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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.

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.

(above) Sikhs participating in a vigil following the Wisconsin gurdwara massacre in 2012

This week the government announced a ‘refresh’ of Action Against Hate (2016) their four-year hate crime action plan, to ‘address specific concerns across all 5 monitored strands of hate crime.’ New measures like a Law Commission review into whether additional protected characteristics like misogyny and age should be legislated for, and ministerial round tables to specifically address Muslim and Jewish concerns headlined. However, despite being subject to serious violence and hostility since 9/11, the ‘refresh’ has managed to marginalised British Sikhs yet again. This has been particularly galling for the NSO for the following reasons:

  • Our Director has expressed Sikh concerns in numerous debates in the House of Lords
  • We’ve provided detailed evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee on hate crime and violent consequences over two consecutive years (2017/18)
  • We’ve written about the issue in the print media and discussed it on BBC Radio
  • We unearthed data (through FOI) showing significant numbers of non-Muslims and those of no recorded faith are being recorded as victims of ‘Islamophobic hate crime’ by the MET police, and gone onto successfully push for disaggregation of religious hate crime
  • We’ve got a correction from the Evening Standard reporting on increased ‘Islamophobic hate crime’ in London, to clarify the attacks, in accordance with the FOI data are not solely against British Muslims
  • In partnership with Hindu groups, we lobbied the government to address reporting issues for Hindus and Sikhs, and they responded with a specific policy (announced in January 2017) to help both communities report hate crime via True Vision

Although Sikh groups like the NSO, The Sikh Council, The Sikh Federation UK and City Sikhs have all expressed concerns about Action Against Hate (2016) when it was first published, the ‘refresh’ makes it clear the government is unwilling to address the wider ramifications of Islamophobia on Sikhs, or the ‘Muslim looking other’. A simple acknowledgment that Sikhs face Islamophobia would have allayed concerns. Like us, many will be right to ask the government why ministerial ‘round tables’ are the preserve of Jews and Muslims, and why the True Vision project announced in 2017 has still not been implemented.

Sikh man being surrounded and attacked by mobs in 1984.

Earlier this month the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO), Lord Singh of Wimbledon highlighted India’s persecution of Sikhs in 1984 during a debate on international declaration of genocides.

The debate in which many peers contributed was in relation to Lord Alton’s question to Her Majesty’s Government, ‘what steps they are taking to change the way formal international declarations of genocide or crimes against humanity are made and to further the expeditious prosecution of those responsible.’

Many of the contributors raised the genocide committed by ISIS against the Yazidis/Christians, and referred to the ongoing crisis in Burma. Genocides in the 1990s like those in Rwanda and Srebrenica were also mentioned during the discussion. Referring to the 1984 Sikh genocide and pointing to conflicting government trade interests, Lord Singh said an independent arbitration of the determination of genocide could be made by the High Court as suggestion by Lord Alton.

He said, ‘Every year we commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day and remember the systematic killing of and brutal atrocities against the Jewish community. Every year we remember and say “Never again”, but since the end of the Second World War we have seen many more systematic attempts to eliminate whole communities simply because of a difference of religion or culture. Worldwide revulsion at such inhuman behaviour led to the 1951 UN convention on crimes of genocide, including incitement to group murder.’

He went on: ‘By any measure, the deliberate mass killing of Sikhs in 1984 meets the necessary criteria, yet no action has been taken against government Ministers seen inciting rampaging mobs. The 30th anniversary of these killings coincided with the announcement of UK government support for an inquiry into the mass killing of Tamils in Sri Lanka. In a debate in this House, I asked for a similar inquiry into the mass killing of Sikhs in India and gave details of the scale of the atrocities: state-controlled All India Radio constantly repeating a message inciting people to kill Sikhs, the use of municipal buses to ferry groups of killers around New Delhi, the beating and burning of male Sikhs and the gang-raping of women and young girls. I concluded by asking Her Majesty’s Government to support the establishment of an international inquiry into the killings. But India ​is an important UK trading partner, and the curt answer from the Government was that that was a matter for the Indian Government.’

He continued. ‘Despite the setting up of the International Criminal Court in 2002 to prosecute genocide, offenders continue to escape punishment. Only countries that sign up to the ICC can be prosecuted, and some, such as the United States and India, fearing possible prosecution, simply do not sign up to membership. Other drawbacks are that the ICC cannot investigate crimes committed prior to its establishment, and there is no proper mechanism for pursuing possible genocide committed by militant groups such as Daesh against the Yazidis and other minorities in Syria. As has been mentioned, Governments are reluctant to raise questions of human rights abuse with important trading partners. We must face reality. Even when ethically untenable, considerations of so-called strategic interest in trade tend to trump abuse of human rights. The only long-term strategic interest for us all is to move to a world free from such recurrent genocides. To do this, we must take responsibility for examining possible genocide away from the conflicting and understandable pulls of government and give it to a wholly independent arbiter, such as the High Court, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I strongly support his wise and far-seeing lead.’

