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Parliament of the World’s Religions | Salt lake City | 15 -10-15 | Plenary Speech | Lord Singh

sf-thumbs-main-Dr.-Indarjit-Singh

Friends, its a pleasure and a privilege to be invited to address you at the opening of this historic Parliament. I would like to begin with a verse from the Sikh Guru Granth Sahib:

The Lord first created Light:

From the Lord’s play all living creatures came,

And from the same Divine Light all creation sprang.

Why then should we divide human creatures

Into the high and the low?

 

Brother, be not in error:

All Creation emanates from the one Creator

The Lord’s Spirit is all-pervading Spirit

Evident in all creation,

 

The Lord, the Maker, hath molded one mass of clay

Into vessels of diverse shapes.

Free from taint are all the vessels of clay

Since free from taint is the Divine Potter.

 

The allusion to the different vessels of clay and the one Divine Potter, reminds us that despite apparent differences, we are all equal members of our one human race.

This verse or shabad taken from the Sikh Holy Scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib, in many ways encapsulates both the thrust of Sikh teachings and the central theme of this historic Parliament, in its emphasis on the absurdity of all man made distinctions of birth, class or creed. Other verses in the Guru Granth Sahib make clear that this equality also extends to full gender equality.

Sikhism is one of our different paths towards a summit of understanding of our common responsibility to the Creator, to work for the benefit of our fellow human beings. Sikhs believe our different paths are not mutually exclusive, but frequently merge to give us both a heightened understanding of our own faith and our common responsibilities.

Our Gurus emphasized respect for other ways of life in many different ways, Guru Arjan ,the fifth of our 10 founding Gurus   incorporated some uplifting verses of Hindu and Muslim poets into the Guru Granth Sahib Sahib, including the one I’ve just read, to show that no one religion has a monopoly of truth and all faiths should be respected.

To promote this reaching out to others, the Guru asked a Muslim saint to lay the foundation stone of the historic Darbar Sahib at Amritsar, commonly known as the Golden Temple. In furthering the world’s first major move to interfaith understanding, the Guru placed a door at each of its four sides to signify a welcome to all from any spiritual or geographic direction. The 9th Guru, Guru, Guru Teg Bahadhur, took this further by giving his life defending the Hindu community’s right to freedom of worship against a policy of forced conversion by the then Mughal rulers. In doing so he gave practical utterance to Voltaire’s famous words: ‘I may not believe in what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’

I am delighted that this Parliament has set its goal as the reclaiming of our common humanity. It is a recognition that religion has largely failed to move minds to what Sikhs call a gurmukh or Godly direction, by making concern for others central to all we do. Instead of recognizing the common thrust of our different faiths, we have set barriers of belief between them smugly, and sometimes violently, proclaiming our superiority and exclusive path to God.

Our failure to give a clear ethical lead centered on compassion and concern for others, has led to a society obsessed in searching for contentment through material possessions, creating a selfish society in which the vulnerable suffer. Our common task is then to reclaim the heart of society by working together to create a more responsible society.

To be successful, we must boldly challenge what are becoming warped norms of putting self before others, and political agendas, both domestic and international before ethical concern for what Sikhs in our daily prayer, refer to as the well-being of all humanity. If we do this, we are bound to be successful in reclaiming the heart of humanity.

Thank you.

Gurmeet Ram Raheem preparing flavored milk drink, labeled it as the 'Jam-e-Insa' (drink of humanity), administered it to the Dera Sacha Sauda followers

Gurmeet Ram Raheem preparing a flavored milk drink, ‘Jam-e-Insa’ (drink of humanity), for Dera Sacha Sauda followers

The Global Sikh Council (GSC) condemns the decision of politically appointed jathedhars to exonerate Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh of Dera Sacha Sauda for causing gross offence to Sikhs. Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh is guilty of causing offence to Sikhs by impersonating Guru Gobind Singh ji. Politically appointed jathedhars have no authority to dictate to, or act on behalf of, the wider Sikh community.

All Sikhs should be aware that the SGPC, who appoint jathedhars, was created by the British government to manage the financial affairs of the historic Sikh gurdwaras and nothing more. The composition of the SGPC is based on political allegiances and not on a commitment to follow the Gurus; teachings.

