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The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) has requested the BBC to acknowledge a glaring omission following a segment [57:13-57:54] in its Cenotaph television coverage today in which David Dimbleby forgets to mention Sikhs amongst the 22 faith leaders in attendance for the centenary commemorations.

During the coverage of Remembrance Sunday, he said:

“There are 22 faith leaders here today”.

Dimbleby then goes through the names of faiths being represented as they appear in the footage, listing them one by one – “Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, Jain, Baha’i, Mormon, Humanists and Spiritualists”. He forgot to mention Sikhs, despite our Director Lord Singh’s clear presence.

The omission which may have been inadvertent, has resulted in several complaints to the NSO. Given the size of the Sikh community in Britain, as well as the fact that today’s Remembrance Sunday commemorations marks one hundred years of the end of the Great War, we believe the inordinate contribution of Sikhs deserved recognition. To illustrate why, at the outbreak of hostilities in the Great War, 20% of soldiers in the British Indian Army were Sikhs, despite comprising less than 2% of British India’s population.

In the circumstances the NSO feels the BBC should make an urgent correction.

We would like to pass on our deepest condolences to Jewish communities around the world for the terrorist outrage in Pittsburgh, which resulted in the killing of 11 innocent worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue on Saturday.

Anti-Semitism has no place in any civilised society, and we are saddened by these terrible events in the US. The Sikh community in the US has also faced hate filled violence since 9/11. In 2012, six worshippers were murdered by a white supremacist gun man in a gurdwara in Wisconsin.

During what are increasingly polarised times for all faiths, we stand in solidarity with a religious community we have always viewed as our older brothers and sisters.

Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO)

(above) Sikhs participating in a vigil following the Wisconsin gurdwara massacre in 2012

This week the government announced a ‘refresh’ of Action Against Hate (2016) their four-year hate crime action plan, to ‘address specific concerns across all 5 monitored strands of hate crime.’ New measures like a Law Commission review into whether additional protected characteristics like misogyny and age should be legislated for, and ministerial round tables to specifically address Muslim and Jewish concerns headlined. However, despite being subject to serious violence and hostility since 9/11, the ‘refresh’ has managed to marginalised British Sikhs yet again. This has been particularly galling for the NSO for the following reasons:

  • Our Director has expressed Sikh concerns in numerous debates in the House of Lords
  • We’ve provided detailed evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee on hate crime and violent consequences over two consecutive years (2017/18)
  • We’ve written about the issue in the print media and discussed it on BBC Radio
  • We unearthed data (through FOI) showing significant numbers of non-Muslims and those of no recorded faith are being recorded as victims of ‘Islamophobic hate crime’ by the MET police, and gone onto successfully push for disaggregation of religious hate crime
  • We’ve got a correction from the Evening Standard reporting on increased ‘Islamophobic hate crime’ in London, to clarify the attacks, in accordance with the FOI data are not solely against British Muslims
  • In partnership with Hindu groups, we lobbied the government to address reporting issues for Hindus and Sikhs, and they responded with a specific policy (announced in January 2017) to help both communities report hate crime via True Vision

Although Sikh groups like the NSO, The Sikh Council, The Sikh Federation UK and City Sikhs have all expressed concerns about Action Against Hate (2016) when it was first published, the ‘refresh’ makes it clear the government is unwilling to address the wider ramifications of Islamophobia on Sikhs, or the ‘Muslim looking other’. A simple acknowledgment that Sikhs face Islamophobia would have allayed concerns. Like us, many will be right to ask the government why ministerial ‘round tables’ are the preserve of Jews and Muslims, and why the True Vision project announced in 2017 has still not been implemented.

Earlier this week Lord Singh contributed to a debate following a motion tabled by minister Lord Bourne, ‘That this House takes note of the challenges posed by religious intolerance and prejudice in the United Kingdom.’ The debate coincided with the launch of the government’s ‘refresh’ of Action Against Hate (2016) their four-year hate crime plan.

