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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.

Islamic State 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.

In 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.

We request 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 worshipers.

For further information contact Deputy-Director Hardeep Singh at: info@nsouk.co.uk


Last week our Director Lord Singh tabled a question to the government about Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) support for persecuted Christians. He asked Her Majesty’s Government, ‘what assessment they have made of the recommendations of the Bishop of Truro’s Independent Review of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s support for persecuted Christians.’

Minister for FCO Lord Ahmad, said the Bishop of Truro’s independent review of FCO support for persecuted Christians resulted in a series of ‘ambitious recommendations’, and that ‘we will take them forward as part of our work to support freedom of religious belief for all’. Thanking the Minister for his response Lord Singh who is also Vice-Chair for All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) responded, ‘Sadly the appalling treatment of Christian minorities around the world is mirrored in the persecution of other religious minorities, including the appalling treatment of his Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan. In Afghanistan a once-prosperous Sikh community of more than 20,000 people has been reduced to a few hundred. Does the Minister agree that the underlying cause of religious persecution is the religious bigotry inherent in aggressive assertions that the one god of us all, way above human emotions, favours one group of humans to the exclusion of others?’

The Minister agreed with Lord Singh and was grateful for his work in this area. He said where Christians were persecuted, other minorities were likely to be persecuted as well. Other contributors to the debate included Co-Chair of APPG FoRB Baroness Berridge, Lord Anderson of Swansea, Lord Alderdice and the Lord Bishop of Ely.

Our Director Lord Singh of Wimbledon contributed to a debate on anti-Semitism secured by Baroness Berridge in the House of Lords this week.

He said, ‘I have visited Auschwitz and seen something of the horrors that thousands of Jews—innocent men, women and children—suffered. In the collective madness of the 1930s and 1940s, Jews were vilified not only in Germany but across much of Europe, including this country. As child I was frequently called a Jew by those who wished to hurt me. However, I believe that talk of a worldwide anti-Jewish conspiracy is misleading and, importantly, takes us away from the real problem which is the way in which unprincipled politicians play on ignorance and majority bigotry, regardless of the consequences suffered by others, to achieve their ends.’

Reflecting on the year we mark the 35th anniversary of the Sikh genocide in India and the persecution of Sikhs in Afghanistan today, he went on:

‘In Germany, Hitler blamed the Jews. In the India of 1984, it was the tiny Sikh minority. The killing of innocents in gas chambers is evil, but is it any more evil than dousing men, women and children with kerosene and burning them alive? In Hitler’s Germany, Jews were made to wear distinctive clothing to show their inferior status. More recently, a decimated Sikh community in Afghanistan has been made to wear distinguishing patches and to fly a yellow flag outside their homes to make them an easy target for majority bigotry. Majority bigotry knows no boundaries and, as my noble friend Lord Sacks reminded us, has no constraints.’

He added: ‘We like to believe prejudice is found in only a few. Sadly, it is far more widespread. We are all, in effect, hard-wired to be wary of difference. Unacceptable but understandable prejudice is easily manipulated to become irrational hatred. Since the Second World War, we have seen unspeakable acts of violence against targeted groups in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Bosnia, and I could go on. Special sympathy-seeking terms such as anti-Semitism or Islamophobia are understandable, but they take us away from the real problem, which is combating the more widespread bigotry suffered by all faiths. To borrow from Shakespeare, if Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and others are cut, do we not bleed? ‘

Concluding his speech Lord Singh said, ‘Taken to an extreme, this giving of special consideration to some groups at the expense of others is, at best, unintended racism. Bigotry will continue to flourish until, in the closing words of the Sikh daily prayer, we look beyond ourselves and our group to the well-being of all members of our one human family.’

Other contributors included Lord Pickles, Lord Sacks (the former Chief Rabbi), Lord Alton and Lord Finkelstein.

 

A Report commissioned by the Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has found that the persecution of Christians in many parts of the world amounts to what some see as near genocide. Millions of Christians have been uprooted from their homes, and many have been killed, kidnapped, imprisoned and discriminated against.

Sadly, the experience of Christians is mirrored in the experience of other faiths. Looking at my own faith, Sikhs are prohibited from opening a gurdwara in Saudi Arabia and most Middle East countries. In Afghanistan, a prosperous Sikh population of more than 20,000 has been reduced to a few hundred. Similarly, once thriving Sikh communities in Tehran and other cities in Iran, have almost disappeared without trace. Regular reports of the All Parliamentary Group for Freedom of Religion and Belief and other agencies, remind us of similar suffering of religious communities across the world.

A follow up report to examine the response of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to growing religious persecution will be published later this summer. I do hope that this will lead to positive initiatives to counter world-wide abuse of the UN Universal Declaration of the Right to Freedom of Religion and Belief.

I feel part of the problem is a failure of religious leaders to interpret religious texts in the context of today’s very different times. Candle lit vigils and expressions of religious solidarity following an atrocity are fine, but in the Sikh view such sentiments must also be carried to our different places of worship, to replace centuries of easily exploited bigotry and misunderstanding, with emphasis on respect and tolerance for all beliefs.

Two of the Sikh Gurus gave their lives stressing the importance of inter faith understanding. Sikh believe that our different faiths are like paths up a mountain towards an understanding of God through pursuing truth, equity and justice in our daily lives. The further we go, the greater the similarity of the view ahead. Guru Arjan, our 5th Guru, included some writings of Hindu and Muslim saints in our holy scripture the Guru Granth Sahib, to emphasise that no one faith has a monopoly of truth. The freedom to practise our religion, of whatever tradition, should be similarly valued as an important universal freedom in our strife torn world.

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