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We have reproduced in full (below) notes of minutes circulated to members of The Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) run All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for British Sikhs.

 APPG FOR SIKH FEDERATION

Notes on Meeting held 23-7-19 to examine the Supposed Rationale of referring to Sikhs as an Ethnic Group

Venue: The meeting took place 9.45 am Room W4

Attendees: Preet Gill MP, Pat McFadden MP, Dominic Grieve MP, Mike Gapes MP, Tanmanjit Dhesi MP (joined halfway through the meeting), Lord (Ranbir) Suri, Lord (Indarjit) Singh of Wimbledon.

(Initials will be used to attribute comments in this Note).

Background to Meeting

IS, concerned that the Federation, the successors of the formerly proscribed ISYF were misleading Members of House, had for months been asking for an opportunity to present a view on ethnic monitoring that was consistent with majority Sikh thinking and with Sikh theology. PG, averse to open discussion initially tried to prevent this, and later, successfully minimised attendance by delaying the meeting to a relatively early hour close to the recess. Correspondence also shows that her office had repeatedly refused to provide a list of MPs (who had supposedly signed support for the Federation), for them to be sent briefing documents and a note on the importance of open discussion on the issue.

The Meeting

At the start of the meeting, PG questioned the credentials of IS to speak on this issue and IS began to respond saying he was Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) the largest umbrella body of gurdwaras in the UK. When IS began to detail some of the main areas of activity, PG interrupted to say that was fine. [Details of NSO Activities are appended]

The Presentation

The detailed presentation, for which there was general agreement and appreciation, is appended.

Ethnic Group

In response to a statement by IS that no other world religion called itself an ethnic group, MG said that the Jewish community (which unlike Sikhs, accepts converts only through marriage), could be considered an ethnic group. IS agreed, saying that Jews had considered this but saw no advantage. It was noted by all that Jews and Muslims had gained much more by successful lobbying.

Supposed Practical Advantages of calling Sikhs an ethnic group.

PG said we should not bring Sikh theology into discussions on calling Sikhs an ethnic group. IS disagreed saying Sikh teachings must underpin all policies affecting the Sikh community.

PG, supported by PMcF, raised the issue of Sikh families who had come to her area of Smethwick from Italy, and their difficulties over housing. IS said that they deserved support, but masking religion as ethnicity would not help. Public sector housing is allocated on need and not on supposed ethnicity. Also, many Sikhs would feel it insulting and contrary to Sikh teachings to have a world religion open to all, reduced to a single ethnicity tied to Punjab. They would put their country of origin in the ethnic tick box and tick Sikhism under religion. It was, in an aside, agreed by all, that Sikhs had an above average home ownership.

Reality behind Federation demand for calling Sikhs an ethnic group.

IS explained that the Federation were deliberately conflating a misunderstanding of the limited nature of the Mandla case under the (now repealed) 1976 RR Act), to claim that Sikhs were an ethnic group per se, so that Sikhs could call themselves a nation (see their website). This would, in the Federation’s view, help them advance the case for a homeland in India. DG concurred that he was aware of this political dimension.

The downside of pursuing an ethnic category for Sikhs.

This is detailed in the attached Presentation.

At the meeting, IS also stressed that obsessional focusing on ethnic monitoring is diverting attention from unfairness and discrimination being suffered by Sikhs for being members of the Sikh Faith. The Government’s Hate Crime Action Plan gave 45 examples of hate crime suffered by members of the Abrahamic faiths. There was no mention of the suffering of Sikhs, Hindus and others. A FOI request by the NSO showed that the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group paid expenses to 11 members as well as supplying considerable government support. IS asked where is the Anti-Sikh Hatred Working Group? IS continued by reminding the meeting that the MET records most attacks on Sikh as Islamophobia. He also noted that the NSO was alone in their successful campaign to exclude Sikhs from being described as a Dharmic Faith in MHCLG correspondence. He added that no support was given to the NSO by the Federation in other areas of concern. He did not elaborate as DG indicated that he had another meeting to go to and because these issues were more internal to the Sikh community. Further information can be given if requested.