The NSO has historically pushed back against government policy in this area, primarily because we believe the focus on religious groups is far too narrow, and all faiths should be treated with parity when it comes to tackling prejudice. In response to the government’s announcement of a ‘refresh’ to Action Against Hate (2016), Lord Singh expressed his disappointment at the continued marginalisation of non-Abrahamic faiths, including Sikhs. He highlighted the continued backlash Sikhs have faced since 9/11 with personal anecdotes, whilst referring to the government’s inordinate focus on Jews and Muslims said, ‘Why the disparity? To echo Shakespeare: if we are cut, do we not bleed?’

During the debate Lord Morrow (DUP) independently referred to Hardeep Singh’s efforts (our Deputy-Director) in unearthing FOI data from the MET police (2015/16) which showed significant numbers of non-Muslims and those of no recorded faith, are recorded as being victim of ‘Islamophobic hate crime’.

In response to Lord Singh’s speech Lord Cormack (CON) said: ‘Lord Singh of Wimbledon, has given us several thoughts for the day in that rather splendid speech, the subtext of which was that hostility is bred from and fed by ignorance.’

Winding up the debate for Labour peers, Lord Griffiths referring to Lord Singh’s speech saying, ‘I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Singh, that we must be careful to be more inclusive when we mention those who are on the receiving end of prejudice and discrimination—represent a broad canvas.’

He went on to congratulate the NSO’s Director on his criticism of superficial interfaith dialogue, and said: ‘Indeed, I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Singh, who came nearest to where all my thoughts were as I prepared for this debate. It is true that those conferences and symposia, those seminars that you go to, full of blandishments and fine words unrelated to causes, are about ephemeral and marginal issues. I am so pleased to hear that said. I would not have had the courage to say it, but I am delighted to have the courage to echo it. We must find a way to get to the core of the things we need to discuss together, the things beneath all the things that happen on the surface.’

We reproduce Lord Singh’s speech in full below:

‘My Lords, I want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, for initiating this important debate. I shall take my cue from the noble Lord, Lord Patten, and be a little controversial. ​

I read the Government’s half-time review of their hate crime strategy and find it disappointing in that it completely fails to address the underlying causes of hate crime—for much of this evening, we have done the same—and, while repeatedly addressing the concerns of the Abrahamic faiths, virtually ignores the equally real suffering of other faiths. The review details some 20 initiatives to protect against anti-Semitic and Islamophobic hate crimes. A condescending reference to occasional round-table meetings with other faiths is no substitute for action. Why the disparity? To echo Shakespeare: if we are cut, do we not bleed?

There are no comparative statistics on hate crimes suffered by different religions to justify partiality. Figures presented to justify additional resources for the Jewish and Islamic faiths come from those communities. Chief Superintendent Dave Stringer of the Met has made it clear that a significant proportion of hate crime recorded as Islamophobic is against other communities. The noble Lord, Lord Morrow, referred to a freedom of information request made by my colleague, Hardeep Singh, which showed that there is no clear definition of whom hate crime is committed against.

Many of the hate crimes described as Islamophobic are directed against Sikhs out of ignorance or mistaken identity. In the States, a Sikh was the first person murdered in reprisal after 9/11, and six worshippers in a gurdwara there were shot by a white supremacist in another mistaken-identity killing.

The day after 9/11, I was going to a meeting with the then CRE at Victoria. As I came out of the station, two workmen digging the road looked at me in a hostile way. Fortunately, their lack of religious literacy saved the day. The elder turned to the younger and said: “He’s not a Muslim; he’s a Hindu.” I did not argue the point.

Few Sikhs have not been called “bin Laden” at some time or other, and some have been violently attacked. We heard about the gurdwara in Leeds being defaced and partly burned and, only a couple of months ago, a gurdwara in Edinburgh that I had recently visited was firebombed.

I do not in any way begrudge the protection that Jews and Muslims receive against hate crime. The Jewish community has suffered grievously from anti-Semitism, and Muslims are suffering hate crime today. I have always had a warm working relationship with both communities. All I ask is that the Government are a little more even-handed to non-Abrahamic faiths in both policies and resourcing.

