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We are delighted to be official partners for UK Parliament Week (UKPW) for the second year running. This year we held a series of events to mark UKPW. On 13th October we organised a workshop at Sri Guru Singh Sabha Hounslow, where Ruth Cadbury and Lord Singh of Wimbledon addressed an audience of over 100 children and adults. The speakers explored how we can better engage with parliament and the democratic process. The Q&A afterwards was a highlight, especially because of the excellent questions to the panel from young children – who wanted to know about policies around knife crime, the environment and Brexit. They were fully engaged and had also participated in a parliament quiz earlier in the day conducted by Barinder Kaur from the gurdwara.

On 4th November we held an event in the House or Lords and were delighted to be joined by Annie Waddington from UKPW who addressed the audience about this year’s campaign, as well as Gurpal Virdi former councillor and author of Behind the Blue Line. Gurpal asked the attendees to mark with a short silence the anniversary of Kirpal Kaur Sandhu – Britain’s first Asian female police office and then went on to talk about his battle for justice and how his engagement with democracy helped. Annie talked of approximately 12,000 events up and down the country celebrating UKPW, in which almost a million people have participated. She told the audience, ‘It starts with you.’

The speakers reinforced the importance of our responsibility in acting – they said, ‘don’t sit on the sofa moaning’, and described the ways in which we get involved in issues we are passionate about to make the changes we want to see.

Lord Singh closing the meeting said, ‘we must take personal responsibility in engaging with the democratic process, and we are all equal stakeholders in this regard. Otherwise, there is a tendency for government to look to people who make the most noise, and they aren’t always representative of majority views.’

Here’s a link to a blog written by our Deputy-Director Hardeep Singh for UKPW.

Jagjit Kaur

The video of a Sikh girl (Jagjit Kaur) allegedly abducted from her home in Punjab (Pakistan) and visibly under duress whilst being betrothed to a Muslim man in a marriage ceremony has sent shock waves across India and amongst diaspora Sikh communities across the West.[i]

Politicians have waded in, including Captain Amarinder Singh the Chief Minister of Punjab (India) and the Akali Dal’s Manjinder Singh Sirsa. The Indian government responded on 30th August: ‘the Ministry had received a number of representations from various quarters of civil society in India, including Sikh religious bodies in India, at the reports of the incident of abduction and forced conversion of a minor Sikh girl in Pakistan. We have shared these concerns with the Government of Pakistan and asked for immediate remedial action.’

The girl’s father has been identified as Bhagwan Singh, a priest at Gurdwara Tambu Sahib. A few days ago, her brother Surinder Singh issued a statement to ask for her safe return home, he confirmed the family had lodged a first information report (FIR) with Nankana Sahib police, however according to Surinder Singh the family was facing threats from the abductors for filing the case and being pressurised to convert.[ii]

However, news reports of the incident have been contradictory, confusing and allegations of fake news have been made. Some reports suggested Jagjit Kaur was returned to her family and 8 arrests had been made,[iii] whereas other reports on the same day suggested she refused to go back to her family ‘fearing a threat to her life’.[iv] In another article her brother refuted the news that she has been returned despite government claims.[v] Separate reports point to a statement filed in court which suggests Jagjit Kaur converted out of her own free will.[vi]

The incident is a cause of huge embarrassment for Pakistan who have been hosting an international Sikh Conference on August 31 at Governor House in Lahore. Former Labour MP for Glasgow, the incumbent Punjab Chief Minister tweeted about the abduction following representations made to him.[vii]

We are cognisant the issue of abduction of non-Muslim girls in Pakistan is a significant blight on wider Pakistani society. Aside from Punjab, there is compelling evidence of abduction and forced marriage in Pakistan’s Sindh province – a 2018 University of Birmingham report ‘Forced Conversions & Forced Marriages In Sindh, Pakistan’, highlighting the issue for Hindu and Christian women. The report’s executive summary says, ‘It has been estimated that 1000 women and girls from religious minorities are abducted, forcibly converted and then married off to their abductors every year.’[viii]

