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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.

 

One of the first Sikh Prisoners in British jails was Shahid Udham Singh, a friend of my parents. Udham Singh was hanged in Pentonville prison in 1940 for shooting Sir Michael O’Dwyer at a meeting in Caxton Hall, London. O’ Dwyer was Governor of Punjab at the time of the infamous Jallianwala Bagh massacre. He was regularly visited in prison by my father Dr Diwan Singh who would travel up from Birmingham.

In the 60s and 70s the hippy movement was in full swing and long hair became fashionable. Restrictions on long hair in prisons led to a problem for the Church of England (CoE) Chaplaincy, with some inmates claiming that they were Sikhs and should be exempt from the requirement to keep their hair short.

Although the law stated that it was a wholly Church of England Chaplaincy, there was some provisions for other Christian denominations and for Jews.   With some people now calling themselves Sikhs, the Chaplain General realised that he needed guidance on other faiths. He invited myself and a Muslim from the Regent’s Park Mosque to join us at the quarterly Chaplaincy Council meetings. (A few years later we were joined by a Hindu and a Buddhist).

The meetings were conducted around a long table and we were made to sit at one end while the agenda was being discussed at the other end. If we raised any issue or concern, the Chaplain General would look at us in a hostile way. Fortunately we both had thick skins!

By the middle of the 80s, the number of Sikhs in prison had increased significantly from a handful to nearly 300 (now more nearly 800) mainly due to political agitation connected with the attack on the Golden Temple and the mass killing of Sikhs throughout India in 1984.

I felt every Sikh in prison should receive regular visits and support. I persuaded a few friends around the country to act as contact points or Regional Managers and it was their duty to find granthis or other retired people to visit prisons in their area. Much later, and with great difficulty, I got agreement from the Chaplaincy Council for the Sikh Chaplains to be paid for travelling and attendance time.

There were many battles with the Chaplaincy Council over bringing in Krah Prashad and occasional langar for Sikh Services, and over the right of Sikhs to wear karas and a turban, and for Sikh Ministers to wear a kirpan. Eventually it was agreed that a kirpan of up to six inches in length, could be worn by the Sikh minister providing it was concealed from view.

Respect for other faiths improved considerably with the appointment of a new Chaplain General, William Noblett in the 90s. He had lived in India and had a great regard for Sikhs. On our first meeting he greeted me with Sat Siri Akal and a big smile. William was determined to change the Anglican Chaplaincy to a Multi Faith Chaplaincy.

For the first time we were invited to the Annual Chaplaincy Conference with the designation of Faith Advisors. Additionally, we were allowed a Sikh Training Day. We also began having Sikh Chaplaincy meetings at our own expense. The Home Office gave each Other Faith Chaplaincy a small annual grant, currently £17,000 (less than the cost of a part-time secretary) to manage spiritual and pastoral care for every Sikh in every prison and young offenders institution in the whole of England and Wales. The grant helps pay a small part of the office and administrative expenses, with the Director, Deputy Director and Regional Managers all working without payment. Sikhs are now ahead of other chaplaincies in also extending chaplaincy services to Scotland, with the help of resources from the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO).

Much has been achieved with the recognition of special provision for religious festivals. We have also compiled Prison Service Instructions (PSIs) giving an outline of the Sikh faith and faith requirements. Another area of progress is that we now have three full-time and one part-time salaried Sikh chaplains.

Progress has not however been uniform. The Prison Chaplaincy is only advisory and is not a part of the management structure of the Prison Service. When a Sikh Minister at one prison was summarily dismissed, I was told I could not be given the reason because I was not a paid employee! I upset the new Chaplain General by appealing to the Head of the Prison Service who finally condescended to tell me that the Minister’s kirpan had fall loose and he was seen picking it up from the floor. He, like all other Sikh Chaplains at the time and most still now, was a ‘Sessional Chaplain’ paid only for the hours he worked with no employment rights of appeal.