Let me now turn to the important causes of hate crime. Prejudice, in the sense of fear of—or irrational, negative attitudes to—those not like us, is not something found only in others; it is common to all of us. The existence of heathens in distant lands gave us a perverse sense of unity and superiority based on a shared, irrational dislike of those not like us. We find this again and again in literature. John of Gaunt’s speech in “Richard II”, with its reference to,

“This precious stone set in the silver sea”

  Against the envy of lesser breeds’,

simply an example of how we viewed foreigners. Some on the leave side of the Brexit debate will probably say Shakespeare did not go far enough! ​

Today, the one-time distant foreigner, with a different culture and religion, can be our next-door neighbour, and it is imperative that we set aside our own prejudices and see people as they really are, equal members of one human family.

It is equally important that we look openly and honestly at prejudice embedded in religion. What generally passes for religion is, in fact, a complex mix of superstition, rituals, culture, group history and uplifting ethical teachings. While ethical teachings are easy to state, they are extremely difficult to live by, so we tend to focus on other things.  Often we have a perverse, unifying but naive, belief—we find it again and again in different religions—that the creator of all that exists has favourites and takes sides, regardless of merit. As Guru Nanak reminded us:

“The one God of us all is not the least bit interested in our different religious labels but in what we do to serve our fellow beings.”

This bigotry of belief is widespread and is often found in religious texts. As a Sikh, I feel that the ultimate blasphemy is to say that texts condoning the killing or ill-treatment of the innocent are the word of God. Such beliefs lead to horrendous crimes and savagery—not only between faiths, but even within the same faith—and to increasingly familiar terrorist outrages in the name of religion. It is important to understand that religious extremists and far-right extremists need each other to thrive.

Today, despite all the lip service paid to interfaith understanding, there is virtually no dialogue between faiths to explore and understand their different religious teachings, with each remaining smug in its beliefs. I have been a member of the government-funded Inter Faith Network of the UK since it was founded in 1987 and am a member of other bodies committed to religious dialogue. Meetings rarely go beyond pious statements and academic discussions on safe peripheral concerns, with members going back to their congregations to stress the exclusivity and superiority of their teachings. Looking at an internet learning site about Islam, I was startled to see a colleague saying that he felt sorry for people of other faiths because they were “all going to hell”. I once attended a meeting of the Three Faiths Forum where Christians, Jews and Muslims were talking in a superior way about the three monotheistic faiths. According to the opening line of the Sikh scriptures, there is one God of all humanity. We need to learn a little more about each other to combat religious prejudice.

It is not all up to the Government. People of religion have a common responsibility to look afresh at negative cultural practices such as discrimination against women and others that attach themselves to religion. Religion will become more relevant if we separate dated culture from abiding ethical teachings. Secular society, which sometimes shows an aloof superiority to warring religions, should also encourage more open dialogue.

With the best of intentions, we skirt around questionable beliefs and practices by using coded camouflage words to address symptoms, rather than looking to the underlying causes of violence and hatred. Words such as “Islamist”—insulting to Muslims—“radicalised”, “extremist” or “fundamentalist” are loaded ​euphemisms or vague innuendos, devoid of real meaning. The absurdity of such language is illustrated by the true story of a visit to my home by two Scotland Yard officers following my criticism of the Indian Government’s involvement in mob violence against Sikhs. The men from the Yard asked if I was an extremist or a moderate. I replied that I was extremely moderate. They then asked if I was a fundamentalist. I replied, “Well, I believe in the fundamentals of Sikh teaching, such as the equality of all human beings, gender equality and concern for the less fortunate. Yes, I suppose I am a fundamentalist”.

If religions presume to tell us how we should live, move and have our being, they must be open to discussion and challenge. The same openness is absolutely essential in combating prejudice and working for a safer and more tolerant world.’

The APPG for British Sikhs has over the Past 12 months made successful efforts to keep Sikhs in the Lords excluded from its deliberations. By chance I learnt of Tuesday’s AGM and accompanied by Lord Suri, attended the AGM to try to get the Group to issue a statement of concern over the bullying attitude of the Department for Education (DfE) in giving of a 2-week ultimatum to withdraw funding and move to a closure of a Sikh school, Seva School in Coventry unless it agreed to be run by Nishkam. Nishkam is a group regarded by many Sikhs as outside mainstream Sikhism, with a spiritual Head to whom some followers owe total allegiance.