We have flagged Jagjit Kaur’s case with the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief and Baron Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the UN, Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

[ENDS]

References

[i] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVRWy_ETGPk

[ii] https://twitter.com/SikhMessenger/status/1167080801097461761

[iii] https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/sikh-girl-forcefully-converted-to-islam-in-pakistan-sent-to-parents-1593732-2019-08-31

[iv] https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/sikh-girl-forced-convert-islam-refuses-home-pak-official-1593980-2019-09-01?utm_source=rss

[v] https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/brother-of-pakistani-sikh-girl-forcefully-converted-appeals-to-imran-khan-for-justice/story-Sobbhiy0jjPlB0kCB3d4wK.html

[vi] https://www.msn.com/en-in/news/world/adopted-islam-out-of-my-own-free-will-sikh-girl-after-family-alleges-forced-conversion-in-pakistan/ar-AAGzJ4r?li=AAEz3n1

[vii] https://twitter.com/ChMSarwar/status/1167510245461114882

[viii] https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/Documents/college-artslaw/ptr/ciforb/Forced-Conversions-and-Forced-Marriages-in-Sindh.pdf

An anthology complied by a leading think tank warns that a proposed ‘Islamophobia’ definition has serious consequences for free speech. Islamophobia: An Anthology of Concerns is a series of essays edited by Emma Webb, Director of The Forum on Integration, Democracy and Extremism (a project at Civitas).

Referring to the proposed APPG definition of Islamophobia, she argues ‘The definition would have a chilling effect on necessary discussion around the Islamist threat to the UK. In a free society, there can be no arbitration of which criticisms of any given religion or ideology are legitimate, regardless of perceived motive, level of education or quality of debate.’

On the publication, our Director, Lord Singh of Wimbledon said, ‘This comprehensive anthology of widespread concerns about the danger to free speech and legitimate discussion in the use of the vague catch-all term Islamophobia, is both timely and welcome.’

He goes on, ‘The report will not only help protect free speech and legitimate criticism, but also help us understand why Muslims and other religious communities are sometimes the target for hate crimes that shame society. Perpetrators of such crimes do not carry out a detailed study of a religion before expressing antipathy. Hatred arises out of ignorance in which small differences can assume frightening and threatening proportions. It can only be removed through greater emphasis on religious and cultural literacy.’

Other contributors to Islamophobia: An Anthology of Concerns include Rumy Hasan, Peter Tatchell, Ed Husain, Pragna Patel, Mohammed Amin, The National Secular Society and others.

For further information contact: info@nsouk.co.uk

[Ends]

Guest blog: Reporting on Sikhism

August 12th, 2019 | Posted by Singh in Current Issues - (0 Comments)

In a guest blog for the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), our Deputy-Director explains Hardeep Singh, explains how the NSO’s media guidance can help journalists get a clearer understanding of Sikhism.

Link to blog post can be viewed here and media guidance for journalists here.

Last week our Director Lord Singh tabled a question to the government about Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) support for persecuted Christians. He asked Her Majesty’s Government, ‘what assessment they have made of the recommendations of the Bishop of Truro’s Independent Review of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s support for persecuted Christians.’

Minister for FCO Lord Ahmad, said the Bishop of Truro’s independent review of FCO support for persecuted Christians resulted in a series of ‘ambitious recommendations’, and that ‘we will take them forward as part of our work to support freedom of religious belief for all’. Thanking the Minister for his response Lord Singh who is also Vice-Chair for All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) responded, ‘Sadly the appalling treatment of Christian minorities around the world is mirrored in the persecution of other religious minorities, including the appalling treatment of his Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan. In Afghanistan a once-prosperous Sikh community of more than 20,000 people has been reduced to a few hundred. Does the Minister agree that the underlying cause of religious persecution is the religious bigotry inherent in aggressive assertions that the one god of us all, way above human emotions, favours one group of humans to the exclusion of others?’

