On the inference members of the House of Lords are indifferent to the plight of Jagtar Singh Johal
(above) screenshot from Reprieve’s website:
Question from Lord Singh (Director NSO) to Foreign and Commonwealth Office Asked 13 November 2017
Jagtar Singh Johal
‘To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of India concerning the arrest of UK citizen Jagtar Singh Johal; and what response, if any, they have received.’
‘The British High Commission has raised this case with the Indian authorities. Following high level lobbying, consular staff visited Mr Johal on 16th November. The Rt Hon Field, the Minister for Asia and the Pacific met with Mr Johal’s MP and brother on 27 November. We will continue to raise this case with the authorities to ensure we have regular and full consular access.’
Answered 27 November 2017, By Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Conservative, Life peer)
Lord Singh and other crossbenchers working with Reprieve
In February this year Reprieve got in touch with Lord Singh and other peers to request support for a letter to the Foreign Secretary raising the alarm about India’s treatment of Jagtar Singh Johal. Lord Singh and some of his fellow crossbenchers signed the letter and are continuing to work with Reprieve and others moving forwards.
Difficulty to Mr Johal with advocacy from the Sikh Federation UK
The Sikh Federation UK is the successor group to a formerly banned extremist organisation. It does not help Mr Johal to have them speaking for him.
The Scottish Parliament voted in favour of the controversial Hate Crime Bill yesterday despite a groundswell of opposition from civil society groups including the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO).
The NSO joined the efforts of the campaign group Free to Disagree last year, because we realised proposals in the Bill would have a significant impact on civil liberties and a ‘chilling effect’ on free speech. We worked with our allies in playing a major part in pushing back against controversial elements of the Bill, with some success, and gave both oral and written evidence to the Scottish Justice Committee.
The NSO lobbied alongside the National Secular Society, Catholic Church, the Free Church of Scotland and The Humanists Society to secure an amendment to extend free speech for discussion of religion and belief. Expressions of ‘antipathy, dislike, ridicule or insult’ towards religion are now protected, whereas prior to this only, ‘criticism and discussion’ was safeguarded when it came to matters of religion. This is more in line with parallel legislation in England & Wales and allows for more robust discussion, without fear of investigation or censorship.
Notably, the original Bill was drafted without including the need for ‘intent’ to bring a conviction, and the threshold was merely ‘stirring of hatred’ was ‘likely’ to occur – something that would have put actors, or those working in theatrical arts (amongst others) in real difficulty. Lobbying efforts succeeded and the ‘intent’ modification is included in the legislation.
Our Deputy-Director who led on our campaigning, was quoted on BBC Politics Live and in the stage three debate yesterday in Holyrood by the Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Justice Liam Kerr MSP, who said:
‘Let me finish with a quote from Hardeep Singh, ‘for ordinary people there will be a serious ‘chilling effect’ on free speech. MSPs must therefore put free speech first when making the decisive vote on this ill-conceived legislation. The only way to do that is to vote against it. At decision time tonight presiding officer, the Scottish Conservatives will do just that’.’
As we pointed out in evidence to the Justice Committee, the Hate Crime Bill puts women who want to discuss women’s rights and transgender issues in real difficulty, as there is not enough free speech protection for them. It also does not protect conversations in the privacy of one’s home, as there is no dwelling defence – something that is included in legislation in England & Wales. There is now a risk conversations around the dinner table could be investigated.
Hardeep Singh said: ‘The Bill is deeply flawed and will no doubt be used by people to silence or attempt to criminalise critics. It may well lead to a culture of vexatious complaints and heralds a very dark moment for free speech in Scotland. Of course, we are disappointed it has passed, but are grateful to have worked with brave and principled individuals in the Free to Disagree campaign. Thanks to these joint efforts, there have been some important amendments which have helped improve the legislation during its passage.’
Over the last few weeks, the NSO has worked tirelessly with Cllr. Gurch Singh who set up a UK government and parliament petition (e-petition 563473)[i] on the farmers’ protest in India, which received over 115,000 signatories. The petition was debated in a Westminster Hall debate yesterday and we are pleased to see our efforts come to fruition. Of the 19 speakers, 17 spoke in favour of the farmers’ and many of them had been briefed by our Director, Lord Singh of Wimbledon and other members of the NSO. This included the likes of Martyn Day MP for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, who during the debate said:
‘As the world’s largest democracy and a key regional player, India has a pivotal role to play on the world stage. That is why it is vital that the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary impress on our Indian partners our joint convictions on free speech and the right to protest.’