Over the years, especially after 1947, the SGPC has been dominated by political groups and is being used to further the personal interests of local politicians. During this time it has arbitrarily created figures of supposed authority over Sikhs worldwide, like Jathedhar of the Akal Takht, and the absurdity of ‘Sikh High Priests’. Arrogantly, one Jathedhar of the Akal Takht on a visit to the UK, demanded to be introduced as ‘the Pope of the Sikhs’.

The GSC urges all Sikhs to condemn the arbitrary decision of Jathedhars to exonerate Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and further urges Sikhs worldwide, to support the GSC in its aim of ensuring panthic decisions are predicated on the teachings of the Gurus and not on questionable political allegiances.

The Network of Sikh Organisations is a member of the GSC, the statement was originally issued on the 29 September.

A Grotesque Challenge to Sikh Teachings on Compassionate Care:

The British Medical Association (BMA), allied healthcare professionals and religious leaders are united in pressing for better palliative care for all. Sikh teachings emphasize the responsibility of society to care for the elderly and vulnerable, whilst making them feel loved and valued members of the community. As Sikhs we should remember the example of Guru Har Krishan, who put the care of victims of a smallpox epidemic in Delhi at greater importance than his own life. The importance of ‘assisted living’ and caring for those around us is central to Sikh teachings.

It is therefore a matter of real concern that Rob Marris MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Sikhs, will be introducing legislation in Parliament in early September, that cuts across Sikh teachings on our collective responsibility to care for all members of society (sarbat ka bhalla), and instead assist vulnerable people to take their own lives. Marris, MP for Wolverhampton South West tabled a Private Members Bill ‘Assisted Dying (No.2)’ in June 2015. This follows on from a similar Bill introduced by Lord Falconer last year, which didn’t get past the third reading in the Lords. Some Peers expressed concerns about the ‘financial incentives’ involved in ending the lives of the terminally ill. The Bill was further described as a ‘breeding ground for vultures.’

Many see the dangers of depressed individuals at a low ebb surrounded by uncaring relatives, feeling morally pressurised to stop being a burden on others by seeking help to end their lives. Hundreds of letters received by Lord Singh from disabled people underline their fear and concern over the proposed legislation. In a debate on ‘assisted dying’ last year, Lord Singh said:

“In attempting to show compassion to a few, it neglects due compassion to many thousands of others. It has created immense fear in vulnerable people that they are being seen as a problem by society, with consequent damage to their sense of self-worth.”

Action Required

  1. All Sikhs should lobby the Chair of the APPG for Sikhs, Rob Marris (whose majority is only a few hundred) to withdraw his ill-considered and demeaning bill. The undeniable strength of the Sikh Federation on the APPG could be particularly helpful.
  2. All Sikhs should lobby other members of parliament not to support a Bill that cuts across our responsibility as human beings and the whole thrust of Sikh teachings to assist vulnerable people to live with dignity and good palliative care.

 

sf-thumbs-main-Dr.-Indarjit-Singh

My Lords, I too pay tribute to the noble Lord Alton for securing this important debate, and for his sterling work in putting concern for human rights high on the agenda of this House.

Article 18 of the 1948 UN Declaration is unambiguous in its guarantees of freedom of religion and belief. Yet we live in a world where all too often those rights are all too frequently ignored.

We have been recently remembering the horror of Srebrenica where 20 years ago 8,000 Muslim men and boys were rounded up by Serb forces and ruthlessly murdered, simply for being Muslims. Last year Sikhs commemorated the 30th anniversary of the brutal murder of thousands of Sikhs in India, simply for being Sikhs. The Middle East has become a cauldron of religious intolerance and unbelievable barbarity. The number of Christians has dwindled alarmingly, and we hear daily of thousands fleeing religious persecution in leaky, overcrowded boats with little food or water

Where have we gone wrong? In commerce or industry if a clearly desirable idea or initiative fails again and again, it’s back to the drawing board. Today we need to ask ourselves, why the widespread abuse of the right to freedom of belief? This important right, like others embedded in the UN Declaration, needs the total commitment of countries with political clout to make it a reality. Unfortunately, even permanent members of the Security Council, frequently put trade and political alliances with countries with appalling human rights records, above a commitment to rights. There are many examples, but time permits me to mention only a couple relating to our own country.

