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Lord Tebbit

Lord Tebbit

Lord Tebbit has expressed his admiration for Sikhs in a debate in which he said the community had demonstrated “great loyalty” to Britain.

The former Chairman of the Conservative Party said:

“My Lords, nobody in this House is better equipped than the noble Lord (reference to Lord Singh) to get people to understand that the present version of the Muslim religion arises largely from a dispute within that religion and that it is a gross perversion of the Muslim religion practised in the 13th and 14th centuries, for example.”

He went on: “We should all remember that there are very few places where one can feel safer in the face of extremism in this country than in the company of a large number of Sikhs, who have always shown by their great loyalty and understanding of this society that they have their place here”.

Lord Tebbit’s comments follow a question tabled by Lord Singh, asking the government for more clarity on the meaning of words in the battle against extremism.

The NSO’s Director asked Her Majesty’s government: “What assessment they have made of whether action to combat the threat of terrorism could be helped by a clearer use of language, for example by explaining the actual meaning of words such as “extremism”, “radicalisation” and “fundamentalism”.”

Minister Lord Ahmad responded describing the Prevent programme, and efforts to train front line staff in spotting “signs of radicalisation”. He said the government had published its counter extremism strategy and was working with communities to tackle the threat of extremism.

Lord Singh responded: “I thank the Minister for the reply explaining the Government’s position. However, for years we have had a Prevent programme, as he mentioned, without clearly defining what we are trying to prevent. Words such as “radical”, “deradicalise”, “fundamentalist” and “extremist” are totally devoid of meaning, while the terms “political Islam” and “Islamist” are considered by many Muslims to be derogatory to Islam.

He added: “Does the Minister agree that what we are really trying to prevent is the out-of-context use of religious texts that advocate the killing or ill-treatment of people of other faiths? Furthermore, does the Minister agree that to suggest that such behaviour is sanctioned by the one God of us all is the ultimate blasphemy? Finally, will the Government help Muslim leaders to present Islam in the context of today’s society?”

Zachary Confino

Zachary Confino

This week Peers debated steps being taken by the government to tackle anti-Semitism in University campuses.

Minister Baroness Evans of Bowes Park stressed the “clear responsibility” under the Equality Act 2010 for students to be able to learn in a “safe and inclusive” environment.

The debate follows reports of Jewish student, Zachary Confino who received an apology and payment of £1,000 from the University of York Students’ Union after complaining of anti-Semitism.

Lord Singh, NSO Director said: “My Lords, while sympathising with members of the Jewish community who have been ill-treated, does the Minister agree that they are not alone in frequently being subjected to abuse and discriminatory behaviour in universities and elsewhere?”

He went on: “It is the duty of the Government to ensure that all communities are equally protected against irrational hatred and abuse, particularly in today’s unpredictable and difficult times.”

Universities UK have established a task force, which will be reporting back in autumn on the issue of harassment on campus.

The Minister made it clear that tackling anti-Semitism in Universities is a government priority.

The NSO takes the view that whilst takling anti-Semitism head on, the government should also make provision to address hates crimes affecting all communities.

Capt. Kamal Bakshi with his parents before the 1971 Indo-Pak war,

Missing POWs: Capt. Kamal Bakshi with his parents before the 1971 Indo-Pak war.

The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) has pledged its support for two British women in their quest for answers in relation to the case of their missing relatives who were detained during the 1971 Indo-Pak war.

Over four decades on, Mrs Niki Kumar and Mrs Rajwant Kaur Singh have been provided with no information as to the whereabouts of their missing brothers – Captain Kamal Bakshi, and Flt. Lt. Gurdev Singh Rai. Despite their tireless campaigning, they have been met with silence from both Indian and Pakistani authorities.

However Jas Uppal from Justice Upheld, a human rights group (affiliated to the NSO) who have been campaigning on the issue is hopeful. In 2012 the group were instrumental in securing the release of a 76 year old detained unlawfully for 36 years in a Pakistani prison. Ms Uppal says there are at least 54 other missing prisoners of war (POWs); some of whom she believes may still be alive. She has issued a petition in the Indian Supreme Court seeking an Order for answers.