(Above: Afghan Sikhs carrying a coffin of one of the victims of the Jalalabad suicide bombing)

Following the deadly suicide bombing in Jalalabad targeting Afghanistan’s Sikh and Hindu minority the NSO has flagged its concerns with the government and taken steps to raise the issue with the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB).

You only have to look at the declining numbers of minorities to realise the gravity of persecution they face in Muslim majority Afghanistan. Prior to the collapse of Kabul government in 1992, there were 220,000 Sikhs and Hindus in the country, and today only 220 or so families remain. Sikhs and Hindus need police protection to cremate their dead as it is deemed offensive to Muslims, they are forced to pay the jizya or ‘tax of humiliation’, and are fearful their women and daughters will be kidnapped and converted to Islam.

Afghan Sikhs we’ve spoken to in London have told us it is now time for Sikhs to leave Afghanistan and seek sanctuary elsewhere. The victims of the Jalalabad attack included Awtar Singh Khalsa who had planned to stand for parliament in elections this October.

In light of this most recent atrocity, our Director Lord Singh has asked the government 1. What discussions they intend to have with the Afghan authorities to safeguard the security and right to freedom of belief 2. What representations they intend to make to the government of India to encourage them to grant asylum to victims and families 3. Whether Britain intends to offer asylum to the families of those who were killed. We will be sharing the response received from Ministers.

We’ve also contacted the APPG for FoRB to ask them to follow up on this issue and include the persecution of Afghanistan’s minority faiths on the agenda for their next meeting.

News of the Jalalabad attack comes in the wake of a case highlighted by Justice Upheld involving a Pakistani Sikh forced to go on the run having received a fatwa (to kill him) by the Taliban. His only crime in the eyes of Islamists – the setting up of a Sikh school in Peshawar.

(Image above right, courtesy: Kashi House)

The Network of Sikh Organisations is delighted to be hosting the official launch of Pav Singh’s eagerly awaited book, 1984: India’s Guilty Secret (published by Kashi House) in the House of Lords on the evening of 1 Nov 2017.

The event was sold out within an hour of publicity and promises to be both engaging and thought provoking. The format will include a Q&A with the author, and will be hosted by our Director Lord Singh of Wimbledon.

The book can be purchased via link below:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/1984-Indias-Guilty-Pav-Singh/dp/1911271083

The extraordinary contribution of Indian soldiers to the Great War effort was highlighted with launch of the ‘Legacy of Valour’ exhibition in Parliament last week.

The exhibition marked the inordinate contribution of 1.5m Indian soldiers who fought in the many theatres of war during 1914-18. The exhibition launch last Monday was attended by His Excellency Mr. Y.K. Sinha (Indian High Commissioner), Baroness Flather, Lord Singh of Wimbledon and Reading West MP Alok Sharma.

Organiser Inderpal Singh Dhanjal said that the overwhelming reaction of those who attended the opening ceremony was that it was both inspirational and informative. Mr Dhanjal said attendees told him the exhibition “must be shown in other cities to educate and raise awareness of the sacrifices of Sikh and other Indian soldiers in WW1.”

Although the exhibition in Parliament is now closed, Mr Dhanjal informed the NSO he is in negotiations with interested parties and will be organising another viewing in the South East.

 

 

Sri Guru Singh Sabha gurdwara Southall

Sri Guru Singh Sabha gurdwara Southall

The Home Secretary’s recent visit to Southall gurdwara to discuss hate crime is a welcomed gesture of goodwill, but has the government’s biased approach to non-Abrahamic faiths changed? The visit on 21 December 2016 came subsequent to a letter we addressed to the Home Secretary on 30 Nov 2016. Despite chasing, we’ve yet to receive a response. During the intervening period however, the Home Secretary has managed to accommodate a visit to Southall gurdwara to discuss ‘the importance of tackling hate crime against Sikhs.’ Regrettably comments from Sikhs who met the Home Secretary during the visit have been unhelpful.

The NSO has long been highlighting the government’s inadequate approach in tackling hate crime against non-Abrahamic religions. During this time, concerns have been raised with both the Home Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). Remarkably, the government’s hate crime action plan ‘Action Against Hate’ failed to acknowledge the suffering of Sikhs, Hindus and other non-Abrahamic faiths. Furthermore we understand that non-Muslims are still being recorded incorrectly under the ‘Islamophobic hate crime’ category, despite revealing this through FOI last year. This is simply not good enough.

We are not aware of a single government funded project to tackle the suffering of Sikhs or Hindus, nor is there a separate government funded hate crime monitor for either community. News that a gurdwara has made a successful bid for improving security through a Home Office scheme is welcome. We were also heartened when Greg Clarke, (former Secretary of State for DCLG) wrote to Lord Singh last year, confirming religious hate crime would be dissagregated come April 2017. However it’s clear much more needs to be done in order to create a level playing field.

For the sake of transparency we’ve decided to publish last year’s letter to the Home Secretary, which was supported by other leading Sikh and Hindu organisations.

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