During the visit of a Chinese trade delegation in June of last year, a government minister said ‘we should not allow human rights get in the way of trade’. His statement undermining the UN Declaration, went virtually unchallenged.

At about the same time, we had a statement in your Lordships House that the government was pressing for a UN led inquiry into human rights abuse in Sri Lanka. Fine. But when I asked if the government would support a similar inquiry into the mass killing of Sikhs in India (a bigger trading partner), I received a brusque reply: ‘that is a matter for the Indian government’ I have asked the same question on five occasions: why does the UK government regard the systematic killing of Sikhs in India to be of no concern, only to receive the same dismissive non-response. My Lords, I ask it again today, and hope your Lordships and Britain’s half million Sikhs will get the courtesy of a properly considered reply. The great human rights activist rightly said that we must be even- handed in looking at human rights abuse.

My Lords, if our country, one of the most enlightened in the world, puts trade above human rights, it is easy to understand why other countries turn a blind eye to rights like freedom of belief; a right so central to Sikh teachings that our 9th Guru , Guru Teg Bahadhur gave his life defending the right of Hindus, a different religion to his own, against forced conversion by the then Mughal rulers.

My Lords, we can list human rights abuse forever and a day without it making a jot of difference, if we and other great powers continue to put trade and power block politics above human rights.

We start each day in this House with prayers to remind us to act in accord with Christ’s teaching. He, like Guru Nanak reminded us never to put material gain before concern for our fellow beings. We need to act on such far-sighted advice.

[Lord Singh of Wimbledon’s full speech in House of Lords debate on human rights, 16 July 2015]

1984_sikhs

Lord Singh has questioned the government’s inequitable approach to the issues of genocide and human rights abuses.

During a recent debate centering on the 1915 atrocities by the Ottomans, peers discussed the need for Britain to recognise the genocide against Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians.

Lord Singh disappointed at the governments position on the mass killing of Sikhs in India, said:

‘My Lords, is the Government’s response to genocide and human rights abuse predicated by who does it and where it occurs? I ask the question because when I raised the issue of the mass killing of Sikhs in India about a year ago, I was told that that is a matter for the Indian Government.’

The Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) Lord Singh of Wimbledon has asked the government for parity in tackling hate crimes against all communities, not just Muslims.

A Muslim Peer, Baroness Afshar tabled a question leading to a debate last week:

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures they have put in place to counter the impact of Islamophobia and stigmatisation on young Muslims.”

During the debate Lord Singh asked the government:

“My Lords, is the Minister aware that ever since 9/11 there has been a huge increase in the number of attacks on Sikhs and Sikh places of worship in cases of mistaken identity? The most recent case was a machete attack on a young Sikh dentist in south Wales, which was described on “Newsnight” as Islamophobia. Does the Minister agree that hate crime is hate crime against any community, and that it should be tackled even-handedly, irrespective of the size of the community?”

Baroness Williams of Trafford, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Communities and Local Government responded in agreement:

“The noble Lord is absolutely right—hate crime is hate crime.”

The backlash to Islamic extremism is particularly heightened following terror attacks. The Sikh community is an example where bigots target the ‘Muslim looking other’ in the wake of terrorist atrocities like 9/11 and 7/7. In his book, My Political Race former government Minister Parmjit Dhanda revealed how a pig’s head was thrown in his drive following his 2010 election defeat.

Racial prejudices have also motivated hate crimes against minorities. Last Week Mold Crown Court found Zack Davies a ‘white supremacist’ guilty of trying to behead a Sikh dentist in a machete attack. Davies was reported to have taken inspiration from Jihadi John, and to have chosen his victim because of his race not religion.

The government has pledged it will support the recording of anti-Muslim incidents as well as anti-Semitic, across all UK police forces. There are currently no plans in place for hate crime victims from other minority faiths.

