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[Tweet by Audrey Truschke @AudreyTruschke on 30 March 17]

The NSO has written to an American academic after concerns were flagged about a controversial statement in her book Aurangzeb: The Man and the Myth.

Audrey Trushcke, Assistant Professor of South Asian History at Rutgers University said Aurangzeb executed Guru Tegh Bahadur because he was ‘causing unrest in the Punjab.’ The same comment has been recently made by the Professor on social media.

In a communication to her this week the NSO stated: “As an expert on Aurangzeb you are no doubt aware he imprisoned his own father and murdered his own siblings. Not the actions of a loving son or brother, I’m sure you’ll agree.”

It went on: “His bigotry towards and persecution of India’s minority faiths is widely acknowledged and documented. It’s with this backdrop that a delegation of Kashmiri Pandits approached Guru Tegh Bahadur in 1675. They had been given an ultimatum by Aurangzeb to convert to Islam or perish, a policy we see with modern day ISIS in Syria and Iraq with the persecution of Christians and Yazidi minorities.”

We specifically asked: “How can standing up to religious extremism, bigotry and totalitarianism be possibly described as ‘causing unrest?’ Please do explain.”

At the time of writing we have had no official response from the Professor or the publishers of her book.

Members of the House of Lords called for a ‘credible investigation’ into the chemical weapons attack in Syria, which was responsible for over 70 deaths in Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib on Tuesday.

According to UK-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 20 children and 52 adults were killed in the chemical incident.

Calling for an investigation into the atrocity, Baroness Northover said: “If it turns out to be sarin from the regime’s stocks, what actions will be taken to ensure that this time there is full destruction of all Syria’s chemical weapons?”

Referring to a recent US military airstrike against IS which killed a significant number of civilians, Lord Singh said: “My Lords, does the Minister agree with the sentiments of the great human rights activist Andrei Sakharov, who said that there will be no progress on human rights until we are even-handed in condemnation?”

He went on: “Having said that, does she further agree that the indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Mosul should be equally condemned as the chemical attack? For survivors and for the relatives of those killed and maimed, it is equally bad.”

PC Garcha with Lord Singh

Around 2,000 people gathered at Westminster Abbey yesterday for a memorial service dedicated to the victims of the Westminster terror attack.

On 22 March Khalid Masood killed three people when he drove into crowds and stabbed a policeman to death before being shot dead at the UK Parliament.

The service was led by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend John Hall, and was attended by the Royal Family, the Mayor of London, MET Police, faith leaders and survivors of Khalid Masood’s murderous rampage.

Our Director, Lord Singh attended in his capacity as a faith leader, something he does routinely at civic occasions like the Commonwealth Service and the Remembrance Day Service at the Cenotaph.

American tourist Melissa Payne Cochran who lost her husband during the terrorist incident was also in attendance with her parents. She had been celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary with her husband on the day of the terror attack.

In a moving tribute to those who had lost their lives, Prince William read a passage from the Bible about the Good Samaritan. The Home Secretary Amber Rudd read from the Book of Jeremiah and PC J Garcha, a serving officer in the MET Police read from the Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh scriptures).

Some representatives from the Sikh Federation and Sikh Council were also among audience members.

Image: Delegates as GSC meeting in Paris

Lady Singh has been unanimously elected to lead the Global Sikhs Council (GSC) at its annual general meeting (AGM) last week in Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia.

Former Vice-President Lady Singh’s election to head the group was met with approval from delegates from 18 countries at the AGM. A representative from an umbrella body of Malaysian Sikhs in attendance expressed his confidence in the new appointment. “She is a capable person,” he told Asia Samachar.

The organisation was initially set up in Australia in 2014, to establish a coalition of national Sikh organisations from across the globe that would fearlessly promote values and policies consistent with Sikhism.

On her appointment Lady Singh confirmed one of the GSC’s aims is to promote the primacy of the Nanakshahi calendar, so this gives uniformity to the celebration of Gurpurabs.

She said, “We will actively encourage the recruitment of bilingual preachers for gurdwaras in the West so young children and adults who don’t speak Punjabi can understand their faith.”

She is committed in dispelling misconceptions about Sikhism, which she said, “are being propagated in some influential quarters by those who are willfully attaching a false mythological narrative, which totally undermines Sikh ethos and teachings.”

Along with her new role, Lady Singh continues as Education Inspector and consultant responsible to inspect religious education in Sikh Schools for the Department of Education. She is also the Deputy Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations.

The European court of justice’s (ECJ) recent ruling on religious symbols which grants companies the right to ban employees from wearing visible religious symbols will not apply to the UK according to a government Minister.

Europe’s highest court decided on cases involving two Muslim women and their right to wear headscarves at work. The court ruled the garments could be banned, but only as part of a broader policy for all political and religious symbolism in the workplace.

Minister of State, Baroness Williams of Trafford confirmed the ECJ  decision would not have a bearing on the UK, she said: “We will protect and uphold the freedoms that have been allowed in this country, as we always have done. It will not affect our domestic law.”