The Minister agreed with Lord Singh and was grateful for his work in this area. He said where Christians were persecuted, other minorities were likely to be persecuted as well. Other contributors to the debate included Co-Chair of APPG FoRB Baroness Berridge, Lord Anderson of Swansea, Lord Alderdice and the Lord Bishop of Ely.

We have reproduced in full (below) notes of minutes circulated to members of The Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) run All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for British Sikhs.

 APPG FOR SIKH FEDERATION

Notes on Meeting held 23-7-19 to examine the Supposed Rationale of referring to Sikhs as an Ethnic Group

Venue: The meeting took place 9.45 am Room W4

Attendees: Preet Gill MP, Pat McFadden MP, Dominic Grieve MP, Mike Gapes MP, Tanmanjit Dhesi MP (joined halfway through the meeting), Lord (Ranbir) Suri, Lord (Indarjit) Singh of Wimbledon.

(Initials will be used to attribute comments in this Note).

Background to Meeting

IS, concerned that the Federation, the successors of the formerly proscribed ISYF were misleading Members of House, had for months been asking for an opportunity to present a view on ethnic monitoring that was consistent with majority Sikh thinking and with Sikh theology. PG, averse to open discussion initially tried to prevent this, and later, successfully minimised attendance by delaying the meeting to a relatively early hour close to the recess. Correspondence also shows that her office had repeatedly refused to provide a list of MPs (who had supposedly signed support for the Federation), for them to be sent briefing documents and a note on the importance of open discussion on the issue.

The Meeting

At the start of the meeting, PG questioned the credentials of IS to speak on this issue and IS began to respond saying he was Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) the largest umbrella body of gurdwaras in the UK. When IS began to detail some of the main areas of activity, PG interrupted to say that was fine. [Details of NSO Activities are appended]

The Presentation

The detailed presentation, for which there was general agreement and appreciation, is appended.

Ethnic Group

In response to a statement by IS that no other world religion called itself an ethnic group, MG said that the Jewish community (which unlike Sikhs, accepts converts only through marriage), could be considered an ethnic group. IS agreed, saying that Jews had considered this but saw no advantage. It was noted by all that Jews and Muslims had gained much more by successful lobbying.

Supposed Practical Advantages of calling Sikhs an ethnic group.

PG said we should not bring Sikh theology into discussions on calling Sikhs an ethnic group. IS disagreed saying Sikh teachings must underpin all policies affecting the Sikh community.

PG, supported by PMcF, raised the issue of Sikh families who had come to her area of Smethwick from Italy, and their difficulties over housing. IS said that they deserved support, but masking religion as ethnicity would not help. Public sector housing is allocated on need and not on supposed ethnicity. Also, many Sikhs would feel it insulting and contrary to Sikh teachings to have a world religion open to all, reduced to a single ethnicity tied to Punjab. They would put their country of origin in the ethnic tick box and tick Sikhism under religion. It was, in an aside, agreed by all, that Sikhs had an above average home ownership.

Reality behind Federation demand for calling Sikhs an ethnic group.

IS explained that the Federation were deliberately conflating a misunderstanding of the limited nature of the Mandla case under the (now repealed) 1976 RR Act), to claim that Sikhs were an ethnic group per se, so that Sikhs could call themselves a nation (see their website). This would, in the Federation’s view, help them advance the case for a homeland in India. DG concurred that he was aware of this political dimension.

The downside of pursuing an ethnic category for Sikhs.

This is detailed in the attached Presentation.

At the meeting, IS also stressed that obsessional focusing on ethnic monitoring is diverting attention from unfairness and discrimination being suffered by Sikhs for being members of the Sikh Faith. The Government’s Hate Crime Action Plan gave 45 examples of hate crime suffered by members of the Abrahamic faiths. There was no mention of the suffering of Sikhs, Hindus and others. A FOI request by the NSO showed that the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group paid expenses to 11 members as well as supplying considerable government support. IS asked where is the Anti-Sikh Hatred Working Group? IS continued by reminding the meeting that the MET records most attacks on Sikh as Islamophobia. He also noted that the NSO was alone in their successful campaign to exclude Sikhs from being described as a Dharmic Faith in MHCLG correspondence. He added that no support was given to the NSO by the Federation in other areas of concern. He did not elaborate as DG indicated that he had another meeting to go to and because these issues were more internal to the Sikh community. Further information can be given if requested.