The NSO has written to the government in light of the current strategy, which we believe urgently requires a more inclusive approach

 

 

Sir, For many years political correctness has led to the identity of the community involved in the sexual grooming of children and young women in the UK being described as Asian rather than Muslim. We are consequently encouraged to hear the prime minister’s assertion that “a warped sense of political correctness” will not stifle attempts to fight these crimes — which he now classes as a “national threat”.

Sikh and Hindu communities have for decades been at the receiving end of predatory grooming by members of the Muslim community and have for some time been campaigning in the UK for the recognition that there seems to be a clear pattern emerging in recent high-profile sexual grooming gang cases. This pattern clearly highlights that these gangs seem to predominantly originate from a Pakistani Muslim community, while their victims are almost always of a white, Hindu or Sikh background.

We urge the prime minister to tackle head-on why so many young Muslims in the UK have this disrespectful attitude towards women in other communities, and to urgently engage with the leaders of the Muslim community to find answers to a problem that demeans women, does incalculable damage to interfaith harmony and harms the public perception of members of the Muslim community.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon Network of Sikh Organisations (UK)

Anil Bhanot Hindu Council (UK)

Ashish Joshi Sikh Media Monitoring Group (UK)

Mohan Singh Khalsa Sikh Awareness Society (UK)

[Letter published in the Times 5th March 2015]

Dear Sir,

The Sunday Programme 8th February 2015

This morning’s programme carried a lengthy piece on the CST Report on the increase in incidents against Britain’s Jewish community. The increase was attributed in a large measure to what some see as the Israeli government’s heavy-handed action against Palestinian’s in Gaza.

Sikhs sympathise with the wholly innocent members of the British Jewish community, but we are concerned over the continual emphasis on the concerns of those of the Abrahamic faiths to the total indifference to those of others.

Sikhs are particularly vulnerable to ‘mistaken identity’ attacks on members of their community resulting from anger over Islamic extremism. The first person killed in a ‘revenge attack’ after 9/11 was a Sikh, and a similarly motivated attack on a Sikh gurdwara in the USA resulted in the massacre of many innocent worshippers. More recently, following the Charlie Hebdo massacre, a young Sikh in a TESCO supermarket in Cardiff suffered life-threatening injuries from a machete attack, in yet another case of mistaken identity. Incidentally, this is equal to the total number of serious assaults identified in the CST Report.

We have referred to the plight of the wholly innocent Sikh community by way of example. Other faith communities also experience bigotry. Name calling and worse. The BBC should provide better balance and perspective, or be more open and honest and re-title the Sunday Programme ‘the Sunday Programme for Abrahamic Faiths‘ and acknowledge the rest of us don’t matter.

The Network of Sikh Organisations

Correction: [subsequent media reports confirmed the machete attack was in Mold (N Wales), not Cardiff]

Lord Singh’s speech at a Parliamentary Commemorative Reception on the 10th of Nov:

sf-thumbs-main-Dr.-Indarjit-Singh

Friends, my thanks to Paul Uppal MP and Harbakhsh Singh, of the UK Punjab Heritage Association, for giving me an opportunity to say a few words.

By the time of the outbreak of the First World War, Sikhs, though only little over 1% of India’s population, made up to about 20% of the British Indian army.

By the end of the war around 130,000 Sikhs had seen active service. They fought on most of the war’s major fronts, from the Somme to Gallipoli, and across Africa. Over 138,000 Indian troops fought in Belgium and France, many of them Sikhs. More than one quarter of these soldiers became casualties.

They fought with great distinction in the freezing mud-soaked battlefields of Europe, and with equal distinction in the Middle East. In the ill-fated Gallipoli Campaign, the 14th Sikh Regiment sustained very heavy casualties.

Many plaudits were showered on Sikh soldiers by the British and their allies, and rightly so. Their courage and record in battle is second to none and we should remember them with pride. They have set the bar high and we, and succeeding generations must show we are equal to their challenge.

History records that Britain reneged on its promise of a measure of self-rule for India on the successful conclusion of hostilities and the people of the sub-continent found themselves subjected to further repression. The Rowlett Act, passed on March 10, 1919, effectively authorized the government to imprison any person suspected of supposed terrorism to imprisonment for up to two years without trial, and gave the imperial authorities power to deal with all supposed revolutionary activities.

