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Under-Secretary of State Sidesteps Lord Singh’s Question:

In a debate in the Lords, The Conservative Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office Lord Bates, repeated the Home Secretary’s statement on the Paris terror attacks.

A number of Peers joined the debate in condemnation of the brutal murder of journalists from the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Baroness Smith of Basildon raised the issue of British born jihadists returning from Syria, she said: “While some of those will have become seriously disillusioned and will have rejected radicalism, others will have returned to the UK more dangerous.”

Lord Davies of Stamford talked about steps to cancel or withdraw passports of British citizens enlisting in terrorist organisations. He asked: “Is there not a real danger that, if hundreds more people in this category come back to this country, the additional strain placed on our security services of monitoring them may be such as to create a significantly enhanced risk of an oversight at some point which could cost a lot of lives?”

Lord Singh of Wimbledon raised the issue of the boundaries of free speech, he said: “My Lords, much has been said since the attacks in Paris about the right to offend. If there is a right to offend, there is a right to be offended. People react to offence in different ways. Some will turn the other cheek, some will come out with expletives and some will resort to violence. Does the Minister believe that there is any merit in deliberately antagonising people?”

Although Lord Bates acknowledged the question posed by The Director of The Network of Sikh Organisations “goes to the heart”, rather than responding, he chose not to answer the question, reverting to another topic.

 

Lord Singh – ‘Religion is an Important Ethical Sat-Nav’

A debate on religion and belief in British public life was held in the House of Lords last week.

The Rt Revd Lord Harries of Pentregarth, formerly the Bishop of Oxford called for the debate in which many members of the Lords spoke, including Baroness Falkner, Baroness Massey, Lord Ahmed, Lord Singh and Lord Warner.

Lord Singh the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO), said religion including beliefs such as humanism provide a commonsense guidance of how to lead ‘a responsible and meaningful life.’

Lord Singh’s full speech can be found below:

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for securing this important debate. As a Sikh, I see religion—I include beliefs such as humanism—as commonsense guidance on how to meet the many challenges of trying to lead a responsible and meaningful life.

Unfortunately, not everyone sees religion in that way. A year ago in a debate in this Chamber, religion was blamed as being “out of step” with society. To me, that is a bit like someone complaining that his sat-nav was not following his directions. The argument for banishing religions to the margins of society would carry some weight if secular society was seen to be leading to a fairer and more contented and peaceful society. But all the evidence is that it is not.

Every day in this House, we have Oral Questions on the lines of, “What are the Government doing about this or that concern?” The general response, couched in elegant terms, is, “We are doing a lot more than the previous lot when they were in power”. This is not a criticism of government. The truth is that Governments can, at best, only put legal boundaries around unacceptable behaviour; they cannot make us better people.

I will give some examples. Monday was International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The need to have a day to remind us that women often suffer violence and gross abuse itself shows that all is not well with society. It was also mentioned that 77 women in the UK had been killed in domestic violence. There was reference to a Troubled Families programme—another reminder that all is not well. A report in the Times this week revealed that a staggering 230,000 people in England and Wales are going through divorce each year, with a devastating effect on children.

Two-thirds of children whose parents separate, often in acrimonious circumstances, are driven to drugs and alcohol abuse, eating disorders and poor performance in schools. Our current obsession with “me, my rights and my happiness” can have a devastating effect on those around us in this and other areas.

Religious teachings are essentially preventive. Without such teachings we tend to look to sticking-plaster solutions. Today, the response to domestic violence is to build more refuges. The response to drunken and loutish behaviour is, “Let’s extend licensing hours”; to rising drugs problems, “Let’s legalise the use of drugs”; and, to an increasing number of people in prisons, “Let’s build more prisons”. Let us extend this line of thinking to the behaviour of little junior who greets visitors to the house by kicking them in the shins. Solution: issue said visitors with shin pads as they enter the front door.

Whenever I am asked to do a “do-it-yourself assembly”, I throw the instructions to one side and quickly put the pieces together with nuts and bolts to spare. I then stand back to admire my handiwork and see it all skewed and ready to fall apart. Then, and only then, I turn to the book of instructions. We have become a bit of a do-it-yourself society in the way in which we have thrown our religious instructions to one side in constructing remedies to social problems that ignore deeper issues of right, wrong and responsibility—the essence of religious teachings. Jesus Christ taught that, “Man does not live by bread alone”. Bread, the material side of life is important, but there is much more to living than mere material existence.