Lord Suri and I were surprised at the poor attendance at the AGM, with one MP brought in for a while to make a quorum. After Preet Gill MP asked the 5 MPs present to confirm her as Chair, I spoke about the widespread concerns of parents, governors, staff, the Council of Gurdwaras in Coventry, the Sikh Council and the Network of Sikh Organisations and others. I also mentioned that an earlier complaint made by me of racist behaviour towards the school (in which Sikh teachings were labelled extremist and negative) had been upheld in an investigation by Sir David Carter a top civil servant with the DfE, with a promise of more supportive behaviour by the minister Lord Nash.

Unfortunately, the harassment has continued culminating in a 2-week ultimatum of a cessation of funding unless the school agreed to be run by Nishkam.

Preet Gill MP seemed irritated by both my presence at the meeting, and because I had raised an issue about which she had clearly not been briefed by the Sikh Federation UK, the official secretariat of the APPG. She expressed her admiration of Nishkam. However asking a mainstream Sikh school to join Nishkam with its different ethos, is like asking a Church of England school to join a group led by Jehovah’s Witnesses. She then queried my credentials in raising the widespread concerns of the Sikh community. Ignoring the need for urgent action, she said that she would have to carry out her own investigation and consult local MPs, as if their views counted for more than those of the Coventry Sikh community and two national Sikh bodies.

Lord Suri and I, were perhaps, even more disappointed by the mute subservience of the 5 MPs. There was no discussion about the DfE’s bullying and racist behaviour, or the need for government to understand a little about Sikhism and the Sikh community. The MPs expressed no sympathy or concern over an issue affecting Sikhs and the education of our children.

Lord Suri and I left the meeting with the knowledge that the APPG exists only to further the interests of the Sikh Federation UK, and not those of the wider Sikh community.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon

Sikh man being surrounded and attacked by mobs in 1984.

Earlier this month the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO), Lord Singh of Wimbledon highlighted India’s persecution of Sikhs in 1984 during a debate on international declaration of genocides.

The debate in which many peers contributed was in relation to Lord Alton’s question to Her Majesty’s Government, ‘what steps they are taking to change the way formal international declarations of genocide or crimes against humanity are made and to further the expeditious prosecution of those responsible.’

Many of the contributors raised the genocide committed by ISIS against the Yazidis/Christians, and referred to the ongoing crisis in Burma. Genocides in the 1990s like those in Rwanda and Srebrenica were also mentioned during the discussion. Referring to the 1984 Sikh genocide and pointing to conflicting government trade interests, Lord Singh said an independent arbitration of the determination of genocide could be made by the High Court as suggestion by Lord Alton.

He said, ‘Every year we commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day and remember the systematic killing of and brutal atrocities against the Jewish community. Every year we remember and say “Never again”, but since the end of the Second World War we have seen many more systematic attempts to eliminate whole communities simply because of a difference of religion or culture. Worldwide revulsion at such inhuman behaviour led to the 1951 UN convention on crimes of genocide, including incitement to group murder.’

He went on: ‘By any measure, the deliberate mass killing of Sikhs in 1984 meets the necessary criteria, yet no action has been taken against government Ministers seen inciting rampaging mobs. The 30th anniversary of these killings coincided with the announcement of UK government support for an inquiry into the mass killing of Tamils in Sri Lanka. In a debate in this House, I asked for a similar inquiry into the mass killing of Sikhs in India and gave details of the scale of the atrocities: state-controlled All India Radio constantly repeating a message inciting people to kill Sikhs, the use of municipal buses to ferry groups of killers around New Delhi, the beating and burning of male Sikhs and the gang-raping of women and young girls. I concluded by asking Her Majesty’s Government to support the establishment of an international inquiry into the killings. But India ​is an important UK trading partner, and the curt answer from the Government was that that was a matter for the Indian Government.’