Meanwhile, Ms Uppal has made representations to a number of British politicians. In January, Hilary Benn (Shadow Foreign Secretary) asked the Foreign Secretary if any representations had been made on the matter to Pakistani authorities. Although Mr Hammond acknowledged Britain’s role in reminding states of their obligations to abide by International Humanitarian Law, he said: “We regard establishing the fate and whereabouts of combatants, and arranging for the release of any surviving combatants as a bilateral issue for India and Pakistan to resolve.”

A few days later Minister of State Hugo Swire wrote to Cabinet member Priti Patel, in which he said the issue was a “bilateral matter” for India and Pakistan. Although Mr Corbyn’s office has been informed of the matter, they have not (at the timing of writing) taken any steps to raise the issue further. Although they expressed interest, Mr Corbyn’s office said, “It may not be his first priority.”

Lord Singh, the NSO’s Director has taken up the case. He has written to Baroness Scotland of Asthal – the Secretary General of the Commonwealth nations, and the High Commissioners for both India and Pakistan.

In his letter to Baroness Scotland, Lord Singh writes:

“The families of the POWs have been pleading for information for the last 45 years and there is reason to believe some prisoners may still be alive.” He went on, “in any event their families should not have to live with their continuing heartache and uncertainty.” Lord Singh has requested Baroness Scotland’s help in the matter in order to “bring closure” to the families.

Jas Uppal said: “This is a humanitarian issue of significance importance; these Officers were captured and detained as prisoners of war. The latter status affords them protection under international Conventions including the prescribed requirement of detailed records of their respective detention.”

She went on, “two of the kin of the Indian POWs are British nationals who urgently need the support of their Government to ascertain the fate of their kin. The British authorities helped and intervened in Shaker Aamer’s case; they have a good diplomatic ties to both India and Pakistan, therefore Britain is the best placed to mediate in this situation.”

Captain Kamal Bakhsi’s sister Mrs Niki Kumar said: “My parents were given hope that the politicians would resolve various issues and the prisoners of war would be released. They grew older and frailer, but never gave up hope. They were deeply religious, which helped them bear the tragedy. We had young families so we were distracted, my mother cried everyday of her life, father put up a brave front, he did not show his emotions.”

Mrs Kumar’s parents have since passed away, however she is determined to continue pursuing her brother’s case until there is some form of resolution. Virendra Sharma MP who initially raised the case with Mr Corbyn’s office said: “Any suggestion that loved ones are being kept from their families is extremely troubling. I have raised this issue with the FCO and inside the Labour Party. I hope that Mrs Niki Kumar and Mrs Rajwant Singh can both find the truth out, whatever it is, about their brother’s fates and seek some solace in that.”

 
[Ends]

Links for editors:

http://www.justiceupheld.org.uk/
http://www.tribuneindia.com/2006/20061217/spectrum/main1.htm
http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2016-01-18/22899

For media inquiries please contact info@nsouk.co.uk or alternatively help@justiceupheld.org.uk

APPG
Keynote address: Lord Singh of Wimbledon, Secretary APPG for Religious Education

Religious literacy, once desirable, has now become absolutely necessary in the smaller world of the 21st century. It can help society in two important ways.

Firstly in combating irrational prejudice. Such prejudice is all too common. Let me tell you about an unfortunate but basic aspect of human behaviour. Indarjit’s law, It states: when two or more people find sufficient in common to call themselves ‘us’, they will immediately look for a ‘them’ to belittle, to strengthen their sense of unity.’

You see it when a group of people are chatting together on a street corner or in a pub, and one leaves. Those remaining will almost certainly find something negative to say about the person that has just left, to strengthen their new sense of togetherness. You see the same sort of unity, through negative attitudes to others, on the football terraces in the chants of rival supporters. Shakespeare in Richard the second has John O’Gaunt talking about this precious isle ‘set in a silver sea to guard against infection and the hand of war’, Infection here, does not refer to a disease like BSE but to contamination by foreigners; those different to us.