There have also been some self-created problems. There was a court appearance with a Sikh prisoner threatening to go on a hunger strike for special facilities. I attended court to assist him and saw him being slipped a packet of cigarettes by a friend. There are warnings not to bring in food from outside. Despite this, a well-meaning chaplain inadvertently brought in drugs laced samosas. Another Sikh Chaplain was caught smuggling drugs in his turban.

Dietary Problems

We have worked to ensure that the Sikh Chaplaincy PSI contains accurate information on Sikh dietary requirements in accordance with the teachings of the Gurus and the Sikh Reyat Maryada. The PSI, in line with the Sikh Reyat Maryada, explains that Sikhs do not eat halal but other than this the eating of meat or vegetarianism is an individual choice. The PSI also explains that many Sikhs will not eat beef and a fewer number will not eat pork.

Pressure from the significantly more numerous Muslim inmates has led to the frequent serving of halal meals. Patient negotiation with the Head of Prison Catering with veiled threats of resorting to Equalities legislation has resulted in an acceptance that if halal meat is provided, there must also be a non-halal meat option; something sadly still not yet achieved in schools and public services catering.

Whereas langar used to be brought in from gurdwaras, the official prison line now is that it must be prepared in-house to meet health and safety requirements for which they are ultimately responsible. They have agreed that this can be done by the Sikh prisoners or under the supervision of Sikhs. Some prisons however, still raise no objection to langar being brought in from outside. Some Sikhs are vegans and we work with prison catering to accommodate their needs.

More recently, a member of a Sikh sect says that he will not eat food cooked or served by those outside his sect, including the sharing of krah prashad. He also insists that he can only eat food cooked and eaten in an iron vessel. Unfortunately some outside members of his sect claim that this amounts to religious discrimination, misquoting Gurbani and the Reyat Maryada to justify an exclusiveness that goes against the whole thrust of Sikh teachings on equality. We have managed to help this individual by securing an iron bowl and spoon and a supply of cereals and he is happy with this. While we will continue to help, we are not prepared to bend Sikh teachings as some would like. One Sikh website has suggested that ‘Lord Singh has refused to support an Amritdhari Gursikh in practicing Sikh teachings.’ The same website declined to publish a reply and an offer to discuss the issue on any Sikh TV channel.

Other Challenges

There are still many other challenges. The main language now spoken by Sikh prisoners is English, with many Sikhs (mostly non-practising) being sent to prison for drink and drugs offences and crimes of passion. Some Sikh chaplains still have a poor command of English, and there is a need for more focussed recruitment. Some Managing Chaplains who are all non-Sikhs, to save money, try to pressurise Sikh Ministers to forgo their statutory weekly visit and come in fortnightly or once a month. We believe this is unfair to Sikh prisoners and are working to stop this. We are also pressing for Sikh chaplains to be accorded the same hours for religious teaching and prison duties as is given to those of the Christian and Muslim faiths.

Conclusion

I am concerned at the growing number of educated young Sikhs who seem to believe that they are doing their bit by looking for faults in the work being done by others trying to live our Gurus’ teachings. My message is emulate, and hopefully surpass their work, for the benefit of our community.

In conclusion, I would like to express my grateful thanks to the Sikh Chaplaincy team, particularly to Honorary Deputy Director Inder Singh Chawla, Gagandeep Singh Recruitment and Training Manager, and all the Regional managers and chaplains for their unstinted and selfless support in this important seva to vulnerable members of our community. Thanks to their enthusiastic efforts, and that of all Sikh chaplains, hundreds of Sikhs have now turned their lives around and are making a valued contribution to society.

Lord Singh, Director Network of Sikh Organisations

The Director of The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO), Lord Singh of Wimbledon has written to Chaplaincy HQ, after they requested advice following an email sent to them by the Sikh Council. Please see full response below.