Lord Singh said, “I thank the Government for the clarity and forcefulness of the Statement protecting religious minorities. The law in Europe seems to be in a mess because of the two conflicting judgments. They are conflicting because if the Human Rights Council says that people have the right to manifest their religion, that should be absolute. Otherwise, it becomes very difficult.”

He went on: “Who decides? In France and Belgium, the Governments overrule that judgment. Sikh schoolchildren cannot go to a public school with a turban and people who want a passport photo have to take their turban off. This is just absurd. I do not know whether there is anything the Government can do to explain that absurdity to those in Europe.”

The full debate can be read here.

The extraordinary contribution of Indian soldiers to the Great War effort was highlighted with launch of the ‘Legacy of Valour’ exhibition in Parliament last week.

The exhibition marked the inordinate contribution of 1.5m Indian soldiers who fought in the many theatres of war during 1914-18. The exhibition launch last Monday was attended by His Excellency Mr. Y.K. Sinha (Indian High Commissioner), Baroness Flather, Lord Singh of Wimbledon and Reading West MP Alok Sharma.

Organiser Inderpal Singh Dhanjal said that the overwhelming reaction of those who attended the opening ceremony was that it was both inspirational and informative. Mr Dhanjal said attendees told him the exhibition “must be shown in other cities to educate and raise awareness of the sacrifices of Sikh and other Indian soldiers in WW1.”

Although the exhibition in Parliament is now closed, Mr Dhanjal informed the NSO he is in negotiations with interested parties and will be organising another viewing in the South East.

 

 

[Image above: Lady Singh addresses the audience at Billion Women Parliamentary event]

The NSO hosted an event in the House of Lords last week in aid of charity Billion Women to celebrate International Women’s Day.

The event focused both on the successes and challenges faced by women in modern society, from both a cultural and religious perspective.

Speakers included Lord and Lady Singh, Lord Sheikh, Lord Loomba, Criminologist Prof Aisha Gill from the University of Roehampton, Spoken Word Artist Jaspreet Kaur, the founder of Billion Women Mani Bajwa and business woman Mrs Amar Kaur Maker.

Event organiser Lady Singh told the audience the Suffragettes had fought tirelessly for women’s equality in Britain over a century ago. She told audience members they had thrown themselves under horses, chained themselves to railings outside Parliament and had suffered huge indignities. Referring to Emily Pankhurst Lady Singh said, “We owe her a lot.” But she warned Sikh women who had been given equality from day one by Guru Nanak – over five hundred years ago, that they should not be complacent.

She said, “Women have been fighting for equality with men right up to the twentieth century and in some ways even today. The Gurus gave Sikh women equality. It was handed on a plate. They did not have to hold rallies, protest marches, hunger strikes, getting under the hooves of horses or chaining themselves to the railings. They did not have to struggle to get rid of the obnoxious social customs such as sati, purdah, dowry and female infanticide”

She went on: “We Sikh women having got equality need to discharge our responsibilities to ensure we do not loose it. If we do not practice equality in our own homes and gurdwaras, our women in the future will loose it. Guard it by practicing it.”

Entrepreneur Mrs Amar Kaur Maker told the audience that she took inspiration from Sikh teachings when her husband passed away. She was left with the daunting prospect of supporting her family and running a business. Despite her challenges, in 2009 she was given a national ‘entrepreneurial excellence award’. Mrs Maker said, “I felt abandoned but somehow carried on with strength from my faith and inspiration from the life of Guru Gobind Singh.”

Attendee Rani Bhilku from Slough based organisation Jeena said, “It was refreshing to see so many women from across the generations attend, and I particularly resonated with Jaspreet Kaur’s poetic words on the night.”

Sikh teachings on gender equality are “way ahead not only of society at that time, but of much of society today”, says Lord Singh

Marking International Women’s Day last week, peers debated the role Britain plays in promoting gender equality across the globe following a question tabled by Tory peer Baroness Shields.

Talking about this year’s theme “Be Bold for Change” The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and Home Office said, “In some regards, it is a sad indictment that despite the integral role that women play in every aspect of life, we still struggle to be considered equal. In the opening years of the 20th century, courageous women joined hands and stood beside each other in solidarity.” She went on, “Outside this very House, suffragettes fought for women’s rights in our democracy, yet more than 100 years on, we are still striving to become a society that is truly equal.”

Lord Singh, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) told peers true equality is reflected in a society where opportunity and respect is given parity for both sexes. Lord Singh stressed greater equality in society had moved on from the traditional view of men being ‘bread-winners’ and women the ‘main carer’. This he told peers, had resulted from an acceptance that there is nothing demeaning in men playing a greater role in the home.

Reflecting on his own faith Lord Singh said, “Sikh teachings place a strong emphasis on the equality of all human beings. Right from the start, Guru Nanak—the founder of the faith, born in 1469—made clear that this teaching of full equality and dignity included women. In a memorable line, the guru criticised prevailing negative attitudes to women, saying, “How can we call those who give birth to kings and rulers, lesser beings?”In 1699, when Guru Gobind Singh gave Sikh men the common name Singh—meaning “lion”, to remind us of the need for courage—he gave the name or title “Kaur”, meaning “princess”, to women, to remind them and others of their elevated status in Sikh society. On reflection, that seems to be a bit more than equality. I would rather be a princess than a four-legged beast.”