Religions are not immune to similar irrational prejudice against sister faiths. For some, superiority and exclusivity are almost central tenet of belief. In a recent ‘Thought for the Day’ broadcast on Radio 4, I referred to the Sikh teaching, ‘that no one religion has a monopoly of truth’. I received a prompt rap on the knuckles in an email from a Jewish lady, saying I was wrong, because God himself said so in the bible.

We all have a right to believe what we like, but it goes wrong when we begin to disparage others to show our superiority. Even today, the dictionary definition of heathen is ‘those not of an Abrahamic faith’- so you can see where that leaves me!

We all know that in a fog or mist, familiar everyday objects can assume threatening proportions. It is the same when we allow prejudice to obscure our understanding of different faiths. Prejudice and assumed superiority can all too easy to blind us to important commonalities, and cause us to look negatively at the religious belief and practices of others.

The first reason for a need for greater religious literacy, is then, to remove distorting ignorance and assumed superiority and see different religions as they really are: overlapping circles of ethical belief, in which the area of overlap is importantly, far greater than the smaller area of difference.

For example, lines of a favourite Christian hymn:

To all life thou givest to both great and small
In all life thou livest the true life of all

have their parallel in the Sikh teaching:

There is an inner light in all and that light is God

In my Thought for the Day broadcasts, I regularly draw attention to such commonalities. At one time, negative attitudes to others didn’t matter too much. We could refer to those with different faiths in a superior and disparaging way because they lived in far off countries and rarely came into contact with us. This disparaging of distant people perversely enhanced our own sense of cohesiveness. Today in our smaller world, our immediate neighbour is often from some other country having a different faith, and importantly, the same applies to our children’s classmates in school.

In the words of a well-known hymn, ‘new occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth’. We all need to adjust to a changed world. Countries like the USA and France which pride themselves in a refusal to allow the teaching of religion in schools, are simply allowing children to grow up ignorant of the beliefs of those around them, and easily influenced by the irrational prejudices of their parent’s generation. With ignorance of other faiths being the norm in the States, it’s not surprising that the first person shot in anger at the 9/11 outrage was a Sikh in a case of mistaken identity, and that a Sikh gurdwaras was subsequently attacked and innocent people killed.

In comparison to many other countries, Britain has done much in recent years, to teach children about the beliefs of other faiths. But we need to go further. All too often in the teaching of other faiths, the focus is on peripherals rather than the actual ethical teachings. There is still an undue emphasis on rituals and artefacts: on the shape and layout of places of worship and even in radio quiz, the number of arms of a certain Hindu goddess. Such things may be quaint, but they have nothing whatever to do with the ethical teachings of the founders of our different faiths.

We see then, that greater religious literacy is not simply desirable, but necessary for true understanding of sister faiths and greater community cohesion. This leads me to the second reason for greater understanding and cooperation; the true role of religion, which, in the Sikh view, is to highlight norms for responsible living. Norms that should influence both individual behaviour and public policy.

Parliament spends considerable time and allocates billions of pounds in trying to remedy the effects of careless, selfish and irresponsible living. This is seen in daily reports of neglect of the elderly or infirm and neglect of parental responsibility, leading to children put in supposed care often ending up in as victims of abuse, or drawn towards crime.

A report this week revealed that 80,000 children a year suffer from depression unable to cope with the complexities of modern life, with 17,000 attending Accident and Emergency, I could go on. Religions, all religions, in their own way try to teach right, wrong and responsibility; vital ingredients for greater social responsibility. We can make a real difference by working together to make responsible behavior more of a norm, saving the country huge sums addressing the consequences of irresponsible living.

Religion then can be a powerful force for good. In today’s increasingly unstable world. If not properly understood, it can, as we see again and again, lead to dangerous conflict and horrendous suffering.
To be truly effective, we need to go easy on divisive talk of exclusive and superior special relationships to the one God of all creation, and work together to embed the ethics of the founders of our faiths into more considered policy making, for a fairer and more contented society, and a more peaceful world.

Response to questions from the Audience.