Sikhs will note the irony of how, a little over a half century later, Indira Gandhi used almost identical repressive measures to stifle Sikh protest over the genocide of 1984.

But history can have some strange twists. The repressive legislation of 1919 and the now, universally condemned massacre, of hundreds of innocents at Jallianwalla Bagh on Baisakhi 1919, lit the torch of freedom for the sub-continent. It was a torch kept aflame by the sacrifice of many Sikhs

Friends, in the many centenary commemorations I’ve attended it was said WW1 was then considered as the war to end wars. What we need to reflect on is why didn’t it? In this centenary year of remembrance of the courage of the British, the Sikhs and others who gave their all, we need to redouble our efforts to honour their memory by working for a more lasting peace that looks beyond narrow conflict inducing national self-interest, to the well-being of all members of our one human race.

Finally, a word to the leaders of our political parties. As well as commemorating the centenary of WW1, Sikhs are, as you know, also commemorating the 30th anniversary of the state sponsored mass killing of Sikhs throughout India in 1984.There is no lack of evidence that this was a deliberate genocide, described by PM David Cameron as ‘a stain on the history of independent India’. The then Congress government role in this state sponsored genocide has been similarly condemned by India’s new PM Narendra Modi.

I know that all- important trade led to government reluctance to question the then Congress government, but a new situation now exists in India under PM Narendra Modi, who has himself sympathized with the suffering of Sikhs. I appeal to our main parties, to show similar sympathy for the genocide against Sikhs, by backing in principle at least, the establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to identify the guilty and bring a measure of dignity and closure to thousands of still grieving families of victims of genocide. Reflecting on Sikh sacrifices in WW1 it is a very small ask.

 

The Director of The Network of Sikh Organisations describes the move as a ‘tidying up of the law’

In a debate in the House of Lords earlier this week, Lord Singh, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations, gave his support to government proposals in the De-regulation Bill. The proposed legislation aims to extend the existing exemption for turbaned Sikhs to wear hard hats on construction sites, to other less hazardous places of work.

Lord Singh’s speech has been reproduced in full below:

My Lords, I support the retention of the original clause [and against the amendment to delete it] I speak on behalf of the Network of Sikh Organisations, the largest Sikh organisation in the UK, and as an expert witness in the famous Mandla case in the early 1980s which, incredibly, had to go all the way to the House of Lords to secure the right of a Sikh schoolboy to wear a turban in school and make religious discrimination against Sikhs contrary to the Race Relations Act 1976.

Sikhs are already free to wear turbans on building sites. This measure is simply a tidying-up exercise to ensure that Sikhs are not harassed by insensitive health and safety zealots in offices and workshops where there is minimal risk of injury.

I spent a day and a half in the witness box in the Mandla case and would like to take just three minutes to explain to the House the significance of the turban. It is not cultural headgear like the hijab but a religious requirement to remind us and others, of the need to stand up and be counted for our beliefs, particularly our opposition to religious bigotry in all its forms, and for the freedom of people of different faiths and beliefs to worship in the manner of their choice.

So strong is this belief in Sikhism, that our 9th Guru, Guru Teg Bahadur, gave his life defending the Hindu community’s right to practise their faith—a religion different from his own—against alarming Mughal attempts at forced conversion.

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 Bahadur gave this noble sentiment practical utterance. The Guru was publicly beheaded in the centre of Delhi. The executioners challenged Sikhs, who then had no recognisable symbols, to come forward and claim their master’s body. They hesitated to do so. There are parallels here with the Bible description of Peter denying his closeness to Jesus Christ at the crucifixion.

The 10th Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, decided to give Sikhs visible symbols of their commitment to Sikh beliefs—a sort of uniform like that of the Salvation Army. The turban is now the most recognisable of these symbols.

Sikh teachings of tolerance and respect for the beliefs of others are a powerful antidote to the extremism and persecution of minorities all too evident in our world today. Our world would be a happier and more peaceful place if more people were ready to stand up and be counted in the fight against intolerance.

This clause is a sensible tidying up of the law to extend existing exemptions for building sites to sensibly include other workplaces. I give it my full support.

 

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