The NSO was also in correspondence with Sir Keir Starmer’s office, and they responded positively, which resulted in the important contribution of Stephen Kinnock MP. He said: ‘Let me stress in absolute terms that the Labour Front Bench stands firmly behind the rights of Indian farmers to exercise their right to freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protest.’[ii]
We’d like to thank our network of supporters and activists who all took the trouble to contact their local MPs to urge them to contribute to this important debate and stand up for the farmers’ fundamental right to protest. As a result of their efforts and working in collaboration with us, many MPs who would have otherwise not attended – contributed positively in favour of the farmers. The debate sets a precedent and sends an important message to the Modi government. That is – we the diaspora community will continue to stand up for the human rights of the Indian farmers’, whilst also supporting the freedom of expression of the press in India.
Whilst we are pleased that solidarity was shown with the farmers’ cause in the UK Parliament, much more needs to be done and we cannot rest on our laurels.
Reflecting on the debate and looking forwards our Director Lord Singh said, ‘The success of the debate is seen in the angry reaction of the Indian government in criticising the UK Parliament for daring to shine a spotlight on the abuse of democratic norms by the Modi government. We will continue to speak up for the marginalised in India and elsewhere’.
NSO submission to APPG for the Pakistani Minorities inquiry into Abduction, Forced Conversions and Forced Marriages of Religious Minority Girls and Women in Pakistan
The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) is a registered charity no.1064544 that links more than 130 UK gurdwaras and other UK Sikh organisations in active cooperation to enhance the image and understanding of Sikhism in the UK.
For the sake of brevity and convenience, we have used headings in the APPG briefing document. We are grateful to former councillor/detective Gurpal Virdi for his input.
Human Rights Organisation/NGOs/Faith and non-faith based groups, Experts
i. Name and organisation? What is the nature of your work on the topic? Do you work with the victims and their families? How many victims or their families do you work with? What assistance do you provide?
Over the last few years, the NSO has followed cases of forced conversion and written about the forced marriage and abuse of religious minority girls and women in Pakistan. This is an issue that has an impact on all non-Muslim minority girls in Pakistan – predominantly Hindu and Christian girls, but it has also impacted the minority Sikh community too. One of the most high-profile cases in recent years has been the case of Jagjit Kaur.[i] She was alleged to be kidnapped at gunpoint from her home in Nankana Sahib (Lahore), converted (given the Muslim name Ayesha) and married to a Muslim boy.[ii]
In many cases the victim’s family face legal challenges, intimidation and according to Professor Javaid Rehman from Brunel University, ‘local authorities, especially police, particularly in the Punjab province, are often accused of being complicit in these cases by failing to properly investigate reported cases or prosecute offenders’.[iii] Legal petitions filed in court from the family members of the accused boy/men, often follow a similar pattern with statements alleging the girl(s) converted and married of their free will. This makes it difficult, if not impossible for the victim families to get access to justice through the courts. Many come from poor backgrounds, and do not have the necessary resources to defend their rights.
According to the academic research on this matter, we understand that approximately 1,000 women and girls from religious minorities are abducted, forcibly converted to Islam, and then married off to their abductors every year in Pakistan.[iv] Our Director Lord Singh of Wimbledon has raised the treatment of minorities in debates in the House of Lords. In a debate on 2nd July 2019 ‘Pakistan: Aid programmes and Human Rights’ – our Director said:
‘Minorities are frequently allocated menial tasks such as the cleaning of public latrines. Homes of minorities are frequently attacked and women and girls kidnapped and converted or sold into slavery. I have at times questioned the appropriateness of Pakistan, with its ill treatment of minorities, still being a member of the Commonwealth, a club of countries with historic ties to Britain. Members are required to abide by the Commonwealth charter, with core values of opposition to, “all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds”.’[v]
ii. What, in your opinion, are the weaknesses and limitations of the existing laws?
The APPG briefing paper outlines the existing laws including the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 of Pakistan, and in Sindh – the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2014. It says, ‘In another major province, Punjab, the Punjab Marriage Restraint Act 2015 kept the legal age of marriage at 16 years. In 2018, the chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology announced that a nikah (Islamic marriage) can be performed at any age but the couple can only live together after the age of 18.’ The difficulty here is changes to Pakistan’s law designed to safeguard minors and criminalise those that marry underage boys or girls, although well-meaning conflict with some interpretations of sharia being propagated by influential preachers and Islamic organisations.