Question: Can greater religious literacy help in the fight against extremism and radicalisation?
Reply: In order to move to greater religious literacy, we need to be wary of words like: extremism, radicalisation and fundamentalist, being used pejoratively or to obscure meaning and cloud debate on important issues. Let me give an example:

In 1984 the Indian government attacked the Golden Temple in Amritsar killing well over 1000 pilgrims. In the propaganda of the day, wanton killing of innocents, was an attack on ‘extremists’. Sikhs abroad were outraged. A few months after the attack, I was visited at home by two Scotland Yard Officers, They asked me if I was an ‘extremist’ or a ‘moderate’. I replied I was extremely moderate. Then they asked me if I was a ’fundamentalist’. I paused and replied, ‘I believe in the fundamentals of Sikh teaching such as: the equality and oneness of the human race, a stress on the full equality of women, respect for all religions and a commitment to help the poor and underprivileged. Yes, I am a fundamentalist’. My plea is for clarity in debate so that we can discuss real concerns.

Question: Some defend questionable behaviour by saying that it is supported by their scriptures which are ‘the word of God’. Can such attitudes be questioned without giving offence?

Reply: Sikhs believe that it is important to question beliefs and practices that appear to demean people or seem contrary to common sense. Guru Nanak and other Sikh Gurus often criticised superstitious or demeaning practices, such as the caste system and the treatment of women in the faiths around them.

Scriptures like the Old Testament and the Quran have a substantial historical element that relates to particular circumstances at a particular time, many hundreds of years ago. For example, the Quran accepts slavery in giving advice for their better treatment, but today, slavery itself is widely condemned, and could never be the will of God. Historical texts must be interpreted in the context of a particular time. To me as a Sikh it is, to say the least, wrong to blame God for ungodly behaviour.

 

Vaisakhi 1699, the Birth of the Khalsa, inaugurated by Sikhism's 10th Guru, Gobind Singh

Vaisakhi 1699, the Birth of the Khalsa, inaugurated by Sikhism’s 10th Guru, Gobind Singh

Full Speech given by Lord Singh of Wimbedon at MoD Vaisakhi reception (13-04-16)

I would like to start by thanking the MoD for hosting us in this august and historic building, and to Mandeep Kaur, our Sikh chaplain to the armed services for her hard work organising the function.

Vaisakhi is a traditional spring festival in northern India celebrating the gathering of the winter harvest, and, like spring festivals everywhere, a time for new beginnings. Appropriately, the spring festival of Vaisakhi was chosen by Guru Gobind Singh to formalise Sikhs as a community of equals, ready to stand on its own without the guidance of further living Gurus. History records that on that historic Vaisakhi day in 1699 he tested the resolve of Sikhs, to stand up and be counted and be ready to give their all upholding the egalitarian teachings of Sikhism, no matter how daunting the challenge.

To his delight, Sikhs proved equal to the challenge. It was then that he gave us a distinctive identity to tie to us to a public commitment to live by, and if necessary die for, Sikh values which are universal values of selfless and responsible behaviour, codified more than 500 years ago; values that the West now call British values or European values. These are: a belief in the equality of all human beings, including the dignity and full equality of women; putting the concerns of others before our own, selfless service and, importantly, standing up for rights of all faiths and beliefs to live true to their own way of life

Today, many question the need for a visible identity? It’s divisive, why cannot you simply live by the principles of your faith; without a distinct identity? It is a question that is best answered by a question. Why do the clerics, members of the Salvation Army or members of the armed services have a distinctive identity or uniform? The reason is that the dress or uniform reminds us and others, of a code of behaviour to which we are expected to adhere, and hopefully deters us from behaviour that might bring the uniform into disgrace.