He continued. ‘Despite the setting up of the International Criminal Court in 2002 to prosecute genocide, offenders continue to escape punishment. Only countries that sign up to the ICC can be prosecuted, and some, such as the United States and India, fearing possible prosecution, simply do not sign up to membership. Other drawbacks are that the ICC cannot investigate crimes committed prior to its establishment, and there is no proper mechanism for pursuing possible genocide committed by militant groups such as Daesh against the Yazidis and other minorities in Syria. As has been mentioned, Governments are reluctant to raise questions of human rights abuse with important trading partners. We must face reality. Even when ethically untenable, considerations of so-called strategic interest in trade tend to trump abuse of human rights. The only long-term strategic interest for us all is to move to a world free from such recurrent genocides. To do this, we must take responsibility for examining possible genocide away from the conflicting and understandable pulls of government and give it to a wholly independent arbiter, such as the High Court, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I strongly support his wise and far-seeing lead.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On 23 July 2018 the APPG for British Sikhs, which is run by the Sikh Federation UK, announced they had written to 250 gurdwaras asking them if they supported their campaign for a separate Sikh ethnic tick box for the 2021 census. They say they received just over one hundred responses, confirming: ‘in a remarkable show of unity all 112 Gurdwaras, that include the largest Gurdwaras in the UK, have indicated they are in favour of a separate Sikh ethnic tick box.’

The figure of 112 was reported in the Times and has been something referred to in a number of articles in the mainstream media. We now have concerns about whether or not this number is accurate. A tweet by @SikhFedUK on 23 August 2018 (above) suggested Hounslow gurdwara (Alice Way) were one of the 112 that wrote to the APPG for British Sikhs in support of the ethnic tick box.

We asked Hounslow gurdwara if this was the case or not. The Joint General Secretary told us: ‘I was surprised to hear that allegedly, Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha Hounslow had changed its position on Sikhi not being an ethnic group. Having checked with the President and the General Secretary today (both copied on this email), I confirm that we stand with the NSO and have not changed our position. We are of the view Sikhi is a religion made up of diverse ethnicity which cannot be classed as a single ethnic group.’

We have asked the Sikh Federation UK for comment, but they haven’t yet responded.

Interestingly, when Dr Jagbir Jhutti-Johal from the University of Birmingham raised legitimate questions in an article titled ‘Sikh ethnic tick box in the 2021 Census and a question about research and methodology’, she was bombarded with vitriolic tweets, some deliberately tagged into her employers. Given what we now know about Hounslow, should the secretariat to the APPG for British Sikhs not urgently release the list of 112 gurdwaras, briefing supplied and responses received?

article from archive following Mandla in 1983

Difficulties

Supposed support by MPs and the APPG for British Sikhs

Speaking to a number of MPs, including some of those who have given support to the Sikh ethnic tick box, confirms that few have any understanding of Sikh teachings against artificial and divisive groupings of our one human race; nor were they clear of the supposed benefits of describing Sikhs as an ethnic group. Those who signed did so because they were told that this is what their Sikh constituents wanted.

Supposed support in the Sikh Community

Gurdwaras are generally unaware of the pros and cons of ethnic monitoring. Some, that have voiced support for a Sikh ethnic tick box, say they did so because they are stridently opposed to the alternative of describing themselves as ‘Indian’, because of still lingering anger over the state-sponsored genocide against Sikhs in 1984. Many others are of the view that calling ourselves an ethnic group as opposed to Indian is a step towards creating distinct ‘quam’ (national) identity and the creation of a separate Sikh State in India.

While the emotive appeal is very real, it has nothing to do with the 2021 census. It also ignores basic Sikh teachings on the absurdity of creating artificial divisions in our one human family – particularly in the pursuit of supposed material gain. It should also be remembered that some of the organisations lobbying for support for a Sikh ethnic tick box, like the Sikh Federation UK, and the Sikh Network, etc, are all run by the same small group of people, who also have a dominant voice in the Sikh Council.

Reality of support in the Sikh community

The overwhelming attitude of most gurdwaras to a Sikh ethnic tick box in the census is a lack of understanding and relevance. If told that that a Sikh ethnic tick box will benefit the ‘quam’ (Sikh nation), they will probably quickly sign support and get back, to what they regard as, the more important business of providing a service to their sangat (congregation). If however, the real pros and cons are explained and discussed, interest is more sustained, and attitudes are often quite different.