Although we submit this isn’t limited to the issue of forced marriage and conversion of minority faith girls only, it has been seen most prominently with the backlash against Pakistan’s Supreme Court decision in the Asia Bibi blasphemy case. Both Bibi and the Supreme Court justices’ received death threats because of the decision to free her.[vi] The courts make important rulings, and some influential clerics push back. The late Khadim Hussain Rizvi, leader of the hardline Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party (whose family was given condolences when he died by Imran Khan),[vii] was a pro-blasphemy law campaigner.
He can be seen in footage giving a speech in which he says keeping relationships with ‘kaffirs’ (a derogatory term), or non-Muslims should be treated like one’s relationship with a toilet.[viii] The dissemination of this kind of doctrinally motivated hatred against non-Muslims by pro-blasphemy clerics in Pakistan serves to incite hatred against non-Muslims and dehumanises them. Whilst laws designed to safeguard against child marriage are indeed a welcome step, do they make a difference in real terms with this backdrop? We believe the problem is compounded because there appears to be little done to address hate speech against non-Muslims. The propagation of this hatred sows the seeds of prejudice, and facilitates the ongoing issue of abduction, forced conversions, and forced marriages of religious minority girls/women in Pakistan.
iii. What, in your opinion, is the problem with implementation of the existing laws that should have protected the victims?
The APPG for the Pakistani minorities 2019 report Religious Minorities of Pakistan: Report of a Parliamentary visit (27 September 2018 – 3 October 2018), cites a report produced by the Commonwealth Initiative for Freedom of Religion or Belief (2018):
‘the police will often either refuse to record an [First information Report] FIR or falsify the information recorded on the FIR, thus denying the families involved the chance to take their case and complaints any further. The lack of an FIR or the misrepresentation of information means that the family are unable to seek further justice in law courts, as an FIR is the vital first stage in the Criminal Procedure Code. Police are also often lethargic in attempting to recover a girl who has been abducted, thus allowing the conversion and marriage to take place. Both the lower courts and the higher courts of Pakistan have displayed bias and a lack of adherence to proper procedures in cases that involve accusations of forced marriage and forced conversions [and in such cases] the judiciary is often subjected to external influences, such as fear of reprisal and violence from extremist elements.’[ix]
We believe this sums up the plight for minorities in Pakistani, in their inability to obtain justice through the legal system. Unless the status quo is changed both in the way the police and judiciary deal with such cases, the ill treatment of minorities will continue unabated. The flaws in the existing system, along with the bias in favour of the accused abductors, is likely to not only further embolden perpetrators, but gives them the reassurance they need that they will be granted impunity for their actions.
iv. How, in your opinion, could the Federal and Provincial Governments improve the laws to eliminate the issue of abductions, forced conversions and forced marriages?
We believe the way to tackle this is two-prong, looking at both shifting societal attitudes, as well as training and education for officials. Firstly, there must be meaningful effort to reduce societal hatred and hostility towards non-Muslims. Second there must be training for officials to highlight their obligations when it comes to the rights of non-Muslim children.
Rather than reinventing the wheel, there have already been some meaningful recommendations put forward for the attention of the Pakistani authorities by this very APPG in their 2019 report. Some examples which would encourage better treatment of minorities in Pakistan:
ban all discriminatory employment advertisements reserving low-paid or menial
jobs for non-Muslims only and introduce financial penalties for breaching the
More broadly speaking there should be the requirement of mandatory training programmes for the police, social workers, the judiciary on the rights of children and their responsibility to safeguard those rights which are enshrined under Pakistan’s constitution and the law, moreover, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and within international human rights law.
vii. What, in your opinion, are the effects of such abductions, forced conversions and forced marriages on a) the victims and b) their families?