The Sikh Gurus taught that we must live in three dimensions at the same time: reflecting on and living core ethical teachings; earning by our own honest effort; and, thirdly and most importantly, that we have a responsibility to look to the needs of those around us and the well-being of wider society. That putting of others before self is something that we need constantly to be reminded about, rather than living our current obsession with “me, my rights and my happiness”. Yes, religion is an important ethical sat-nav, but we must remember to keep it switched on and to follow its sometimes demanding directions towards a fairer and more peaceful society.

 

 

 

Lord Singh: ‘We need to place ourselves in the position of the patient.’

Lord Singh of Wimbledon, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) has once more challenged measures proposed by the government in the Assisted Dying Bill.

In a debate last Friday Lord Singh stressed ‘we need to place ourselves in the position of the patient.’ This follows from earlier statements in the House, where he viewed the bill as a ‘flawed’ attempt to show compassion to the few, whilst neglecting compassion to many others. The Bill is a Private Members Bill (PMB) put forward by Lord Falconer of Thornton, a former Lord Chancellor. If enacted the legislation would make it legal for adults in England and Wales to be given assistance to end their own lives, applying to those with less than 6 months to live.

During the debate on tabled amendments last Friday Lord Singh said:

‘My Lords, I very much agree with the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and I agree about the importance of total independence if we must go in the direction of this legislation. However, I still have great concerns about the direction in which we are going, especially in relation to independent capacity and settled will. In everything that we do we need to place ourselves in the position of the patient. Everything we do is influenced by those around us.

A person suffering mentally or physically will undoubtedly be affected not only by the pain but by his or her view of what effects their disability is having on the lives of others. A desire not to be a burden can sometimes be induced by others, but little thought seems to have been given to that. Equally, uncaring or selfish attitudes of others cannot but have an adverse effect on one’s desire to live. I fail to understand how a couple of doctors or even independent judges can know the finer points of a family’s interactions and what pressurises the individual to say, “I wish to end my own life”.’

He added: ‘Then there are the wider effects not only on the family but on society as a whole of going in the direction of this legislation. What are we saying to future generations when we know that palliative care can do so much? However, I know that so much more has to be done to improve it. Only this week we had a report saying that only 10% of nurses felt that they were properly equipped to deal with end-of-life decisions and end-of-life care. We can do much more in this direction rather than taking the easy route, which sets a marker to future generations that says, “You can go in this direction, you can end life”. That is something that I personally find totally wrong.’

Lord Carlile of Berriew said: ‘Those of us who lie in the bath or climb out of the shower at 7.45 in the morning are fortunate to hear the wise vignettes of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and the noble Lord, Lord Singh. We get our bonuses in this House, as we have enjoyed moments of real wisdom from both of them this afternoon, as we do fairly regularly on Radio 4.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was Voltaire who said, “I may not believe in what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. Nearly a century earlier, Guru Teg Bahadur gave this noble sentiment practical utterance. The Guru was publicly beheaded in the centre of Delhi. The executioners challenged Sikhs, who then had no recognisable symbols, to come forward and claim their master’s body. They hesitated to do so. There are parallels here with the Bible description of Peter denying his closeness to Jesus Christ at the crucifixion.

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

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

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

 

In a motion to take note moved by Baroness Stowell of Beeston in the Lords on Friday, Lord Singh of Wimbledon spoke on plans for military action against Islamic State, (IS) whilst reflecting on Sikh teachings. Please see full text of speech:

‘My Lords, Sikhism teaches that we should resort to the use of arms only when there is no other option to stop the killing of the weak and innocent. This situation has now been reached and we must give military support to the Iraqi Government in their fight against the brutal behavior of the Islamic State.

However, we must be clear about our objectives, both short and long-term, and, importantly, make these clear not just to the Government but to the people of Iraq and adjoining countries. Yes, there must be targeted air strikes, but air strikes alone are not enough. Parallel support for action on the ground will be needed to destroy ISIS.

However, at best this can only bring us back to the instability that followed the defeat of Saddam Hussein. The Middle East has for decades been one of the most unstable and fractured regions of the world, with national boundaries that split communities carved into countries by the West following the demise of the Ottoman Empire.

