Where Unity Is Strength
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Dear Khalsa ji,

Waheguru ji ka Khalsa; Waheguru ji ki Fateh.

As we leave 2021 and enter 2022, it is important that we look closely at the forces and pressures that resonate in the Sikh community and reflect on how these help or hinder us in living true to our Gurus’ teachings.

The Challenges

The Sikh religion consists primarily of the teachings of the Sikh Gurus enshrined in the Guru Granth Sahib.

Our Gurus experienced several challenges to their leadership from false claimants to the Guruship seeking to use the popularity of Sikh teachings to further their own selfish interests.

Guru Gobind Singh was acutely aware that these challenges would continue after him and gave us his far-sighted injunction ‘Guru Manio Granth’. That is that we should shun those who try to bend Sikh teachings for their own ends and follow the teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib as we would a living Guru.

The Sikh Gurus incorporated writings of Hindu and Muslim saints in the Guru Granth Sahib to emphasise that no religion has a monopoly of truth. In the same way, leading Sikh scholars who compiled the 1945 Sikh Rehat Maryada also accepted the authenticity of some writings, popularly attributed to Guru Gobind Singh found in the misleadingly titled Dasam Granth (a 19th century compendium of mostly amorous exploits of gods and goddesses compiled by a Brahmin called Chiber).

PRIORITIES FOR 2022

As Sikhs we must heed Guru Gobind Singh’s clear warning about false gurus, and totally reject the siren call of sants and babas, distorting and offering questionable short cuts to the disciplined life taught by the Gurus.

As a community we must also be aware of political lobbyists here in Britain, who push an agenda which stands in contradiction to the uplifting teachings of our Gurus. Sikhism is a global world religion open to all, irrespective of race, class or any other background as the Gurus rightly intended. Those who continue to tell us we are part of some kind of ‘ethnic’ group, must be challenged and their arguments strenuously refuted at every juncture.

On the international front the NSO has supported the Indian farmers’ right to peacefully protest and briefed MPs on the developments since the farmers’ uprising against laws which not only disadvantaged them but risked their very livelihoods. We will continue to support them.

There is much work to be done, we have worked tirelessly in many areas including helping Afghan Sikhs, making sure Sikhs are included in the hate crime debate, and fighting for our right to freedom of expression. On the latter we were part of a coalition of free speech defending groups pushing back on elements of the draft Scottish Hate Crime Bill – now the Hate Crime Act. With our coalition of partners in Free to Disagree, we managed to defend free speech and get an amendment in the Bill, to allow people to freely discuss religion without censorship or fear of criminal proceedings. The fight for minority rights has been another aspect of our ongoing work, and we continue to collaborate with groups including The APPG for International Freedom of Religion or Belief to both challenge and shine a torch on those who persecute minority faiths overseas.

THE ROLE OF SIKHISM IN 2022 AND BEYOND

The Sikh religion is a strong faith rooted in compassion and common sense and has nothing to fear from discussion and questioning which can only make its teachings clearer and stronger. Our Gurus were far-sighted human beings who far from claiming special powers, warned us against superstitious beliefs and idle speculation about peripherals of belief.

Our responsibility as Sikhs is to live true to the teachings of our Gurus and make them known to a wider world which in many ways has lost its ethical direction. Many coming across Sikh teachings for the first time applaud its powerful emphasis on the equality of all human beings, gender equality respect for freedom of belief, and our responsibility to work for a just and peaceful society.

The challenge for all Sikhs in 2022 is to look beyond ourselves, and while being true to Sikh teachings, commit ourselves to living these values in serving the wider community. If we can overcome our petty internal divisions by focusing on the actual teachings of our Gurus and live the life they taught, 2022 can be an important year of unity and fulfilment for us all.

Indarjit Singh CBE,

Lord Singh of Wimbledon

Director, Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) UK

We are delighted to have launched the Sikh Messenger podcast series last month.

In the first of the series we interviewed Harbakhsh Grewal about his roles at the UK Punjab Heritage Association (UKPHA) and publisher Kashi House. We ask him about the seminal volume Warrior Saints, by historians Parmjit Singh and Amandeep Singh Madra, and the popular exhibitions hosted by UKPHA at the SOAS Brunei gallery – including The Sikhs and World War 1 in 2014. You can listen to the interview here.

Later in August, as part of the Catch ‘Together Against Hate’ 2020 project we interviewed Billie Boyd a Hate Crime Support worker at the charity Galop. We find out about her role and how she has made a tangible difference for her clients who have suffered discrimination and hatred for being part of the LGBT community. You can listen to the interview here.