At the conclusion of the meeting, DG commented that the debate on ethnicity could be academic if the Federation won their case. He thanked IS for an informed and thought-provoking contribution.

The meeting ended at 10.35 am.

 

Preet Gill’s statement dated 25th March 2019 on the work of the APPG contains numerous inaccuracies and distortions. A few examples:

On Seva School Coventry she writes:

‘Lord Singh raised the issue of Seva School. As agreed, I wrote to the DFE and received a full and helpful response from Damian Hinds assuring us that the school would not be closed, and they had asked an outstanding Sikh academy trust to take over. I have been in contact with the regional school’s commissioner.’

The reality:

Correspondence is on record to show that she and the Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) – the APPG’s secretariat, have systematically tried to keep Sikhs in the Lords out of the APPG. Despite this, Lord Singh persuaded Lord Suri, to accompany him to a meeting of the APPG on 9th October 2018, at the request of Seva School to help them in fighting a DfE attempt to force the school to join the non-mainstream Nishkam multi-academy trust, rather than a mainstream Sikh Trust. The parent’s concerns were covered in Schools Week. The DfE were not being helpful as Preet Gill writes; they merely repeated their threat that unless Seva School joined Nishkam, considered a New Religious Movement by many Sikhs, they would close the school down. Preet Gill completely ignored the concerns of the Sikh community detailed by Lord Singh and Lord Suri.

Lord Singh and Lord Suri were made less than welcome at the meeting. In response to a query from Lord Singh as to why Sikhs from the Lords were being excluded from the APPG, Preet Gill said that a letter of invitation had been sent by Pat McFadden. Pat McFadden to his credit, openly disagreed, saying that no invitation had been sent to the Lords. Lord Singh said that the APPG office holders should include someone from the Lords. Preet Gill ignored his suggestion. In the meeting and subsequently, Lord Singh asked for minutes of the meeting be sent to him. Despite several requests, the SFUK which acts as secretariat to the APPG has not done this.

Lord Singh, Lord Suri and Baroness Verma have subsequently made their position clear. They strongly object to the extremist SFUK running an APPG which should be for ALL Sikhs in Parliament and are unwilling to be a part of the APPG while Preet Gill and SFUK are in charge. 

[Ends]

THE FACTS

 

  1. The Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) failed to brief their supporter Preet Gill MP, of the need to ensure protection for the kirpan in the early stages of the Offensive Weapons Bill (OWB).

 

 

  1. When this was pointed out to them, they met Ministers to introduce protection for ‘religious use’ (which was already protected by the law). They then rushed to self-congratulate with photos with ministers, completely failing to understand that the Bill would prohibit the cultural and ceremonial use of the kirpan.

 

  1. The SFUK should then have approached a Sikh member in the Lords to try to introduce an amendment to protect the cultural and ceremonial use of the kirpan.

 

  1. When their colleagues in the Sikh Council suggested this, they argued strongly against Sikhs in the Lords being involved even if the opportunity for protection was lost. They felt that this would draw attention to their incompetence in briefing Preet Gill MP. True Sikhs would have put the needs of the community before their own egos.

 

  1. Lord Singh, aware of the omission, contacted the relevant 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.

 

  1. 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 vulnerable. Lord 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

 

  1. What SFUK are now saying in their jealous tweets, about Lord Singh omitting the religious significance of the kirpan, had already been said by Lord Singh and others at Grand Committee.

 

  1. It is much harder to get an amendment to a Bill in the Lords than in the Commons, and the Home Office (advised by an anti-Sikh group) said that it was difficult to protect a larger kirpan unless there was a clear and easily recognisable description of its physical appearance. Sikhs in the Lords and their supporters saw this as a red herring to create doubt in the minds of the government. A kirpan, whatever its physical appearance, should be protected by legislation for religious and cultural use. There is nothing wrong in saying that in physical appearance a kirpan is a sword to ensure its protection in law.