For too long, initially Britain and France and more recently the United States and Russia, have propped up one dubious dictator after another, turning a blind eye to brutal repression in return for trade and political advantage. It was not too long ago that I was invited to a reception at No. 10 for President Assad, who was being heralded as a torchbearer for peace and religious freedom in the Middle East. Today, the situation has been made worse by new players such as China looking for trade and strategic interest before human rights.

A paradigm shift to new criteria is needed, which must be honoured by those seeking our military support. They must pledge themselves to uphold freedom of religion and belief, gender equality and protection of minorities as a condition of our support. These rights must trump all considerations of trade and supposed strategic advantage in the cradle of civilisation and in the rest of the world.’

SARAGARHI DAY AT SANDHURST

September 20th, 2014 | Posted by Singh in Press Releases - (0 Comments)

On Friday 12 September Lord Singh, The Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) was given the honor of inspecting and taking the salute with Major General Nitsch at the Sandhurst parade, of the Sikh Platoon dressed as World War 1 soldiers.

The commemoration at the Royal Military Academy, remembered the fallen in Saraghari, whilst launching the British Army Sikh Association (BASA).

Full text of Lord Singh’s speech at the launch of the BASA and the commemoration of Saragarhi Day is given below:

Major General Nitsch, Lords, ladies, Captain Makand Singh and members of BASA, honoured guests, friends,

It’s a real pleasure to be with you on this commemoration of Saragarhi day and the launch of BASA – British Army Sikh Association aptly timed to coincide with one of the most heroic episodes in the history of warfare. On this day in 1897, 21 brave Sikhs of the then 36th Sikh Regiment holed up in a small brick and mud fort held back an army of some 10,000 Afghan tribesmen for nearly a day to give valuable time to their army colleagues. Eventually they were all killed, but the thought of surrender never entered their minds. They lived and died true to the Sikh teaching ‘Purja purja kat mare, kaboo na chadey khet’.

Always live true to what you beliefs and fight for them at the cost of your own life. Their courage received a rare standing ovation in the British parliament. All were posthumously awarded the Indian Order of Merit, then the highest gallantry award given to Indian soldiers. Their achievement has been recognised by UNESCO the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation as one of eight most inspiring stories of collective bravery in human history.

Saragahri Day sets the bar high for today’s Sikh soldiers but from what I’ve seen of our serving Sikh soldiers they will be up to the challenge of living true to the spirit of Saragarhi and I wish BASA every success. They add a miri dimension to the piri one provided by the Sikh Armed Services chaplaincy. Today, I believe there are about 200 Sikhs in the British Army. According to population ratios, there should be more than 1000. With BASA’s lead, I’m sure numbers will significantly increase.

I have long campaigned to see Sikhs and other faith in all walks of life, having proper spiritual support and we made real progress in prison and hospital chaplaincy. About 9 years ago, colleagues and I from other faiths managed to get the British Armed Services to agree on the establishment of chaplains for other faiths. I was nominated as the endorsing officer for the Sikh faith and took part in an interview for the first Sikh chaplain and we appointed Mandeep Kaur and she has proved an excellent choice. Not only has her work achieved recognition from her colleagues in other faiths, but she has done much to bring Sikhs in the services together, particularly in the annual Chardi Kala Chaplaincy Conference which helps in the re-charging of spiritual batteries. Her work has helped to bring serving Sikhs together: a prelude to today’s formation of BASA. We owe her a great debt.

I would also like to pay tribute to the work of the Maharaja Duleep Singh Centenary Trust, led by the tireless Harbinder Singh, Daljit Singh Sidhu and others who do so much to keep our heritage alive. But for their work, few, Sikhs or non-Sikhs in the UK would even be aware of Saragarhi and other inspiring episodes in our history. In 2001 the Trust persuaded my colleague in the Lords, Viscount Slim to give a memorial lecture at the Imperial War Museum in the series ‘Portraits of Courage’. Lord Slim, who had spent a lifetime in India particularly among Sikhs, chose the siege of Saragarhi as the theme of his inspiring address.