At the conclusion of the meeting, DG commented that the debate on ethnicity could be academic if the Federation won their case. He thanked IS for an informed and thought-provoking contribution.

The meeting ended at 10.35 am.

 

Back in October 2018, we published a post titled is the All Parliamentary Group (APPG) for British Sikhs truly representative?

The post referred to the issue of Seva School in Coventry, a dispute subsequently covered by Schoolsweek quoting our Director Lord Singh.

Concerned parents had called on the government to intervene in a dispute related to Seva School being compelled to join Nishkam School Trust, a trust which parents said did not fit with their beliefs. Some of the parents independently echoed concerns to our Director, Lord Singh of Wimbledon. He raised it with the APPG for British Sikhs, after all what’s the point of having such a group if it doesn’t consider Sikh interests, or in this instance the concerns of Sikh parents.

As described in our previous post this is an account of what transpired:

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.

On 25th March 2019, Preet Gill MP sent an e-mail titled ‘APPG British Sikhs’ in which she talks of Seva School following Lord Singh’s plea on behalf of concerned parents.

She writes, ‘As agreed, I wrote to the DFE and received a full and helpful response from Damian Hinds assuring us that the school would not be closed, and they had asked an outstanding Sikh academy trust to take over.’

NOTE. The request was not for her to write to the DfE, but to contact the Sikh community in Coventry and support them to stop the DfE abusing its authority to force the school to be run by Nishkam, a controversial Sikh sect. She totally ignored Lord Singh’s request to assist the worried Sikh community in Coventry.

A statement from the Board of Trustees (Sevak Education Trust) dated 3rd July says, ‘34 parents brought a legal challenge to the decision made by the Secretary of State for Education on 21 February 2019 to appoint Nishkam Schools Trust (“Nishkam”) as the sponsor for the re-brokerage of Seva School.’

The parents were successful, and the government conceded it had failed in providing alternatives to Nishkam School Trust. They go on to say, ‘This has been an incredibly difficult time for all those associated with the school.’

We are delighted the parents have won their legal battle, but surely this issue could have been resolved amicably sooner without parents having to resort to initiating legal proceedings against the state?

In our view, there are two issues which arise from the Seva School saga. The first relates to improving religious literacy in the DfE and across government circles to get them to appreciate doctrinal differences, and importantly, what is, and is not mainstream Sikh belief.

Secondly, given Preet Gill’s response to the matter, it begs an important question – can she really claim to represent British Sikhs?

 

cause célèbre – Asia Bibi

Earlier this week Lord Alton of Liverpool tabled a question in relation to aid programmes and human rights pertaining in particular to the treatment of minorities in Pakistan.

Our Director, Lord Singh contributed to the debate. His full speech can be read below:

‘My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton on securing this important debate, and pay tribute to the wonderful work that he does in the field of human rights. When India was partitioned in 1947, as we have heard, the founding father of the new state of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, then terminally ill, said that it would be a country that respected all its minorities. He did not live to see his hope tragically ignored. A rigid and intolerant form of Islam, Wahhabism, funded by Saudi dollars, now pervades the country.

Strict blasphemy laws are used to prevent open discussion of religion, and the death penalty can apply to Muslims who try to convert to a different faith. As we have heard, a convert to Christianity, Asia Bibi, sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy, spent nine years on death row before eventually being allowed to flee to Canada. Others have not been so fortunate. In one case, children were made to watch as their parents were burnt alive in a brick kiln. Minorities are frequently allocated menial tasks such as the cleaning of public latrines. Homes of minorities are frequently attacked and women and girls kidnapped and converted or sold into slavery.