I would like to make the following observations:

1. The Sikh Council is well aware of the fact that the Sikh Chaplaincy Service under the NSO, has been the nationally recognised body to look to the spiritual and pastoral care of Sikhs in prisons, for more than 10 years. It is a pity that the Sikh Council did not have the courtesy to discuss this matter with myself. They are well aware that I am the Director of the SCS and NOMS Faith Advisor.

2. I am both saddened and concerned that a senior officer of the Sikh Council is either totally ignorant of basic Sikh teachings, or perhaps is trying to bend Sikh teachings to support a faction that rejects the Gurus’ message of equality.

The Sikh Council officer writes:

Context of concern:  xxxxx is an initiated Sikh who strictly observes orthodox Sikh teachings. Part of his religious discipline is to follow the strict dietary laws of the Gurus teachings and in fact has taking an oath to God to practice such things. His observance of Sikhism is of the highest calibre and purity.

As you may already be aware, strict Sikh orthodox teachings of this nature require him to observe the following dietary law:

  • Being lacto-vegetarian (i.e. not consuming any meat, fish or eggs but allowed to consume milk products).
  • Only eating ‘cooked’ or ‘prepared food’ by spiritually disciplined initiated Sikhs.
  • Using only pure iron utensils to cook and prepare the food and eating and drinking from a pure iron bowl or dish.
  • Subsequently, Mr  xxxxx has not eaten a proper meal since he was sent to prison, which was 6th June 2014.  He has been eating one or two fruits which he washes before he eats, and drinking water using his cupped hands to drink as he refuses to use any of the plastic cups or bowls to drink or eat from.’

3. There is nothing whatever in Sikh scriptures to support eating out of a bowl made out of a particular material. Such superstitious beliefs are totally contrary to the whole thrust of Guru Nanak’s teachings.

4.The Sikh Council suggests that the prisoner says he will be violating his religious vows if he eats food served by anyone not of his particular sect. Sikhism does not do superstition. The Sikh Gurus stressed that the idea of pollution by eating food prepared by or served by others was totally contrary to the whole thrust of Sikh teachings which underline the importance of all people of all backgrounds and religions eating together to break down divisive taboos. This is the meaning of ‘langar‘.

It is sad that an officer of the Sikh Council refers to someone who flouts such teachings as ‘an initiated Sikh who strictly observes orthodox Sikh teachings’.

5. It is said that he is an Amrithari Sikh. The Amrit Ceremony specifically forbids Sikhs indulging in anti-Sikh practices. While the dietary practice of the individual concerned has nothing to do with Sikh teachings, the SCS is doing all it can to help the individual by supplying an iron bowl and helping with his dietary needs as far as practicable.

Lord Indarjit Singh (Sikh Faith Advisor to NOMS)

 

 

1.     On four separate occasions, I have asked in the Lords, why is the government  backing an independent UN led inquiry into human rights abuses against Tamils in Sri Lanka, but refusing to support a similat international inquiry into the attrocities of Sikhs in India. Are Sikhs lesser human beings? The government, in its consistent refusal to answer the question, clearly thinks we are.
2.     On 26th March 2014 Prime Minister David Cammeron effectively said that that the UK government is not concerned about the attrocities of Sikhs in 1984. All that matters is what Sikhs do for us in the UK.
3.     The last straw. The Sikh Council has been effectively sitting on a response from Baroness Warsi to the meeting of 24 February which effectively amounts to a huge slap on the face of all Sikhs, in its smugness about UK support for the persecution of Sikhs in 1984, and its arrogant refusal to support an international inquiry.
At the conclusion of the meeting of 24 February, Mr Kandola asked Baroness Warsi to send him her response to the points raised, undertaking to immediately forward the response to all who had participated. The Sikh Council has not kept to the promise made to all present. Even apologists for the Sikh Council like Gurmukh Singh will find the Council’s determination to sit on this latest slap on the face until after the photo opportunities at Downing Street, distasteful and insulting to still grieving families in India. The worldwide Sikh community expects a united response from the UK Sikh community to the smugness and indifference shown us.
Lord (Indarjit) Singh

Following pressure from the Downing Street boycott, and further discussions with Lord Singh, there is now a slight glimmer of hope that the UK government may offer some gesture of remorse over previous UK assistance to the government of India. This may be in the form of a statement by the Prime Minister at the Downing Street event, but it is by no means certain and we should continue to apply pressure in every possible way.