In the last couple of days, I have been lifted by the example of two moving events. Today we remember the courage of the 21 Sikhs at Saragarhi. Yesterday, I attended the Invictus Games, named after the poem Invictus, which reminds us that however difficult or unfair life may appear, we should never give up. The poem ends with the immortal lines:

It matters not how straight the gate; how charged with punishment the scroll, I am the master of my fate; the captain of my soul.

Yesterday I saw limbless blade runners, one with severe burns to his face, and others in wheelchairs enthusiastically embracing life. They and the brave soldiers of Saragarhi set a high standard. I am confident that BASA and others in the armed services will live true to their example of inspiring courage. Courage that refuses to accept the bludgeoning’s of chance, and helps put all our petty aches and pains and grumblings about the unfairness of life, into true perspective.

Please see link to coverage of the event on the British Army website: http://www.army.mod.uk/news/26554.aspx

[Ends]

Lords Debate on Article 18

July 29th, 2014 | Posted by Singh in Press Releases - (0 Comments)

Lords Debate on Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Lord Singh asks Government to Look at the Reasons why People Become Perpetrators of Religious Violence

In a debate led by Lord Alton last week, members of the House of Lords debated the importance of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whilst reflecting on religious violence across the world.

Lord Singh the vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom said:

“We have heard moving accounts of Muslims in Burma and Tamils in Sri Lanka persecuted by militant Buddhists, with Christians persecuted and marginalised in much of the Middle East, Sudan and other parts of Africa. Yesterday’s Times carried a moving article by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on the plight of Christians in Iraq. We are all disturbed by the loss of life in conflict between the Shias, Sunnis and Alawites in Syria and Iraq and the persecution of Ahmadiyyas and Shias in Pakistan. I could go on. We can continue to condemn such killings, but if we are to make real progress, we need to look hard and dispassionately at why people of religion become either victims or perpetrators of religious hatred.

I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I speak frankly. Religions do not help themselves by claims of exclusivity or superiority. This simply demeans other members of our one human race and suggests that they, the others, are lesser beings. We all know what happens in the school playground when one boy boasts—it is usually boys—that, “My dad is bigger or stronger or cleverer than your dad”. The end result is fisticuffs. My appeal to our different religions and the leaders of religion is to stop playing children’s games. Guru Nanak witnessed the suffering caused by this children’s game of “my religion is better than yours” in conflict between Hindus and Muslims in the sub-continent in the 15th century. In his very first sermon, he declared that the one God of us all is not in the least bit interested in our different religious labels, but in our contribution to a fairer and more peaceful world.”

He added: “There is another important area that must be tackled if we are to move away from continuing conflict between religions. Most religious scriptures were written many years after the death of the founder of the religion. Scriptural texts often contain a complex amalgam of history, social and cultural norms of the day that can easily become dated. They can easily mask and distort important underlying ethical imperatives about our responsibilities to one another and to future generations. It is sometimes claimed that often-contradictory texts in different religions are the literal word of God. Those who wish to resort to violence in the name of religion can all too easily ignore the context and use quotations in scriptures to justify negative attitudes and violent behaviour towards others.

I believe that what is required is greater open dialogue that puts transient social and cultural norms embedded in scriptures in their true context. It is not easy. My plea to our Government is for them to give an energetic lead in promoting true interfaith dialogue that puts distorting history and culture in their true perspective to reveal common underlying ethical imperatives in our different faiths. Such a dialogue would provide sane and uplifting guidance for responsible and peaceful living in the complex world of today.”

Lord Singh asks Government to Consider Human Rights Whilst Marking ‘Record Level’ Trade:

During a debate on ‘record level’ British trade with China chaired by Lord Popat in the House of Lords this week, Lord Singh spoke about the untenable position Britain finds itself in, whilst trading with a nation notorious for human rights violations.

Lord Singh said: “My Lords, according to a report on 17 June in the Times, the Business Minister, Michael Fallon, said that human rights must not stop trade with China. Does the Minister agree that that statement demeans the very concept of human rights?”

Lord Popat, failed to directly answer the question.

Last year Lord Singh raised the issue of Britain’s ‘selective’ approach to human rights, where the government was swift to condemn the use of sarin in Syria, but silent over the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam.

He said other world powers like India, China, Russia and the USA behave in the same way, making a coordinated approach on human rights “virtually impossible.”