Although we have not conducted any direct victim assessments, it is clear the impact of these heinous crimes is severe for the victim and their families. Those who try to fight back through the legal system often face intimidation and threats. The family of Jagjit Kaur were reportedly threatened.[xiii] It is difficult for us to fathom the upheaval and chaos the families and victims go through. Tweeting about the case of Simron Kumari, Veengas a Sindh based journalist and founder of The Rise News, writes, ‘parents have been raising voice for their daughter since 2019. Now, Simron Kumari who was abducted and converted to Islam. Family seeks help but who will listen to their anguish. You cannot do justice to mothers. I request you (sic) that if you have heart then feel their sorrow.’[xiv] In the same thread she writes, ‘Unfortunately, Urdu Elite Media don’t cover Forced conversions issues as they should have covered. Majority of minor girls being abducted & converted to Islam.’[xv] According to another report, a father of two Hindu girls kidnapped in Sindh, protested outside a police station and said, ‘You can kill me. I will never tolerate this. My daughters have been abducted—I had patience.’[xvi]
ix. How can the Home Office be persuaded that the presumption in any such victims case, if applying for asylum in the UK, should be that they have been persecuted for their faith?
Country policy and information notes on Pakistan, which are published by the Home Office should be updated to include information about the persecution of minority faiths in Pakistan on the issue of abduction, forced conversions, and forced marriages. There should be an understanding of the issue at hand amongst Home Office staff, not least immigration officials – so they can make the appropriate assessments for asylum applications.
JOINT PRESS RELEASE: GLOBAL SIKH COUNCIL & NETWORK OF SIKH ORGANISATIONS UK
We are writing to express our admiration and full support for hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers and their supporters from all walks of life. Despite the winter cold, and police oppression, they have been demonstrating for the months against unjust laws that threaten their livelihoods. Their courageous stand against injustice gives hope for an end to the systematic erosion of democracy in India.
India’s abuse of human rights The farmers’ cause is just and is fully supported by leading figures in the judiciary, high-ranking civil servants, university and college lecturers, trade unionists, Indians abroad and government spokesmen in the UK and Canada. As a UK spokesman put it, ‘the right to peaceful demonstration is a basic human right’. The response of the Modi government to this basic human right has been widespread use of tear gas, water cannons, and police brutality against peaceful protesters. There is now a call for India to be expelled from the Commonwealth for its flagrant abuse of human rights.
Many will be unaware that Narendra Modi is a supporter of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a fascist group modelled on the Hitler Youth Movement. In 2002, he was Chief Minister at the time of the infamous Gujarat ‘riots’, which led to the slaughter of thousands of Muslims. For some years he was barred from entry to the USA and UK. Today, RSS thugs or ‘goons’ are collaborating with rogue Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters and are being given a free hand to beat and maim peaceful protesters including women and the elderly. The farmers’ peaceful protest has captured the world’s admiration in the way it looks to the wellbeing not only of the protesters, but also in the way food and medical assistance is offered to the attacking police.
On India’s Republic Day (26 January), India’s compliant police following orders, removed barricades and opened the large steel gates to the Red Fort to allow known BJP activists to enter as supposed farmer activists to enable the government to smear the protesters as anti-national. Brave reporters in India’s tightly controlled media, who drew attention to this absurdity or questioned government action have been harassed and arrested. Many have had their social media accounts blocked and some have disappeared without trace.
The farming laws India’s farmers have long been exploited by greedy middlemen. The Modi government saw this an opportunity to ‘reorganise’ farming. These laws blatantly allow billionaire businessmen who are also party supporters to control the supply and distribution of agricultural produce throughout the country in a way that would leave farmers virtual serfs on their own land.
• The laws were rushed through Parliament with no time given for proper scrutiny or debate. • They laws are clearly unconstitutional. The Constitution states that agriculture is a devolved responsibility of individual States, not the central government. • The laws have been condemned as unconstitutional by senior members of the judiciary. • The laws abolish the minimum support price given to farmers. • The laws allow for no right of appeal. • Two close billionaire friends of Modi, with a pre-knowledge of the government’s intentions, brought huge sites in Punjab to build giant silos for the long-term storage of grain allowing for price rigging and manipulation. • Today, in Modi’s India, 1% of India’s population owns nearly half the country’s wealth.
Erosion of democracy in Modi’s India We are deeply concerned by the government’s dismissive attitude to the requirements of its secular constitution and the human rights of its people. The Citizens Amendment Act, in its appeal to majority bigotry, deprived more than a million Muslims of their citizenship with Home Minister Amit Shah referring to Muslim refugees as ‘termites’. This was followed by the repeal of Article 370 placing Kashmir under military rule.
The highly respected human rights organisation Amnesty International has been expelled from India to prevent it reporting on the growing abuse of human rights. Amnesty commented, ‘It is a dismal day when a country of India’s stature, a rising global power and a member of the UN Human Rights Council, with a constitution which commits to human rights and whose national human rights movements have influenced the world, so brazenly seeks to silence those who pursue accountability and justice’.