 

  1. Following the discussions at Report Stage, government officials have had a further meeting with Lord Singh in working towards a suitable amendment to cover Sikh concerns.

 

The SFUK in their continuing efforts to smear those that are trying to protect Sikh symbols and identity, while speaking and writing about the uplifting teachings of our Gurus, are again underlining their anti-Sikh agenda.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) write:

Last week Lord Singh the 86-year old peer who has positioned himself successfully in the wider public and the government as the only voice of the Sikh community for almost the last 40 years..

Comment:

  1. Why the ageist reference? According to Sikh teachings, it is not age, but ability and commitment that count.
  2. Referring to ‘the 86-year-old peer’ is better than a previous SFUK description ‘a dinosaur’. What is it about the SFUK and references to age?
  3. The SFUK in its different forms has been around for nearly 40 years. Why is it that this one individual has done more to promote an understanding of Sikh teachings in the government and wider public than the whole of SFUK put together?

 

 SFUK write:

Lord Singh has also been overshadowed in Parliament for the last 18 months by the energetic Preet Kaur Gill, the first Sikh woman MP who became a shadow Minister within months of being elected and Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, the first turban wearing Sikh MP. Lord Singh is no longer the only Sikh politician that government, fellow Parliamentarians and the media turn to.

Comment:

This childish ‘you’re not the only one,’ is simply school playground jealousy. The more Sikh MPs, the better.

SFUK write:

However, what Lord Singh failed to disclose in the debate is he is the one and only life-time Director of the NSO.  It now emerges he may not have declared this for the last seven years in the Register of Lords’ Interests, since he became a Lord in October 2011.

 

Comment:

I am not a lifetime director. All power lies with the elected Executive. They can sack me any time. It is an honorary post for which I do not receive a penny. In last month’s AGM, I specifically requested a diminution in my responsibilities.

Our website will confirm that membership of the NSO requires a commitment to live and propagate Sikh teachings. I believe, that as the first turban wearing Sikh in Parliament, this commitment is seen whenever I stand up to speak. It is appreciation of this commitment to uplifting Sikh teachings that enabled me to get cross-part support for the Amendment.

Why I stated in the debate that the government should consult with myself and the NSO in discussing any reservations about the amendment.

It was I who raised the issue at Second Reading. It was I who subsequently requested a meeting with the Minister, Baroness Williams and her advisers. It was I who had discussions with Lord Kennedy and Lord Paddick.

At the conclusion of my meeting with Baroness Williams it was agreed that they would come back to me. Instead of doing this as courtesy requires, they, ‘in the innocent belief that they are all the same’, then spoke to the SFUK who were naturally unable to respond to the points raised. But for them speaking to the wrong people, the Amendment would have received unanimous approval at Grand Committee. The Government have already apologised for this.

My comment that SFUK does not speak for all Sikhs

I mentioned this because it is true. If it were not true, SFUK would not have lost power in gurdwaras in Leicester, Southampton and their former stronghold in Wolverhampton.

The APPG for British Sikhs

I said the APPG for Sikhs and SFUK were one and the same, because this is true. The Chair is a SFUK sympathiser who appointed them to be its secretariat. There is only one other Sikh member. Four Sikhs in the House of Lords were excluded from its inaugural meeting.

Indarjit

Lord Singh of Wimbledon Director Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) 

Our Director Lord Singh intervened in a debate on the second reading of the Offensive Weapons Bill earlier this week to ensure the Sikh practice of honouring people with full-length kirpans is fully protected under law. As it stands, the draft Bill retains the existing legal protection for the religious use of a kirpan, however ‘honourary’ kirpans – given to dignitaries (not just Sikhs) as an appreciation of service, would fall outside the proposed legislation and be criminalised. This concern was not addressed in either the Commons debate or in the minor wording change in the ‘photo op’ meeting of the Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) with government officials.