I have at times questioned the appropriateness of Pakistan, with its ill treatment of minorities, still being a member of the Commonwealth, a club of countries with historic ties to Britain. Members are required to abide by the Commonwealth charter, with core values of opposition to, “all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds”.​

By any measure, there is a clear case for expelling Pakistan from the Commonwealth, but this will not help its suffering minorities and could make their plight worse. The way forward is to look beyond charters and lofty declarations to clear targets and measures of performance for all erring members—Pakistan is by no means the only one—to nudge them to respect human rights. We must also target aid to specific projects geared to fight religious bigotry and prejudice. Pakistan is a country revered by every Sikh as the birthplace of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith. He taught reconciliation and respect between different faiths. In this, the 550th year of the Guru’s birth, the Prime Minister Imran Khan, in welcoming Sikhs to visit the birthplace of their founder, stated his desire to move in this direction, and we owe it to Pakistan’s minorities to redouble our efforts to help him and nudge him to do so.’

The full debate can be read here: https://bit.ly/2S08ec8

UK Parliament Week 2019

July 7th, 2019 | Posted by Singh in Current Issues | UKPW - (0 Comments)

 

 

The NSO is delighted to be an official partner for UK Parliament Week (UKPW) 2019.

Here’s a blog on why we believe it’s important for young Sikhs to effectively engage with the democratic process:

 

Please follow the link to download a copy of this year’s UKPW NSO booklet:

17_STG3_Booklet_STG3_Network of Sikh Organisations_26 June 2019.

If you’re planning an event or want to get in touch drop us an e-mail at info@nsouk.co.uk or tweet us @SikhMessenger.

Follow @YourUKParl on Twitter and share your activities using
the hashtag #UKPW

Our Director Lord Singh of Wimbledon contributed to a debate on anti-Semitism secured by Baroness Berridge in the House of Lords this week.

He said, ‘I have visited Auschwitz and seen something of the horrors that thousands of Jews—innocent men, women and children—suffered. In the collective madness of the 1930s and 1940s, Jews were vilified not only in Germany but across much of Europe, including this country. As child I was frequently called a Jew by those who wished to hurt me. However, I believe that talk of a worldwide anti-Jewish conspiracy is misleading and, importantly, takes us away from the real problem which is the way in which unprincipled politicians play on ignorance and majority bigotry, regardless of the consequences suffered by others, to achieve their ends.’

Reflecting on the year we mark the 35th anniversary of the Sikh genocide in India and the persecution of Sikhs in Afghanistan today, he went on:

‘In Germany, Hitler blamed the Jews. In the India of 1984, it was the tiny Sikh minority. The killing of innocents in gas chambers is evil, but is it any more evil than dousing men, women and children with kerosene and burning them alive? In Hitler’s Germany, Jews were made to wear distinctive clothing to show their inferior status. More recently, a decimated Sikh community in Afghanistan has been made to wear distinguishing patches and to fly a yellow flag outside their homes to make them an easy target for majority bigotry. Majority bigotry knows no boundaries and, as my noble friend Lord Sacks reminded us, has no constraints.’

He added: ‘We like to believe prejudice is found in only a few. Sadly, it is far more widespread. We are all, in effect, hard-wired to be wary of difference. Unacceptable but understandable prejudice is easily manipulated to become irrational hatred. Since the Second World War, we have seen unspeakable acts of violence against targeted groups in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Bosnia, and I could go on. Special sympathy-seeking terms such as anti-Semitism or Islamophobia are understandable, but they take us away from the real problem, which is combating the more widespread bigotry suffered by all faiths. To borrow from Shakespeare, if Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and others are cut, do we not bleed? ‘

Concluding his speech Lord Singh said, ‘Taken to an extreme, this giving of special consideration to some groups at the expense of others is, at best, unintended racism. Bigotry will continue to flourish until, in the closing words of the Sikh daily prayer, we look beyond ourselves and our group to the well-being of all members of our one human family.’

Other contributors included Lord Pickles, Lord Sacks (the former Chief Rabbi), Lord Alton and Lord Finkelstein.

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