On Sunday, the BBC will be discussing the importance of the turban for Sikhs. A researcher asked me if we wear the turban and other Sikh symbols to please God. I replied, that God, the creator of all that exists, is not the least bothered by what we wear; it’s what we do and how we behave that is important. The Sikh turban does not in itself make us better people but it does tie us to ideals that benefit both ourselves and wider humanity. By the same token it’s important to emphasise, that dress codes rooted in culture that demeans women or suggest inherent superiority of a particular faith are worse than useless

We have recently been commemorating Easter, the time of the martyrdom of Jesus Christ, when Peter, one of his closest disciples, fearful for his own life thrice denied his association with Christ. A similar episode took place in Sikh history when our 9th Guru, Guru Teg Bahadhur, was tortured and publically beheaded for standing up for the right of the Hindu community to worship in the manner of their choice. It was a martyrdom unique in religious history. The philosopher Voltaire famously wrote

‘I may not believe in what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.’

Nearly a century before Voltaire, Guru Teg Bahadhur gave that noble sentiment courageous utterance, by standing up for the rights of the Hindu community; those of a different faith to his own.

The Mughal rulers challenged Sikhs in the crowd (who then had no distinguishing appearance) to come forward and claim their master’s body. Sikhs, cowed by fear hesitated to do so and the body was removed by stealth, itself an incredibly brave action. It was this incident that years later, led The 10th Guru, Guru Gobind Singh to resolve that in future, those who called themselves Sikhs must be ready to meet the most daunting of challenges.

Sikhs are not alone in such commitment. All of our faiths remind us to put principles before expediency. It is not always easy to stand up for basic human rights against cruel authority, but, I believe this is the true role of religion. As a Christian hymn reminds us:

Though the cause of evil prosper yet tis truth alone that’s strong.

Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong.

The hymn also reminds us that despite difficulties, with true commitment and faith, each one of us can all help turn what is described as ‘the iron helm of fate’.

We are all unique individuals confronted with varying ethical challenges in the course of our life, and with and opportunities to make a difference and work for a fairer world.

A tiny personal example. I grew up in England and first went to India in the early 60s as a newly qualified mining engineer. At the time, all States in India were allowed to have their own regional language except Punjab, where Punjabi the language of the Sikh scriptures was being replaced by Hindi.

Sikhs were angry and upset by this deliberate discrimination, but had no media voice. I thought that this was unfair—worse, not a British or Sikh view of fairness! I knew a letter in the national dallies from a Sikh would never get published, so I took on the name of a pompous neighbour in England, Victor Pendry. A legacy of Raj deference ensured that my highly critical letter was published in a national daily, causing a stir in the Sikh community. My wife knew of Mr Pendry before she ever met me. A letter supposedly from my old Head, Sylvanous Jones followed supporting Mr Pendry. Using a telephone directory, in my first interfaith initiative, letters from Hindus and Muslims rapidly followed drawing attention to the injustice against the Sikhs.

The point of the story is that in different ways, we can all make a difference by standing up to political injustice, or perhaps in combatting bulling at school or the office or workplace, and in a constant striving for greater social or political justice.

And there is much to do. Today materialistic secular society has pushed religion to the margins of society as irrelevant. In a debate in the Lords, a member commented ’religion is out of step with society’. I responded that to me, it was like someone saying ‘my satnav is not following my directions’. Religion is often blamed as a cause of conflict. It is not. It is the misuse of religious sentiment to promote irreligious ends. Religions are ethical satnavs to lead to an understanding of right, wrong and responsibility, while politicians are increasingly tempted to pander to our material desires in their attempt to win votes and allegiance.

It is not easy to go against this materialistic tide with its unthinking pursuit of individual happiness to the neglect of responsibility, but the message of Vaisakhi is that Sikhs have a duty to help move society to towards more ethical or gurmukh living.

Sikh teachings suggest that that we all fall into one of three groups, distributed in a bell shaped curve, which statistician s call a normal distribution. Physical attributes like height and weight all fall into such a distribution. It’s the same with ethical or moral behaviour. At one extreme there are the mamukhs, those who selfishly only think of themselves and are prepared to lie and cheat and even kill to achieve their ends. Then there are those in the greater middle of the curve or distribution; peacefully trying to lead their lives, but rarely looking beyond themselves, and then a smaller group, the gurmukhs, selflessly trying to make the world a better place.