As part of the same series – we then had the pleasure of talking to our Director Lord Singh of Wimbledon who told us about his early life in Britain, the challenges with racism at that time, which later included a backlash against Sikhs post 9/11 in so called ‘mistaken identity’ attacks. Lord Singh reveals how he used humour to deal with racism during those early years. You can listen to the interview here.

We then spoke to Suresh Grover, Director of the Monitoring Group in Southall – a veteran anti-racism campaigner who has led campaigns to help the families of Stephen Lawrence, Zahid Mubarek and Victoria Climbie. He talks about ‘Paki bashing’, the history of Southall and the role of the Punjabi community during the tumultuous period following the racist murder of schoolboy Gurinder Singh Chaggar in 1976. Listen to part 1 of the interview here: Listen to Part 2 here.

In our most recent interviews, we talked to our Deputy-Director Hardeep Singh who has co-authored a volume titled Racialization, Islamophobia and Mistaken Identity: The Sikh Experience, and also Chief Supt Raj Singh Kohli who surprised us with the prejudice he has faced over the years – from his early years at school, through to post 9/11. But he didn’t take it lying down – his story is both uplifting and remarkable. We will be uploading the interviews onto both Anchor and YouTube soon.

If anyone has any suggestions on who we should interview and the topics they’d like to hear about, contact us: info@nsouk.co.uk

Illuminated Adi Granth folio with nisan of Guru Gobind Singh. The manuscript is of the Lahore recension, late 17th to early 18th century. Gold and colours on paper; folio size 360 x 283mm, illumination size 256 x 193mm. Collection of Takht Sri Harimandir Sahib, Patna. Photograph: Jeevan Singh Deol.

There is one thing that unites all Sikhs around the world irrespective of the status of their personal spiritual journey or background – that is the primacy of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) – the eternal Guru of the Sikhs and Guru Gobind Singh’s clear edict ‘Guru Manyeo Granth’, which recognises the Guru Granth Sahib as the only eternal Guru. But there are insidious forces at play – some with allegiance to Hindutva, who are looking to tarnish, distort and pervert the foundations of our great world religion.

Another iteration of this presented itself at the beginning of the month. On 1st September 2020, the Delhi Gurdwara Parbandakh Committee (DGPC) sanctioned discourses from the so called Dasam Granth (DG) to be read from the gurdwara. This action is a direct challenge to the primacy of SGGS. Following protests, we understand the DGPC have said this won’t happen again, but whether or not this is the case remains to be seen. As previously discussed, the authorship of parts of the DG is a matter of significant dispute. When the Sikh Rehat Maryada (SRM) was compiled in the 1940s, highly respected scholars at the time discarded the majority of the DG writings, which could not be attributed to Guru Gobind Singh. Some of these included amorphous and pornographic exploits of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, as well as misogyny and the denigration of women.

The DGPC should be ashamed of their decision to let this go ahead and we support the efforts of the Malaysian Gurudwara Council in their letter to the Akal Takht (pdf below) to take action against this flouting of the SRM. Although these events are in India, there are groups in the UK who are promoting this anti-Sikh agenda and we have pointed to this in the past. In 2018 there was the case of Amrik Singh Chandigarh – a preacher who promotes the primacy of SGGS, who was attacked by thugs associated with a sect called the Taksal. Sadly, the gurdwara committee in Southall where the incident took place did not condemn the thuggery, and at one point perversely sided with the Taksali bully boys. Another respected Sikh, is still have physiotherapy to this day, having been violently attacked over a decade ago by unsavoury elements in our midst.

All Sikh groups must openly challenge this kinds of behavior.

Sadly, groups like the tick box obsessed Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) previously failed to condemn the attack on Amrik Singh Chandigarh. We now ask them to join us in condemning the actions of the DGPC and their disregard for the SRM.

We note that in May 2019 the SFUK published a tweet which read:

‘Lord Indarjit Singh, Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations writes deeply offensive comments regards Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s Dasam Granth Bani (scripture) and his initiated Damdami Taksal. We demand Lord Singh apologies (sic) to the millions of Sikhs around the world.’

Although we understand from sources that the DGPC have promised protesters that the insult to Sikh teachings won’t happen again, all British Sikh groups should unequivocally condemn the course of action originally taken by them.

This includes The SFUK, Sikh Council UK, The Sikh Assembly and City Sikhs.

Silence will speak volumes.