During the debate on Monday, Lord Singh said: ‘My Lords, I too believe that the Bill is both timely and necessary. As a Sikh, I would like to voice my appreciation of the sensitivity shown by the protection of the existing right of Sikhs to wear a short kirpan for religious reasons. However, it appears that the common Sikh practice of presenting a full-length kirpan, or sword, as a token of esteem or appreciation to those who have made a significant contribution to Sikh ideals, such as tolerance and respect for other faiths, has been overlooked and is not currently protected.’

He added: ‘The recipients of this honour do not have to be Sikhs. I have made presentations on behalf of the Sikh community to His Royal Highness Prince Charles, when he joined us as the main guest at a major function at the Royal Albert Hall, and to the late Lord Weatherill, the former Speaker of the House of Commons, for his work with the Sikh community in India and Britain. Years earlier, the Sikh community in Leicester honoured Sir John Templeton, founder of the Templeton Prize, after he awarded me the UK equivalent, for furthering religious understanding.

For Sikhs, this custom is no less important than the protection given in the Bill to the use of a sword for theatrical performances or for its keeping for historical reasons. Unfortunately, the presentation and keeping of this token of esteem is not protected in the proposed legislation. It is important that, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, so eloquently put it, we do not criminalise people unintentionally. On behalf of the UK Sikh community, I will seek a small amendment to the existing wording to ensure that the presentation and receipt of this traditional ceremonial Sikh honour remains protected.’

The Offensive Weapons Bill (sponsored by the home secretary Sajid Javid) was published on 20th June 2018 and is now scheduled to go to committee stage in the House of Lords.[i] The Bill covers three types of weapon – acid, knives and offensive weapons, and firearms. Although SFUK issued a statement on 21st November 2018 describing an amendment to the Bill (coordinated by Preet Gill MP) for ‘larger’ kirpans titled, ‘Kirpan victory: Ministers listen and back Sikh community’, it transpires this so called ‘victory’ was a premature celebration as it didn’t do what was needed, that is, cover ‘honourary’ kirpans. The NSO with support of concerned members of the Sikh Council UK aims to ensure the kirpan is given full protection under law and cross-party peers agree it is necessary.

[i] https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2017-19/offensiveweapons.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On 23 July 2018 the APPG for British Sikhs, which is run by the Sikh Federation UK, announced they had written to 250 gurdwaras asking them if they supported their campaign for a separate Sikh ethnic tick box for the 2021 census. They say they received just over one hundred responses, confirming: ‘in a remarkable show of unity all 112 Gurdwaras, that include the largest Gurdwaras in the UK, have indicated they are in favour of a separate Sikh ethnic tick box.’

The figure of 112 was reported in the Times and has been something referred to in a number of articles in the mainstream media. We now have concerns about whether or not this number is accurate. A tweet by @SikhFedUK on 23 August 2018 (above) suggested Hounslow gurdwara (Alice Way) were one of the 112 that wrote to the APPG for British Sikhs in support of the ethnic tick box.

We asked Hounslow gurdwara if this was the case or not. The Joint General Secretary told us: ‘I was surprised to hear that allegedly, Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha Hounslow had changed its position on Sikhi not being an ethnic group. Having checked with the President and the General Secretary today (both copied on this email), I confirm that we stand with the NSO and have not changed our position. We are of the view Sikhi is a religion made up of diverse ethnicity which cannot be classed as a single ethnic group.’

We have asked the Sikh Federation UK for comment, but they haven’t yet responded.