Sikh members of the Armed Services are also likely to support the NSO stance in not attending the Downing Street function. The boycott has however, posed a major ethical dilemma for some members of the Sikh Council. They have been asked to support it,  however there has been no response. It appears that some, considering a photo opportunity with the Prime Minister more important than standing up for Sikh values, will probably attend.

We wish them well.

STATEMENT FROM DIRECTOR: LORD SINGH OF WIMBLEDON

There is a tide in the affairs of men

                     Which taken at the flood leads on to fortune——–

  -On such a full sea are we know afloat

                                 And must take current when it serves or lose our venture

                                                                               Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

The need for an open independent inquiry into the genocide of Sikhs should be the most important demand for Sikhs in this 30th anniversary year of the Indian government’s planned massacre of Sikhs in 1984. We now have a better than ever opportunity to make this important Sikh demand a reality for the following reasons:

  • The revelation of the then UK government’s involvement, places a moral obligation on the present government to make amends by giving a measure of support for an independent inquiry, on the same lines as it is calling for a UN led inquiry into the massacre of Tamils in Sri Lanka
  • The centenary commemorations of the start of the Great War (1914-18) give an added reason to remind the UK government that 83,000 Sikhs gave their lives in the two world wars strengthening our demand for reciprocation of support
  • Wikileaks documents now available provide USA confirmation that more Sikhs were killed in just 3 days in India than in the 17 years of General Pinochet’s widely condemned cruel and arbitrary rule in Chile
  • India has a General Election in May. Two of the three main political parties have said they support an independent inquiry into the events of 1984 and Raul Gandhi, leader of the Congress Party has publically admitted that some Congress party members were involved
  • PM Manmohan Singh is also on record as speaking in the Indian Parliament on the genocide of 84 of ‘questions ‘still unanswered’
  • A General Election is to be held in the UK next year. There are sizable Sikh populations in many marginal seats and we can make it clear to political parties that Sikhs expect support for Sikh human rights

If we ignore this real opportunity, we will as Shakespeare observes, ‘lose our venture.’ This unusual combination of political developments will not occur again. UK Sikhs will betray the families of those who lost their lives in the genocide of Sikhs if we fail to make the need for an open inquiry the single- minded focus of Sikhs, to the exclusion of all side issues (including a time wasting inquiry into the minutiae of British government involvement which could take years without getting us any further).

Highlighting the Sikh Demand for an International UN-led Inquiry

My position in the Lords gives me a unique opportunity to constantly press politicians on this important issue, and with NSO support I have done this on four separate occasions. Yesterday I met the then Cabinet Secretary, Lord Butler to try to get his support, and am planning to ask a written question to Baroness Warsi as a follow up to the debate. It will not be easy but I will continue trying. One of the difficulties is the game of divide and rule, with the government saying other Sikhs are not necessarily backing the NSO demand. It is important to show Sikhs are united on this issue.

Need for Strategic Thinking

It is a matter of concern that although we are now fast approaching the June anniversary, and that May will see important elections in India, the Sikh Council appears to have no clear policy on what needs to be done. This has been admitted in recent email correspondence in which the Council asked the NSO for information on ten questions relating to background information so that they can begin consultations with constituent members.

Even more worrying, the Sikh Federation faction of the Council is actively seeking to divert attention and destroy momentum with a demand for a time wasting, judge led inquiry into British involvement that could take months, if not years without getting us any further!