Urgent action required India’s farmers’ brave stand against injustice is fast becoming a people’s movement for the restoration of democracy and human rights in India. We pledge them our full support. Those of us living abroad have a particular responsibility to support a movement that has at least 67 lives lost already through cold weather and lack of medical supplies.
While calling on governments around the world to condemn India’s repressive behaviour, we urge Mr Modi to commence urgent talks with farmer’s leaders to meet their genuine concerns.
Lord Singh of Wimbledon CBE, Member of House of Lords UK Parliament – Director, Network of Sikh Organisations (UK)
Lady Singh, Kanwaljit Kaur, President Global Sikh Council
Today we are commemorating the martyrdom of the 9th Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur who on this day in 1675, courageously gave his life defending the right of freedom of belief of those of a different faith to his own.
The Mughal ruler Aurangzeb, in his determination to extend Islam to the whole sub-continent, was forcibly converting large numbers of Hindus in Kashmir. In desperation the Hindu leaders asked Guru Tegh Bahadur to intercede on their behalf. They said, we know that you and earlier Sikh Gurus have always stood up for the rights of all people, will you appeal to the Mughal Emperor to stop this forced conversion?
The Guru knew that such an appeal would almost certainly cost him his life. But true to Sikh teachings on freedom of belief he set off for Delhi. The Emperor refused to change his policy and instead offered rich gifts to the Guru to convert to Islam. When Guru Tegh Bahadur refused, his close disciples were martyred, and he was publicly beheaded in the centre of Delhi. His crime, defending the right to freedom of belief of those of a different religion to his own. In his writings his son Gobind Rai (aged 9 at the time of the martyrdom), later to become known as Guru Gobind Singh wrote, ‘he laid down his head but not his principles.’
The universal right to freedom of belief is emphasised in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, written in the aftermath of the Second World War. Article 18 reads, ‘everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.’[i] We all applaud its lofty sentiments, but all too often put these important principles below trade and economic interest.
Guru Tegh Bahadur set the bar high when on a cold winter’s day, he gave his life in the defence of human rights and gave stark reality to Voltaire’s words: ‘I disapprove of what you, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’
Unbelievably, the BBC tried to prevent the story of the Guru Tegh Bahadur’s supreme sacrifice being broadcast two years ago, in an extraordinary fit of political correctness. Thousands of Sikhs and people of other faiths wrote to the BBC in protest, and the incident made it on the front page of The Times along with an Editorial which asked the then Director General to reconsider the ‘shabby treatment’ of our Director – his fellow peer.[ii] Sadly, the usually vocal Sikh Federation UK were totally silent; not a peep. Their unhealthy obsession with narrow exclusive identity politics, has blinded them to the universality of Sikh teachings on the need to stand up for others.
On this anniversary of Guru Tegh Bahadur’s courageous martyrdom, we are reminded that we still have much to do to understand and live true to our Gurus’ powerful teachings – they are teachings for not only Sikhs, but for the whole of humanity.
Yesterday Sikhs in Britain and worldwide woke up to the heart wrenching news of the cold-blooded murder of 25 worshippers (including one child) in a gurdwara in the Afghan capital Kabul.
gunmen have been held responsible for the massacre of innocent worshippers, and
disturbing images of the dead, along with videos of panic-stricken children
sitting in a room in the gurdwara, have been widely disseminated online. The Afghan
security forces were engaged in a gun battle with jihadists and helped some members
of the congregation escape.
The terrorist attack against the Sikh minority is nothing new. In the summer of 2018, a suicide bomber struck a crowd of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus arriving to meet with President Ashraf Ghani as he visited the eastern city of Jalalabad, an attack that killed at least 19 people and wounded 10 others. Almost the entire Afghan Sikh and Hindu leadership were killed, including the only Sikh candidate running for election.
At the time Lord Singh our Director, tabled a written question to the government: ‘To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the suicide bombing resulting in the death of 19 Sikhs in Jalalabad, Afghanistan in July, what representations they intend to make to the government of India to encourage it to offer asylum or safe passage to Sikhs wishing to leave Afghanistan.’