The challenge of Vaisakhi is for us to resolve not only to move ourselves in this gurmukh or godly direction, but to be ready to take a stand to work towards the improvement of society as a whole. In life we all get different challenges and opportunities to make a difference. As the poet Emily Dickinson reminds us:

You cannot choose your battlefields

That God does for you,

But you can plant a standard, where a standard never flew

Our Gurus required us to go beyond lip service to Sikh teachings, and to live those teachings, taking an individual as well as a collective stand injustice against any individual or group. We can all make a difference. The message of Vaisakhi is to remind us of our potential, duty and responsibility to work for the improvement of society by working for a fairer and more peaceful world. It is an uplifting message that should determine our action and reaction to the world about us.

 

Sikh temple in Britain vandalised with anti-Muslim message

Sikh temple in Britain vandalised with anti-Muslim message

Police to report religious hate crime according to religion: Sikhism will be a category

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) have confirmed that Police forces in England and Wales will be reporting on religious hate crime according to religion, and this will include Sikhism.

Proposals set out by the Prime Minister will be implemented this year on a voluntarily basis from April 2016, however DCLG have confirmed that all Police forces will have to disaggregate their hate crime figures by religious hate crime from April 2017.

Over the last year the NSO has raised the plight of Sikh victims of hate crime, who have been incorrectly logged as victims of ‘Islamophobic crime’. Lord Singh of Wimbledon has expressed his concern with Ministers and spoken about them in a number of debates in the House of Lords. In January, following the NSO’s campaigning it was revealed that 28% of victims of ‘Islamophobic hate crime’ recorded by the MET in 2015, were in fact not Muslim at all. They comprised of Sikhs, Hindus, Christians and victims of no recorded faith.

Greg Clark, Secretary of State for DCLG recently wrote to Lord Singh, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations.

He said, “I understand your concerns about Sikhs being the victims of anti-Islamic attacks. In response to increased attacks on mosques and gurdwaras, the Prime Minister announced in October that new funding will be made available for the security of all faith establishments, with more details expected over the coming months.”

He went on, “This builds on existing funding for anti-Semitic attacks on synagogues. In addition to Tell-Mama which measures incidents of anti-Muslim hatred, my department is proud to fund True Vision which allows people of all faiths and backgrounds to report hate crimes.”

Lord Singh of Wimbledon said, “The government has responded positively to the NSO’s campaigning on this issue, and this is an important development not just for Sikhs, but all communities who suffer from religiously motivated hate crime.”

He added, “Greg Clark has shown the government’s commitment to treat all religious based hate crime with parity. This has not been the case in the past. We anticipate some Police forces will optionally report anti-Sikh attacks from this April onward.”

Sikh temple in Britain vandalised with anti-Muslim message

Sikh temple vandalised with anti-Muslim message (2015)

Dear Editor,

Last month it was revealed that 28% of the victims of ‘islamophobic hate crime’ offences recorded by the MET in 2015, were in fact not Muslim at all. They comprised of individuals from the Sikh, Hindu, Christian communities and those with no recorded faith. The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) has obtained MET figures for the first 7 months of 2015, and it’s notable that in March 2015 – 34% of victims of ‘islamophobic crimes’ were non-Muslim. In July 2015 the figure was 32%. I’m sure you will agree these are not insignificant numbers.

Until now the MET have not publicly

victims of Islamophobic Hate Crime Recorded by the MPS between 1 Jan 2015 and 31 Jul 2015 (source MET FOI)

victims of islamophobic hate crime recorded by the MPS between 1 Jan 2015 and 31 Jul 2015 (source: MET FOI)

acknowledged the high number of non-Muslims who have been lumped together into this category. We believe our campaigning on the issue has been instrumental in uncovering the truth. It is clear there has been a historic lack of transparency on this issue and it’s regrettable. Moreover, Sikhs who continue to face significant prejudice since 9/11, feel like they have been simply brushed aside. Rather than being counted as a separate statistic, non-Muslims have unknowingly contributed to a figure, which until now, was assumed to be indicative of attacks solely on the Muslim community. As things stand, Sikhs, Hindus and Christians have not been given the dignity of being counted as a separate statistic. We believe hate crime should be tackled even-handedly and are pressing the government for change.