In what many consider a historic House of Lords Debate on Monday 3rd March, I said all we want from the UK government is its backing for an International UN led inquiry into the 1984 genocide, on the same lines that HMG is supporting the need for a UN inquiry into human rights abuses against the Tamils in Sri Lanka.  I believe that the stance of the Federation faction of the Sikh Council in pursuing minutiae of UK involvement could prove counter-productive in alienating the UK government at a time when we need its support.

Unabashed, the Council are trying to claim credit for Monday’s historic debate in the Lords supposedly achieved with Sikh Council cooperation. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the Federation faction of the Sikh Council successfully muddied the waters by briefing Lord Triesman to shift the focus away from my demand for a UN backed inquiry into the behaviour of the Indian government, to instead, a time wasting inquiry into missing documents

Clarification

As I closed my speech in a strictly time limited debate, in which I had just 10 minutes to set the scene for the debate with a full history of the causes and details of the genocide of 1984,

I tried to impress on the government that Sikhs were united in our desire for an international inquiry and referred to the Sikh Council alongside reference to the NSO. This caused some ambiguity in the relationship of the Director NSO with the Sikh Council.

I would like to make it clear that I and the NSO have no desire to be involved with an organisation that includes factions that do not subscribe to the primacy of the Guru Granth Sahib, and on the current issue, acts in a way which I believe, seriously damages the Sikh cause. I have sympathy for Mr Kandola presiding over a group with conflicting agendas, but in this he is on his own.

My concern over the behaviour of the Sikh Council is that their lack of support may seriously harm this important Sikh demand. What I have written is backed by fact and I will be happy to debate it on any Sikh TV channel.

Conclusion

The NSO asks UK Sikhs and non-Sikhs committed to human Rights, for unqualified support for its demand for a UN-backed international inquiry into the genocide of Sikhs in 1984. It will be a betrayal of the families of victims if we allow ourselves to be deflected from this course.

Note: In preparing this statement the Network of Sikh Organisations wrote to Mr Kandola in an attempt to gain clarity on the Sikh Council’s strategy. Although Mr Kandola responded copying in colleagues, we are still no closer in understanding what their policy on the matter is. In the last communication Mr Kandola promised he would conduct consultation on the issue ending with the words ‘bear with us.’ We now understand Mr Kandola and his team have gone to India to help the UK government deal with asylum seekers.

http://www.sikhchic.com/1984/i_will_not_attend_lord_indarjit_singhs_missive_to_teji_bindra

Lord INDARJIT SINGH

 

To

Teji Bindra

New York, USA

 

25-10-12

Dear Tejinder ji,

Sat Sri Akal

Re: Sikh Heritage Arts Gala 2012

I am writing to inform you that I will not be attending the Sikh Arts and Film Festival.

When Dr Narinder Singh Kapany informed me that Sikhs in New York wished to honour me for becoming the first turbaned Sikh in the British Parliament, I agreed.

I was given to understand that it would be at a function of Sikh Heritage Awards. I now learn from the detailed Programme sent me that it is a Festival of Indian Films with dinner and dance in the presence of dignitaries from and representatives of the Indian government.

This festive  event coincides with the anniversary of  the government planned systematic  slaughter and rape of thousands of Sikhs throughout the length and breadth of India following  the assassination of Indira Gandhi, commencing with Rajiv Gandhi’s broadcast incitement of “khoon ka badla khoon” – “Exact blood for blood”. ( An official in Africa recently received a lengthy jail term from the International Criminal Court for lesser incitement).

Ever since 1984, I have campaigned tirelessly for those responsible for this genocide against Sikhs to be brought to justice through articles in the Sikh Messenger , the Journal of Amnesty International, articles in the Times, the Guardianand other  British, French, American and Arabic journals and in radio and TV broadcasts. My effort and those of many others for the Indian government to respect civilised norms and bring those responsible to justice have simply fallen on deaf ears.

In the circumstances, I hope you will understand why on the anniversary of this massacre, I cannot join you with your guests from the Indian government.  My apologies for any inconvenience.