Interestingly, when Dr Jagbir Jhutti-Johal from the University of Birmingham raised legitimate questions in an article titled ‘Sikh ethnic tick box in the 2021 Census and a question about research and methodology’, she was bombarded with vitriolic tweets, some deliberately tagged into her employers. Given what we now know about Hounslow, should the secretariat to the APPG for British Sikhs not urgently release the list of 112 gurdwaras, briefing supplied and responses received?

article from archive following Mandla in 1983

Difficulties

Supposed support by MPs and the APPG for British Sikhs

Speaking to a number of MPs, including some of those who have given support to the Sikh ethnic tick box, confirms that few have any understanding of Sikh teachings against artificial and divisive groupings of our one human race; nor were they clear of the supposed benefits of describing Sikhs as an ethnic group. Those who signed did so because they were told that this is what their Sikh constituents wanted.

Supposed support in the Sikh Community

Gurdwaras are generally unaware of the pros and cons of ethnic monitoring. Some, that have voiced support for a Sikh ethnic tick box, say they did so because they are stridently opposed to the alternative of describing themselves as ‘Indian’, because of still lingering anger over the state-sponsored genocide against Sikhs in 1984. Many others are of the view that calling ourselves an ethnic group as opposed to Indian is a step towards creating distinct ‘quam’ (national) identity and the creation of a separate Sikh State in India.

While the emotive appeal is very real, it has nothing to do with the 2021 census. It also ignores basic Sikh teachings on the absurdity of creating artificial divisions in our one human family – particularly in the pursuit of supposed material gain. It should also be remembered that some of the organisations lobbying for support for a Sikh ethnic tick box, like the Sikh Federation UK, and the Sikh Network, etc, are all run by the same small group of people, who also have a dominant voice in the Sikh Council.

Reality of support in the Sikh community

The overwhelming attitude of most gurdwaras to a Sikh ethnic tick box in the census is a lack of understanding and relevance. If told that that a Sikh ethnic tick box will benefit the ‘quam’ (Sikh nation), they will probably quickly sign support and get back, to what they regard as, the more important business of providing a service to their sangat (congregation). If however, the real pros and cons are explained and discussed, interest is more sustained, and attitudes are often quite different.

At the suggestion of ONS officers, a meeting was arranged in Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara Hounslow, with a representative of the ONS present. Presentations were made by the NSO and the Sikh Federation UK and, after discussion for more than an hour, the proposal for a Sikh ethnic tick box in the next census was totally rejected by members of the Gurdwara Committee.

The Sikh ethnic tick box proposal has also been totally rejected in other gurdwaras, where both the pros and cons have been explained and discussed by Committee members, most recently at the gurdwara in Edinburgh.

Suggestion

The only real way to assess whether Sikhs in the UK are prepared to over-ride essential Sikh teachings for unquantified material gain, is by open public debate monitored, and perhaps presided over, by the ONS. Unfortunately, this repeated suggestion by the NSO has been met with personal abuse from the Sikh Federation UK in its different guises.

My repeated request to be allowed to address the APPG for British Sikhs (from which I and other Sikhs in Parliament have been excluded) has also been consistently ignored, as has my request for open debate on any London Sikh TV Channel, Why? My hope is that we show that we are mature enough to discuss such issues rationally and respectfully, always bearing Sikh teachings in mind.

Lord (Indarjit) Singh of Wimbledon, Director Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO)

As many will know we have strenuously opposed the Sikh Federation UK’s (SFUK) ill conceived campaign to classify ‘Sikh’ as an ethnicity for many years.

In recent months this increasingly divisive debate has become the subject of significant mainstream media coverage, including an article in the Times last month. The  article ‘Sikhs may get ethnicity status’ instigated another flurry of debate and conversation for and against.

Meanwhile during this period, some exchanges on social media turned rather unpleasant, troubling and on occasion personal. Our Director responded to the Times article with a letter (below).

 

To help provide a summary of arguments against we refer to the following Q&A and a short summary below. We have spoken to many Sikhs who are undecided whether the SFUK campaign is a good idea or not, and this is largely based on not understanding the issues at hand. Some elements are admittedly complex. We hope the explanation below which has been shared with key stakeholders and decision makers, provides absolute clarity for those grappling with this important issue. In short Sikhism is a great world faith open to all, it is not an ethnic group.

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