We have been overwhelmed by supportive messages for our Director following the front-page headline in The Times last month – ‘Sikh peer leaves BBC Radio 4 show with swipe at ‘thought police’’.  The solidarity has come from all over the world, from Sikhs and people of other faiths and none – including Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus. It is a matter of grave concern that an overzealous producer had the temerity to insult Sikhism by attempting to censor the sacrifice of our 9th Guru, Tegh Bahadur, who gave his life standing up for freedom of religious belief in the face of tyranny. In an increasingly fractured society, it is these very values that must be celebrated and promoted – not censored by the ‘thought’ police.

The story was covered across the media including in the Sun, Express, Telegraph, Daily Mail, Times of India and many more.

You can read Lord Singh’s opinion editorial in the Mail on Sunday here and our Deputy-Director Hardeep Singh wrote an article for the Spectator.

We are pursuing a complaint against the BBC for the insult to Sikh teachings and cannot do this without your support.

We have set up a petition and need as many signatures as possible: The petition can be signed here: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/public-inquiry-into-bbc-censorship-and-bias

We are grateful for those that contacted us with messages of solidarity including the following:

‘Lord Singh is a Sikh ambassador, who speaks about the teachings of Guru’s with passion. The Sikh Guru’s taught equality, truthfulness and honesty, they fought and sacrificed their life for freedom of worship and other injustices, regardless of who they were.’ Kuldip M

‘Lord Singh is not alone and with support we need to highlight the orchestrated bias within the BBC’ Manjit B.

 Guru Maneyo Granth—Guru Gobind Singh

Guru Maneyo Granths-Those who wish to take us back to the worship of gods and goddesses.

The Reality behind the misleadingly named Dasam Granth

The so-called Dasam Granth is a compilation of largely amoral myths and stories produced by Brahmins to fool gullible Sikhs into diluting and distorting the teachings of the Gurus with Hindu mythology.

Evidence

  • Guru Gobind Singh gave Gurgadhi to the Guru Granth Sahib alone.
  • Neither Guru Gobind Singh nor his contemporaries ever referred to any such composition.
  • The first reference to such a composition was made not by a Sikh but revealingly, by a Brahmin called Chibber, 70 years after Guru Gobind Singh.
  • Chibber himself admits that what he wrote was based on hearsay.
  • The first mention of ‘Dasam Granth’ was much later, in 1850 at a time of Hindu resurgence in Punjab.
  • The mischievously named Dasam Granth contains tales of the amorous exploits of Hindu gods and goddesses.The whole notion of gods and goddesses is contrary to Sikh teachings on one God of all humanity (Ek Onkar), who is beyond birth, death and human frailty.
  • The Mool Mantar states that God does not take birth. The Dasam Granth says God took birth 24 times.
  • Sikh teachings emphasise the dignity and complete equality of women. The Dasam Granth denigrates women as lesser beings who are always ready to entice men to their will with their supposed 404 wiles. Women it claims, are ready to resort to intrigues and commit murder to get their way. It says that even God regretted creating such beautiful creatures.
  • In a translation of ‘The Poetry of the Dasam Granth’ former Vice President of India Dr S Radhakrishanan and Dr Dharam Pal, state: ‘in most of the tales, the themes are love, sex debauchery, violence, crime or poison. They are extremely racy and frankly licentious’.
  • Out of respect for common decency, this note does not give examples of these pornographic writings.
  • The so-called Dasam Granth was first propagated by Hindu Arya Samaj extremists, who included in it some compositions, which could possibly be those of Guru Gobind Singh, to make it more appealing to Sikhs. NOTE: These were examined by eminent Sikh scholars in several years of extensive consultation and are listed in the 1945 Rehat Maryada published by the SGPC, as being in consonance with Sikh teachings. The rest of the Dasam Granth was unanimously rejected.
  • In the years following the 1984 holocaust, Hindu extremists have tried to finish Sikhism in the Punjab, and to this end, the Punjab Government produced and distributed thousands of copies of the Dasam Granth, free of cost to many towns and villages in Punjab.
  • One can understand uneducated villagers in Punjab being misled by the word ‘dasam’ sadly, some educated Sikhs in the UK are also being misled to reject the clear and far-sighted message of Guru Gobind Singh sung after the Ardas-Guru Maneyo Granth, consider the teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib to be the sole perpetual guidance for all Sikhs.

[Ends]

The NSO is delighted to report the government has approved an amendment to fully protect the kirpan in law.

The Offensive Weapons Bill (OWB) went through its third reading in the House of Lords yesterday in which ‘the legal presentation of a curved sword by a follower of the Sikh religion at a ceremonial event’ was discussed and an amendment to fully protect the kirpan passed unanimously. The opportunity to fully protect the kirpan was regrettably missed in the House of Commons.