Kind regards
Dr. Indarjit Singh ( Lord Singh of Wimbledon)

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/137b1408-7dd9-11e3-95dd-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2qku6Ocwx

By Griselda Murray Brown and Kiran Stacey

The campaigner speaks out following revelation about UK government’s possible involvement in tragic incident
Lord Singh

Lord Singh is widely known for his contributions to the “Thought for the Day” slot on BBC Radio 4, urging religious tolerance in gentle, measured tones, but his influence extends far beyond the breakfast table. This tireless campaigner is currently demanding an apology from the British government over its possible involvement – revealed this week – in the 1984 attack by the Indian government on the Sikh temple at Amritsar.

A practising Sikh, Singh co-founded the Inter Faith Network for the UK in 1987 to promote better relations between religions, and in 2008 he became the first Sikh to address a major conference at the Vatican. He set up the Network of Sikh Organisations in 1995, co-ordinating pastoral care for Sikhs in hospitals, prisons and the armed forces. The Prince of Wales, Anglican bishops and the Metropolitan Police are among those who have consulted him, and he has advised the government on race relations. In 2011, he was made a crossbench life peer in the House of Lords – the first member to wear a turban.

Born Indarjit Singh in 1932 in Rawalpindi, now in Pakistan, he moved to the UK as a baby. Singh’s father, a doctor, had been involved in the Indian independence movement and was “virtually exiled” to east Africa; after studying in Britain he decided to move his family there rather than returning to India. So, in 1933, Singh, together with his two elder brothers and mother, joined his father in Birmingham.

Singh now lives in the detached Victorian house in Wimbledon, southwest London, that he and his wife, Kanwaljit, bought in 1974. Forty years after the Singhs moved in with their two young daughters, the home feels lived-in but well-maintained, and various decorative objects attest to the couple’s broad tastes: an engraving of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, north India, the holiest Sikh shrine; an ancient Greek-style plate; a painted Alpine scene; and a Japanese print.

Singh met his wife in India, when he was working there as a mine engineer, and they moved to England in the mid-1960s – first to Birmingham, then London when Singh was offered a job in civil engineering. He later studied for an MBA and moved into local government. Kanwaljit, in turn, has worked as a primary schoolteacher, a headteacher and a school inspector. In 2011 she was awarded an OBE for services to education and interfaith understanding.

Wall hanging of the Golden Temple

Over tea and homemade samosas, Singh recalls his childhood in Birmingham – where, in 1939, the Indian population was estimated at just 100. “My parents had a very tough time. They wouldn’t give my father a hospital job so he set up his own practice as a GP. He was a very determined chap, but the patients didn’t come too quickly. My mother even had to pawn some of her jewellery for things like bread and milk.” At this, he breaks into laughter, his eyes almost disappearing as his face creases. “But they came through it all, and the practice grew and grew.”

Singh is serious in his beliefs but quick to laugh at life’s absurdities – even the absurdity of prejudice. The Singh brothers were the only non-white pupils at the local grammar school. “Everyone knew that Britain was top and everybody else was down there,” he gestures to the floor. “There was a history teacher who looked directly at me in class and said ‘They come over here, they get educated and they go back to India to harass us’.” Did that upset him? “No,” he says, “it was par for the course. We knew it was wrong but it was the game being played. It was snakes and ladders and your ladders had broken rungs.”

Indarjit Singh's dining room

After graduating from Birmingham university in 1959 with a first-class degree in engineering, Singh applied to the Coal Board to become a mine manager. However, at his interview he was squarely informed that “miners in this country wouldn’t like an Indian manager”. So he decided to leave home for India, a country he barely knew.

At that time, relations between Sikhs and Hindus in India were deteriorating. They had lived together harmoniously for centuries. But that changed with the Partition of India in 1947, when Pakistan was carved out as a Muslim land and bloodshed ensued as Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs found themselves on the wrong sides of the new borders. The Indian prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, had promised Sikhs “an area and a set-up in the north where in [they] may also experience the glow of freedom” – but no such provision was made. Sikhs felt increasingly marginalised and there was rioting in Punjab.