Lord Singh quoted, Andrei Sakharov, the Russian nuclear physicist, turned human rights activist, who said: “there will be little progress in our universal yearning for peace and justice unless we are even-handed in our approach to human rights.”

Lord Singh of Wimbledon, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) has challenged measures proposed in the Assisted Dying Bill in a debate last Friday involving a record 130 Peers.

The Bill is a Private Members Bill (PMB) put forward by Lord Falconer of Thornton, a former Lord Chancellor.

If enacted the legislation would make it legal for adults in England and Wales to be given assistance to end their own lives, applying to those with less than 6 months to live.

During the 10-hour debate Lord Singh said:

“My Lords, the Bill is flawed on many counts. In attempting to show compassion to a few, it neglects due compassion to many thousands of others. It has created immense fear in vulnerable people that they are being seen as a problem by society, with consequent damage to their sense of self-worth. Much has been said about autonomy in this debate—about our right to take decisions about our lives. But all too often it ignores the reality that what we do or omit to do affects others. This narrow view of autonomy is little more than an unhealthy obsession with self, which is considered one of the five deadly sins in Sikh scripture. The reality is that all of us are part of a wider society. What we say or do affects others. Importantly, our attitudes and decisions are influenced by those around us. Relatives, through what they say or omit to say, or simply by not being around, can affect the mood or even the will to live of the vulnerable.”

He added: “The Bill stipulates the need for a “settled” state of mind for those contemplating assisted suicide. A feeling of not being wanted or of being a burden on others can, importantly, tip the balance towards a settled state of mind of not wanting to live. The proposed legislation moves us even further from focusing on enhanced care and compassion for the vulnerable in society. Worse, it can encourage uncaring or greedy relatives to persuade vulnerable people that their lives are not worth living. All of us can at times feel that what Shakespeare called the,“slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, are too much for us. However, it is also true that loving care and compassion can change our mood. This is particularly true for the infirm and vulnerable. Daily reports of abuse of those who cannot care for themselves by family members or in care homes remind us how far we have moved as a society from our duty to help the vulnerable. Sikh teachings remind us that our own sense of well-being lies in devoting time to the well-being of others. It is a sentiment echoed by all major faiths. Near where I live is a new housing development with a large hoarding advertising the development with the words ‘Assisted Living’. My Lords, the need of the hour is not to look to ways of helping people kill themselves in the name of compassion, but to make compassion and concern for the vulnerable, central to life in civilised society.”

Many Hon. Peers endorsed Lord Singh’s sentiments.

 

Lord Singh of Wimbledon, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations gave a Sikh view on abortion last week, during a debate secured by Baroness Knight of Collingtree.

He said, “My Lords, as a Sikh, I am totally opposed to abortion on any grounds except that of real and serious danger to the mother’s health, and it is important that those who facilitate gender-selective abortions should be punished with the full rigour of the law. However, laws cannot create good behaviour; they can only define the boundaries of unacceptable behaviour. We must also look to education in tackling negative and outmoded cultural practices.

The Sikh religion is not a religion in which “thou shalt” or “thou shalt not” are strictly imposed; Sikh teachings are couched in terms of gentle guidance about what we should or should not do to lead a responsible life. One of the few exceptions is a total condemnation of female infanticide. Sadly, this was all too common in the India of 500 years ago and was linked to the inferior status of women throughout the world.

From the very start of the religion, Guru Nanak taught the dignity and complete equality of women. Sikh women have always been able to lead prayers and occupy any religious position. The 10th guru, Guru Gobind Singh, gave women the name or title Kaur—literally, “princess”—to emphasise their dignity and complete equality. A Sikh woman does not have to take her husband’s name but remains an individual in her own right.

Despite the clarity of such teachings, negative sub-continent culture for some, even in the Sikh community, leads to discrimination against women and girls. Perversely, it is women who are often responsible, with mothers lavishing extra attention on male children. Even in the West today, a new birth is frequently accompanied by a joyous cry, “It’s a boy!”. It is not so long ago that the birth of a girl to royalty was greeted as a national calamity, on a par with the loss of a test match.

We all have to work much harder to fight gender discrimination and gender prejudice through tighter laws and education.”

Other Peers who participated in the debate, included Lord Patten, Baroness Barker, Baroness Hollins, The Lord Bishop of Leicester and Baroness Flather.

 

 

 

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