We ask you to consider the non-Muslim victims of ‘islamophobic crime’ when you cover stories about ‘islamophobia’ in the future.

Yours sincerely

Network of Sikh Organisations

(letter sent 29 Feb 2016)

Free speech has been challenged at a number of British universities over the last few months

Free speech has been challenged at a number of British universities over the last few months

The suppression of free speech in universities was the subject of a debate in the Lords this week following a question tabled by Baroness Deech.

A spate of recent disruptions at Goldsmiths, Kings College and Canterbury has put into question the notion of free speech in universities. Baroness Deech asked the government what measures were being taken to “ensure freedom of lawful speech at universities.” She pressed the Minister to speak with vice-chancellors to ensure free speech would be upheld.

Last year a video emerged of a Muslim reformer being heckled and aggressively interrupted by Muslim students at Goldsmiths. Earlier this year police were called to Kings College following reports of violent protest against a speech being given by Israel’s ex secret service chief. The meeting organised by the Israel society was brought to a halt by violent pro Palestine protesters.

The Minister agreed with Baroness Deech and said Universities have a clear legal duty to ensure legal views can be heard, challenged and debated.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations said, “My Lords, debate should always be conducted in courteous terms but does the Minister agree that words such as “antisemitism” and “Islamophobia” and those relating to any other type of religious phobia should not be used as shields to stifle legitimate debate?”

The Minister responded thus, “we absolutely want to support students and universities in ensuring that legitimate, lawful debate and the challenging of ideas happens in our universities.”

Houses of Parliament

Palace of Westminster

A question on how the government intends to respond to resolutions made at the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe condemning the actions of IS as genocide was the subject of a debate in the Lords earlier this month.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (who asked the question) said it was futile for Britain to be a member of the 1948 genocide convention if it, “declines to name this horrific cruelty for the genocide that it is.” He described the horrors perpetrated by IS, including the forced conversion, abduction, systemic executions and enslavement of Christians and Yazidis.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) said, “My Lords, when a few months ago I asked for government support for an international inquiry into supposed genocide against the Sikh community in India, I was told, in a very short reply, that it was solely a matter for the Indian Government. That was not a very Christian sentiment.”

He went on, “would the Minister agree with the sentiments of the Sikh guru who gave his life defending the right of followers of another religion to worship in the manner of their choice? Human rights abuses against anyone are the responsibility of us all, and the Government should take every measure to bring those guilty of them to justice.”

The Earl of Courtown responded thus, “My Lords, the noble Lord refers to a Question that my noble friend Lady Anelay answered. We will of course take careful note of what the noble Lord said, including how important it is that people have the freedom to worship in their own faith.”

 

Parmjeet

Parmjeet Singh

Paramjeet Singh fled from arbitrary arrest and torture in India in 1999, and in the following year was granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK after a finding of a justifiable fear of persecution if he was made to return to India.

Paramjeet is married and is the father of 4 children age 7 to 11. In December 2015 the family went on a short Christmas holiday to Portugal where he was arrested by Interpol at the request of the Indian government and is now facing extradition proceedings for his forced return to India. It seems that the Indian government had taken exception to his speaking out on human rights abuse in India. Lord Singh, for the NSO, has raised his concerns with the Minister for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other Sikh groups have also raised concerns with both British and Portuguese governments.

In an interview on 3rd January 2015 with a Portuguese television channel outside the House of Lords, Lord Singh was asked why had Paramjeet Singh after being granted asylum, continued to attack India’s attitude to human rights instead of simply getting on with his own life.

Lord Singh responded that we all have a responsibility to condemn the ill treatment of others, and for Sikhs this responsibility is embedded in religious teachings and is obligatory.

He appealed to the authorities in Portugal not to be used like pawns in a backdoor attempt by Indian authorities to silence criticism of their human rights record, and return Paramjeet to British jurisdiction.

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