt be used by people to silence or attempt to criminalise critics. It may well lead to a culture of vexatious complaints and heralds a very dark moment for free speech in Scotland. Of course, we are disappointed it has passed, but are grateful to have worked with brave and principled individuals in the Free to Disagree campaign. Thanks to these joint efforts, there have been some important amendments which have helped improve the legislation during its passage.’
Over the last few weeks, the NSO has worked tirelessly with Cllr. Gurch Singh who set up a UK government and parliament petition (e-petition 563473)[i] on the farmers’ protest in India, which received over 115,000 signatories. The petition was debated in a Westminster Hall debate yesterday and we are pleased to see our efforts come to fruition. Of the 19 speakers, 17 spoke in favour of the farmers’ and many of them had been briefed by our Director, Lord Singh of Wimbledon and other members of the NSO. This included the likes of Martyn Day MP for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, who during the debate said:
‘As the world’s largest democracy and a key regional player, India has a pivotal role to play on the world stage. That is why it is vital that the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary impress on our Indian partners our joint convictions on free speech and the right to protest.’
The NSO was also in correspondence with Sir Keir Starmer’s office, and they responded positively, which resulted in the important contribution of Stephen Kinnock MP. He said: ‘Let me stress in absolute terms that the Labour Front Bench stands firmly behind the rights of Indian farmers to exercise their right to freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protest.’[ii]
We’d like to thank our network of supporters and activists who all took the trouble to contact their local MPs to urge them to contribute to this important debate and stand up for the farmers’ fundamental right to protest. As a result of their efforts and working in collaboration with us, many MPs who would have otherwise not attended – contributed positively in favour of the farmers. The debate sets a precedent and sends an important message to the Modi government. That is – we the diaspora community will continue to stand up for the human rights of the Indian farmers’, whilst also supporting the freedom of expression of the press in India.
Whilst we are pleased that solidarity was shown with the farmers’ cause in the UK Parliament, much more needs to be done and we cannot rest on our laurels.
Reflecting on the debate and looking forwards our Director Lord Singh said, ‘The success of the debate is seen in the angry reaction of the Indian government in criticising the UK Parliament for daring to shine a spotlight on the abuse of democratic norms by the Modi government. We will continue to speak up for the marginalised in India and elsewhere’.