“When I went to India, Sikhs had no voice,” says Singh. “There was no Sikh press and if you wrote complainingly to the papers you were ignored. Being British, I thought ‘This is unfair, I’ve got to do something about it’.” A smile spreads slowly across his face. “If I wrote to the papers as a Sikh, there wasn’t a chance they’d print it, so I decided to write as my next-door neighbour in England, Victor Pendry, and my letter to the Hindustan Times was published. It had a huge ripple, especially in the Sikh community. My wife had heard about Victor Pendry before she met me.”

Mantelpiece at Indarjit Singh's home

At this point, Kanwaljit enters to refill our teacups. She is busy in the smaller back sitting room (she still works as a freelance school inspector), but she wants to check that we have everything we need. The couple’s grown-up children moved out years ago and the house feels big for two – big enough for a study each and several spare bedrooms. Initially, they made alterations to the place – “we knocked two rooms into one through-lounge, and built a kitchen extension and a garage” – but after a while they “got a bit lazy”. It seems likely they were less lazy than busy.

Singh co-founded the Inter Faith Network for the UK while still working full-time, and in 1989 he became the first non-Christian to be awarded the UK Templeton Prize “for the furtherance of spiritual and ethical understanding”. He wrote regularly for the Sikh Courier from 1967 and when, in 1983, its owner didn’t like Singh’s proposed articles on communal violence between Sikhs and Hindus in India, Singh left to establish a new publication, the Sikh Messenger, of which he remains editor.

Tensions with the Sikh community came to a head in June 1984 when India’s prime minister, Indira Gandhi, ordered the army to storm the Golden Temple complex and remove Sikh separatists, with co-ordinated raids on gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship). The attack fell on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Guru Arjan, founder of the Golden Temple, when thousands of pilgrims were gathered. Official estimates put civilian deaths at about 400, but independent reports claim thousands died. Four months later, Gandhi was assassinated by two Sikh bodyguards in an act of vengeance, and anti-Sikh rioting swept across India, killing thousands more.

Indarjit Singh's living room

It is now almost 30 years since the attack, an anniversary that has brought fresh information. A document released by the British government, under the 30-year rule, has revealed that Geoffrey Howe, the then foreign secretary, sent an SAS officer to India in the months before the attack to advise Gandhi’s government on its tactics.

The revelation has led David Cameron, the UK prime minister, to order an inquiry and the Foreign Office has accepted Singh’s offer of support. “I would like the authorities to take the opportunity to try and bring closure on something that is creating continuing suspicion between the Hindu and Sikh communities,” he says. “I want an open, international inquiry into those events – then you can punish those that are guilty on either side and give a sense of closure.”

For all his mild-mannered charm, Singh is not one to back down – and his drive is that of a much younger man. “It’s always worth having a say and keeping to your principles,” he insists. Three decades after the killings at the Golden Temple, he will be doing that more than ever.

——————————————-

Favourite thing

Singh’s house is full of awards: an OBE, a CBE, an honorary doctorate and countless tokens of appreciation from gurdwaras across Britain. But “the superior thing” is a painting by his granddaughter, which he has since framed. “I went to their house when her mum was away and I was deputed to do her plaits. She said ‘No one has ever done them quite like that’, and the next time I went there she presented me with it”.

Here is a link to an article in India Today on 14th January 2014

http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/thatcher-colluded-with-indira-for-op-bluestar-labour-mp/1/336038.html

A British MP and a Sikh member of the House of Lords claimed that top secret documents suggested Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government helped Indira Gandhi plan the storming of the Golden Temple in 1984 to flush out militants from the shrine, an operation that left more than 1,000 people dead.

Tom Watson, the Labour lawmaker from West Bromwich East, and Lord Indarjit Singh said the documents released under Britain’s 30-year rule included “papers from Mrs Thatcher authorising the SAS (Special Air Service) to collude with the Indian government on the planning on the raid of the Golden Temple”.