The minister’s response: ‘The British Government condemned the 1 July attack on a group of Sikhs and Hindus in Jalalabad. The Minister for Asia and the Pacific publicly described it as “a despicable attack on Afghanistan’s historic Sikh and Hindu community”. As part of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, the UK supports the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces in its efforts to improve security for all communities in Afghanistan. NATO’s Resolute Support Mission is also assisting the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces with security planning for the upcoming elections. The UK regularly raises human rights issues with the Government of Afghanistan, including the need to protect the rights of all ethnic and religious groups in line with the constitution.’
At the time Lord Singh also asked the government whether they would provide asylum to Afghan Sikhs, to which they responded – ‘Those who need international protection should claim in the first safe country they reach – that is the fastest route to safety.’
In 2018 the Home Office put together a briefing paper highlighting the persecution of Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan. It cited an article that revealed, ‘prior to 1992 there were about 220,000 Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan with another putting that number as low as 50,000. By now, the very few remaining are concentrated in the provinces of Nangarhar, Kabul, and Ghazni’. Sikhs, Hindus and other minorities are being systematically ethnically cleansed from Afghanistan, a country Sikhs have resided in since the fifteenth century.
response to the Kabul gurdwara massacre, we will continue to raise the targeting
of Sikhs and other Afghan minorities with the government. We will also be raising
the issue with members of the APPG for International Freedom of Religion or
Belief as a matter of urgency.
Sikhs write to their MPs requesting asylum rights in the UK for Sikhs escaping
genocide, and for strong UK condemnation of the attack on innocent Sikh
further information contact Deputy-Director Hardeep Singh at: firstname.lastname@example.org
As Sikhs, we should recognise that those in power and authority often abuse human rights to perpetuate their authority, and see the egalitarian teachings of Sikhism with their emphasis on human rights and freedom of belief as a threat.
This was the situation in India at the time of our Gurus who incurred the active hostility of both the Mughals and the Hindu Hill Rajas. Today, the governments of India and Pakistan, while viewing Sikh teachings as a threat to Muslim or Hindu domination, are both playing on the supposed naivete of Sikhs to strengthen their positions in sub-continent rivalry. We have seen this in the overtures to Sikhs in the construction of the Kartarpur Corridor for Sikh pilgrims to Sikh heritage sites in Pakistan, and the widespread participation of the Indian government in the celebration of Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary in India and many countries abroad.
Sikhs are not that naïve. India has waxed indignant about some stones thrown at the gurdwara in Nankana Sahib following an incident in which a Sikh girl apparently chose to marry a Muslim boy. Indian newspaper headlines and broadcast news has expressed outrage at the religious bigotry of Muslims, while being totally silent about the more serious destruction of a gurdwara and dozens of Sikh homes by Hindu extremists in Madya Pradesh. The Indian government has maintained a deafening silence over Hindu extremists targeting Sikhs, while actively promoting Hindu extremism in its discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act.
Some Sikhs looking through one eye rail against the government of Pakistan. Some looking through the other eye, condemn the Indian government. The reality is that the governments of both countries are trying to manipulate Sikh sentiment for their own ends and, in the case of India, destroy our independent Sikh identity.
As Sikhs we should recognise the very real difficulties faced by Sikhs on the sub-continent. We cannot match the physical strength of either India or Pakistan, let alone both. But, through diplomacy and skill, along with adherence to our Gurus’ teachings, we can do much to reduce the hostility between India and Pakistan to the advantage of people of both countries, including Sikhs. Both countries are suffering economically in maintaining huge armies against supposed threats from the other. Both countries would gain enormously in the reduction of tension and the creating of a common economic zone. A freer movement of people would help reduce ignorance and prejudice that gives rise to religious bigotry. It is a distant dream, but it is the direction in which our Guru given guidance requires us to go.
‘Sikhs should be wary of Hinduism’s capacity to act like ‘the boa constrictor of the Indian forests’ in absorbing other faiths and beliefs.’
Max Arthur Macauliffe
India’s boast of being a secular democracy exposed as hollow
On 10th November 2019 India’s Supreme court issued a seriously flawed and politically motivated judgment granting ownership of the disputed Ayodhya Babri Masjid site to the Hindu community.
In a lengthy, judgement, the court accepted that the demolition of the mosque in 1992 had been illegal, as was the surreptitious placing of Hindu idols in the mosque in 1949 claiming that they had ‘just miraculously appeared’ and were a proof that the mosque had been built on the site of the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram. Instead, the Supreme Court anxious to implicate Sikhs in their narrative, relied heavily on fake history of the Sikh Gurus, asserting that they were Hindus and pejoratively referring to Sikhism, the 5th largest world religion as a ‘cult’, it went on to conclude that the site should go to the Hindu community.