At the suggestion of ONS officers, a meeting was arranged in Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara Hounslow, with a representative of the ONS present. Presentations were made by the NSO and the Sikh Federation UK and, after discussion for more than an hour, the proposal for a Sikh ethnic tick box in the next census was totally rejected by members of the Gurdwara Committee.

The Sikh ethnic tick box proposal has also been totally rejected in other gurdwaras, where both the pros and cons have been explained and discussed by Committee members, most recently at the gurdwara in Edinburgh.

Suggestion

The only real way to assess whether Sikhs in the UK are prepared to over-ride essential Sikh teachings for unquantified material gain, is by open public debate monitored, and perhaps presided over, by the ONS. Unfortunately, this repeated suggestion by the NSO has been met with personal abuse from the Sikh Federation UK in its different guises.

My repeated request to be allowed to address the APPG for British Sikhs (from which I and other Sikhs in Parliament have been excluded) has also been consistently ignored, as has my request for open debate on any London Sikh TV Channel, Why? My hope is that we show that we are mature enough to discuss such issues rationally and respectfully, always bearing Sikh teachings in mind.

Lord (Indarjit) Singh of Wimbledon, Director Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO)

As many will know we have strenuously opposed the Sikh Federation UK’s (SFUK) ill conceived campaign to classify ‘Sikh’ as an ethnicity for many years.

In recent months this increasingly divisive debate has become the subject of significant mainstream media coverage, including an article in the Times last month. The  article ‘Sikhs may get ethnicity status’ instigated another flurry of debate and conversation for and against.

Meanwhile during this period, some exchanges on social media turned rather unpleasant, troubling and on occasion personal. Our Director responded to the Times article with a letter (below).

 

To help provide a summary of arguments against we refer to the following Q&A and a short summary below. We have spoken to many Sikhs who are undecided whether the SFUK campaign is a good idea or not, and this is largely based on not understanding the issues at hand. Some elements are admittedly complex. We hope the explanation below which has been shared with key stakeholders and decision makers, provides absolute clarity for those grappling with this important issue. In short Sikhism is a great world faith open to all, it is not an ethnic group.

(more…)

(Above: Afghan Sikhs carrying a coffin of one of the victims of the Jalalabad suicide bombing)

Following the deadly suicide bombing in Jalalabad targeting Afghanistan’s Sikh and Hindu minority the NSO has flagged its concerns with the government and taken steps to raise the issue with the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB).

You only have to look at the declining numbers of minorities to realise the gravity of persecution they face in Muslim majority Afghanistan. Prior to the collapse of Kabul government in 1992, there were 220,000 Sikhs and Hindus in the country, and today only 220 or so families remain. Sikhs and Hindus need police protection to cremate their dead as it is deemed offensive to Muslims, they are forced to pay the jizya or ‘tax of humiliation’, and are fearful their women and daughters will be kidnapped and converted to Islam.

Afghan Sikhs we’ve spoken to in London have told us it is now time for Sikhs to leave Afghanistan and seek sanctuary elsewhere. The victims of the Jalalabad attack included Awtar Singh Khalsa who had planned to stand for parliament in elections this October.

In light of this most recent atrocity, our Director Lord Singh has asked the government 1. What discussions they intend to have with the Afghan authorities to safeguard the security and right to freedom of belief 2. What representations they intend to make to the government of India to encourage them to grant asylum to victims and families 3. Whether Britain intends to offer asylum to the families of those who were killed. We will be sharing the response received from Ministers.

We’ve also contacted the APPG for FoRB to ask them to follow up on this issue and include the persecution of Afghanistan’s minority faiths on the agenda for their next meeting.

News of the Jalalabad attack comes in the wake of a case highlighted by Justice Upheld involving a Pakistani Sikh forced to go on the run having received a fatwa (to kill him) by the Taliban. His only crime in the eyes of Islamists – the setting up of a Sikh school in Peshawar.

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