He went on, “The Sikh gurus were aware then—as is sadly still true today— that war is often used to justify brutal treatment of enemy women. Sikh teachings remind us that in times of conflict, women and girls should, as appropriate, be regarded as mother, sister or daughter and be treated as such. Sikh teachings on the equality and dignity of women were way ahead not only of society at that time, but of much of society today.”

Lord Singh warned of being complacent, adding, “In some Sikh families, the still-negative culture of the sub-continent sometimes overrides religious teachings, with girls being treated less favourably than boys, promoting a false sense of male superiority. Today, Sikhs and non-Sikhs need to do much more to make the dignity and complete equality of women the norm, within our different faiths and in wider society.”

 

Graphic symbols of different religions on white

[Graphic symbols of different religions]

It matters that people learn about religion. The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) has long stressed the importance for us all to have a basic understanding of all the major faiths, which in turn, motivate the behavior and attitudes of significant numbers of people in Britain. In understanding the role of religions in society, we provide ourselves with an informed platform to better engage with others.

Last week our Director Lord Singh asked the government, “What steps they are taking to combat religious extremism and to promote a cohesive society by enhancing religious literacy at all levels of government.”

Minister of State, Baroness Williams of Trafford responded by informing peers the government is countering extremism through Prevent. She said, “We are working closely with faith groups to understand the impact of policies and to improve religious literacy in government. The Home Secretary and the Communities Secretary hosted a round table for representatives of all faiths last November.”

Unsatisfied with the Minister’s response, Lord Singh added: “The Government paper on the hate crime action plan contained no mention of non-Abrahamic faiths. That suggests something about the religious literacy there. Does the Minister agree that democracy implies being attentive to the legitimate concerns of all sections of the community, not those of a single religious or other majority?”

He went on: “Does she further agree that teachings and practices that go against human rights must be robustly challenged, but that we need to know something about what we are challenging before we can do that? Programmes like Prevent cannot be effective without such knowledge. One final point is that I have put the basics of Sikh teachings on one side of A4 at the request of the DFE, and that can be done for other faiths as well. Should that not be essential for religious literacy in government departments?”

The Minister responded thus: “He said that the hate crime action plan did not specifically refer to non-Abrahamic faiths, but the tenets of the action plan cover points on hatred on the basis of religious belief, disability, sexuality and so on. It is therefore implicit within it that, for example, Sikh communities are included.”

She added: “As for the understanding of religious literacy within both government and wider society, both the Home Office and DCLG engage widely and often with faith communities. Shortly after the referendum, I myself met people from different faiths, including Sikhs, in Manchester to discuss religious literacy, the outcome of the referendum and the corresponding hate crime attached to it.”

It is encouraging to hear the Minister often engages with faith communities. However her response didn’t acknowledge the government’s failure in including faiths outside the Abrahamic traditions in Action Against Hate – the government’s four-year hate crime plan. The NSO believes that improving religious literacy in government circles can only enhance policy development, and prevent any future exclusion of minority faiths that aren’t as vocal in their approach to lobbying.

CoxLast week saw the second reading of Baroness Cox’s arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill, which aims to protect the rights of women under Sharia courts operating in Britain.

Baroness Cox who has long fought for human rights said, “we must not condone situations where rulings are applied which are fundamentally incompatible with the laws, values, principles and policies of our country.”

She went on, “Muslim women are today suffering in ways in which would make suffragettes turn in their graves.” The proposals in her Bill have been described as a “lifeline” for vulnerable women, some of whom had provided evidence of their plight to an All Party Parliamentary Group on “Honour” Based violence.

Baroness Cox described Sharia councils as “a rapidly developing alternative quasi-legal system, which undermines the fundamental principle of one law for all.”

Lord Singh the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) thanked Baroness Cox for her tireless work in supporting vulnerable members of society across the globe.

He said, “negative attitudes to women, all too evident in Islam, have become embedded in religious texts, which, as we have heard, give less weightage to the word of a woman, and lesser inheritance rights. There are also particular problems with attitudes to divorce. These negative attitudes prevent Islam from playing its full part in social improvement. I have many Muslim friends and most are happily married and a credit to society. But sharia law and divorce are heavily weighted in favour of men and are at variance with the law of this country.”

He went on, “we cannot have a parallel judicial system, particularly one that discriminates against women. We have today heard many examples of the weightage against women in the proceedings of sharia courts and the resulting suffering. We have heard the concerns of our Prime Minister, Theresa May, when as Home Secretary she referred to wives being left in penury and a supposed right of husbands to chastise their wives.”

Lord Singh said the proposals in the Bill would not only “safeguard the position of women in the Islamic community”, but also “leave Islam stronger and better able to play its full part in the world of today.”

The full debate can be viewed here.

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