Yesterday Minister Baroness Williams said, ‘My Lords, I will now speak to the amendments regarding kirpans, and in doing so express my gratitude to the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Singh, and my noble friend Lady Verma. They have all been tireless in their promotion of this issue; I hope that the amendments will provide an outcome satisfactory to everyone. In particular, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Singh, for his advice and to the organisation Sikhs in Politics, which has engaged positively with officials on the development of these amendments.’

She went on: ‘As noble Lords will recall, we held a round table on the issue of kirpans following the debate on these clauses in Grand Committee. This identified a gap in the current defences in that the cultural practice of gifting large ceremonial kirpans by Sikhs to eminent non-Sikhs was not covered by the “religious reasons” defence. These amendments will therefore create a defence for a person of Sikh faith to present another person with a curved sword in a religious ceremony or other ceremonial event, as covered by Section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.’

Lord Singh became aware of the omission referred to by Baroness Williams towards the end of last year. He immediately contacted the Minister before the Bill came to the Lords and, following discussion, raised the issue at the second reading. Because of his standing in the Lords, he received promises of support from all sides of the House.

The Bill then moved to Grand Committee and Lord Singh spoke in detail about the religious significance of the kirpan emphasising that it literally meant ‘protector’ of the weak and vulnerableLord Singh briefed Labour, Liberal and others from all sides of the House to say the same. Winding up for Labour, Lord Tunnicliffe remarked that in all his years in parliament, he could never remember such unanimity.

Lord Singh’s speech at the third reading and the full debate can be read here.

The NSO is grateful to our Director Lord Singh, Lord Paddick, Lord Kennedy, Baroness Verma and unanimous support from cross-party peers to see this important amendment pass. We would also like to extend our thanks to Sikhs in Politics for their support.

[Ends]

 

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 4.0

The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) has requested the BBC to acknowledge a glaring omission following a segment [57:13-57:54] in its Cenotaph television coverage today in which David Dimbleby forgets to mention Sikhs amongst the 22 faith leaders in attendance for the centenary commemorations.

During the coverage of Remembrance Sunday, he said:

“There are 22 faith leaders here today”.

Dimbleby then goes through the names of faiths being represented as they appear in the footage, listing them one by one – “Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, Jain, Baha’i, Mormon, Humanists and Spiritualists”. He forgot to mention Sikhs, despite our Director Lord Singh’s clear presence.

The omission which may have been inadvertent, has resulted in several complaints to the NSO. Given the size of the Sikh community in Britain, as well as the fact that today’s Remembrance Sunday commemorations marks one hundred years of the end of the Great War, we believe the inordinate contribution of Sikhs deserved recognition. To illustrate why, at the outbreak of hostilities in the Great War, 20% of soldiers in the British Indian Army were Sikhs, despite comprising less than 2% of British India’s population.

In the circumstances the NSO feels the BBC should make an urgent correction.

At the start of a New Year, we all look to our concerns and hopes for the year to come. For me, a major concern is the potential for populism rooted in xenophobia that looks only to economic prosperity for ‘me and my’.

Last weekend, Sikhs throughout the world celebrated the birthday of Guru Gobind Singh, who through his life and work, taught us to look beyond narrow sectarian interests and work for the wellbeing of wider society,

Guru Gobind Singh was the last of the founding Gurus of Sikhism whose role was to show that the teachings of Guru Nanak stressing the equality of all, including gender equality and a willingness to put others before self, were not impracticable ideals, but a necessary, though demanding, blueprint for a fairer and more peaceful society.

The task of Guru Nanak’s successor Gurus wasn’t easy, and two were martyred for stressing the need for tolerance and freedom of worship at a time of intense religious bigotry. A similar fate was suffered by many of the early Sikhs, but despite such persecution, the resilience of the infant Sikh community continued to grow to such an extent that Guru Gobind Singh decided he could now end the line of living Gurus and ask Sikhs to commit themselves to following the teachings of his predecessors, contained in the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, as they would a living Guru.

The Sikh Gurus were not the only ones who taught that ethical living, with concern and compassion for those around us, was the way to true contentment. Centuries earlier, Jesus Christ had taught much the same in parables like the Sermon on the Mount, and the story of the Good Samaritan. It is important that we recognise the common thrust for more responsible living found in our different faiths and work together to make these central to life.

Today’s populism can lead to such imperatives being ignored, encouraging a drive to self-interest. Rather, I would suggest an alternative movement rooted in common ethical teachings across faith traditions and secular society, while acknowledging and respecting differences between cultures and religions. But we need to look beyond mere lip service, and begin to walk the talk if we want to move from the bigotry of 2017 to a better 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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