The government apparently “held back” some more documents and “I don’t think that’s going to wash”, he told BBC Asian Network.

“I think British Sikhs and all those concerned about human rights will want to know exactly the extent of Britain’s collusion with this period and this episode and will expect some answers from the Foreign Secretary,” Watson said.

He wrote on his website that he would write to the Foreign Secretary and raise the issue in the House of Commons to get a “full explanation”.

“But trying to hide what we did, not coming clean, I think would be a very grave error and I very much hope that the Foreign Secretary will…reveal the documents that exist and give us an explanation to the House of Commons and to the country about the role of Britain at that very difficult time for Sikhism and Sikhs,” he added.

On his website, Watson referred to documents that were made public by the organisation “Stop Deportations”. The organisation said these documents were among a series of letters released at the New Year by the National Archives in London.

A letter marked “top secret and personal” dated February 23, 1984, nearly four months before the incident in Amritsar, titled ‘Sikh Community’, reads: “The Indian authorities recently sought British advice over a plan to remove Sikh extremists from the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

“The Foreign Secretary decided to respond favourably to the Indian request and, with the Prime Minister’s agreement, an SAD [sic] officer has visited India and drawn up a plan which has been approved by Gandhi. The Foreign Secretary believes that the Indian Government may put the plan into operation shortly.”

Lord Singh, also the director of the Network of Sikh Organisations in the UK, now wants the UK government to reveal the extent of British government involvement in both Houses of Parliament

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/we-the-undersigned-demand-that-politicians

Earlier this month (Dec 2013) on BBC Radio 4’s World at One, Simon Danczuk MP for Rochdale said there was “no doubt” ethnicity was a factor in grooming cases. He said “We still need a breakthrough, I think, in terms of the Asian community” Simon Danczuk’s use of the term ‘Asian’ in this context is grossly insulting to the Hindu and Sikh communities.

Those convicted in Simon Danczuk’s constituency for grooming of white British girls in May 2012, included 8 men of Pakistani origin and one from Afghanistan. Judge Gerald Clifton who sentenced the men said they treated the girls as though they were worthless and beyond respect” he added “One of the factors leading to that was the fact that they were not part of your community or religion”

The men were of predominantly Pakistani Muslim origin.

As in Simon Danczuk’s example, by masking the identity of perpetrators by using vague terminology ‘Asian’, we are unable to have a mature discussion or get to the root cause of an emerging pattern of criminality. This is important because…..

· Use of the word ‘Asian’ is unfair to Sikhs, Hindus and other communities who are of Asian origin and have not been involved in the emerging pattern of convictions for sexual grooming.

· 1.1 The reported convictions of men for sexual grooming of white British girls, almost always involve men of Pakistani origin.

· 1.2 There is reluctance by both government and media to discuss the disproportionate representation of Muslims in such cases.

· 1.3 Victims are almost always non-Muslim girls

· 1.4 The Hindu and Sikh communities have been complaining about targeting of their girls by Muslim men for decades

· 1.5 In August 2013, Muslim men were amongst those convicted for the sex grooming of a Sikh girl in Leicester.

· 1.6 Communities who themselves fall victim of this emerging pattern of criminality, should not be besmirched by the vague terminology ‘Asian’.

· 1.7 In order to help find a solution to the problem, we need to be clear on the identity of those involved. We will not be able to do this if we mask the identity based on misguided views of protecting a vulnerable community of perpetrators and not looking at the vulnerable community of victims.

· 1.8 Political correctness by some of our elected representatives is stifling an important debate.

· 1.9 We believe that in this case the government itself is sanctioning the use of term Asian as a way of clouding responsibility.

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/we-the-undersigned-demand-that-politicians

The Network of Sikh Organisations

http://nsouk.co.uk/

Sikh Media Monitoring Group

Hindu Council UK

www.HinduCouncilUK.org

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