The Supreme Court judgment was given on eve of the 550th anniversary of the birth of Guru Nanak and the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor from India to the Guru’s birthplace in Pakistan. The gurdwara at Katarpur Sahib and the surrounding area had been generously renovated by the Pakistan government.
The growing friendship between Sikhs and Muslims was seen as a threat to the BJP’s avowed aim of turning India into a Hindu State, by absorption of Sikhs into Hinduism and subduing of other minorities. Mr Modi decided to use a compliant Supreme Court to try to create suspicion and distrust between Sikhs and Muslims while at the same time relegating members of Sikhs to the status of a Hindu ‘cult’.
Absurd and biased arguments used by the Supreme Court
False assertion that Guru Nanak and other Sikh Gurus made pilgrimages to Ayodhya because they were Hindus and it was an important Hindu holy site.
God appeared to Guru Nanak and ordered him to go to Ayodhya.
No historical evidence was produced to show the site was of historical importance to Hindus.
Guru Nanak argued against the practice of going on pilgrimages.
Guru Nanak rejected the Hindu faith and refused to wear the Hindu sacred thread. He also criticised central aspects of Hindu belief such as the caste system, idol worship, multiplicity of gods and goddesses. Guru Arjan wrote, ‘I am neither a Hindu, nor a Mussalman.’
The idea of God appearing to people is contrary to Sikh teachings which state God has no physical form.
In 1990 Advani, the then president of the BJP rode through India on a truck designed like a chariot to whip up support for the Babri masjid to be converted to a mandir (Hindu temple).
The latest shenanigans of the BJP and their use of the Supreme Court to further their determination to make India a Hindu state are being watched and condemned by a wider world.
We call upon all Sikhs and people of other faiths to condemn the BJP’s attack on religious freedom. In the spirit of Guru Nanak’s teachings, we pledge to oppose all forms of religious bigotry and work for tolerance and respect for people of all faiths and beliefs.
The video of a Sikh girl (Jagjit Kaur) allegedly abducted from her home in Punjab (Pakistan) and visibly under duress whilst being betrothed to a Muslim man in a marriage ceremony has sent shock waves across India and amongst diaspora Sikh communities across the West.[i]
Politicians have waded in, including Captain Amarinder Singh the Chief Minister of Punjab (India) and the Akali Dal’s Manjinder Singh Sirsa. The Indian government responded on 30th August: ‘the Ministry had received a number of representations from various quarters of civil society in India, including Sikh religious bodies in India, at the reports of the incident of abduction and forced conversion of a minor Sikh girl in Pakistan. We have shared these concerns with the Government of Pakistan and asked for immediate remedial action.’
The girl’s father has been identified as Bhagwan Singh, a priest at Gurdwara Tambu Sahib. A few days ago, her brother Surinder Singh issued a statement to ask for her safe return home, he confirmed the family had lodged a first information report (FIR) with Nankana Sahib police, however according to Surinder Singh the family was facing threats from the abductors for filing the case and being pressurised to convert.[ii]
However, news reports of the incident have been contradictory, confusing and allegations of fake news have been made. Some reports suggested Jagjit Kaur was returned to her family and 8 arrests had been made,[iii] whereas other reports on the same day suggested she refused to go back to her family ‘fearing a threat to her life’.[iv] In another article her brother refuted the news that she has been returned despite government claims.[v] Separate reports point to a statement filed in court which suggests Jagjit Kaur converted out of her own free will.[vi]
The incident is a cause of huge embarrassment for Pakistan who have been hosting an international Sikh Conference on August 31 at Governor House in Lahore. Former Labour MP for Glasgow, the incumbent Punjab Chief Minister tweeted about the abduction following representations made to him.[vii]
We are cognisant the issue of abduction of non-Muslim girls in Pakistan is a significant blight on wider Pakistani society. Aside from Punjab, there is compelling evidence of abduction and forced marriage in Pakistan’s Sindh province – a 2018 University of Birmingham report ‘Forced Conversions & Forced Marriages In Sindh, Pakistan’, highlighting the issue for Hindu and Christian women. The report’s executive summary says, ‘It has been estimated that 1000 women and girls from religious minorities are abducted, forcibly converted and then married off to their abductors every year.’[viii]
We have flagged Jagjit Kaur’s case with the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief and Baron Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the UN, Foreign and Commonwealth Office.