A couple of days ago I attended a Ministry of Justice meeting looking at ways of ensuring greater equality in the criminal justice system. We were given some impressive looking statistics on hate crime and the negative treatment of minority faiths. Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists were all covered, but when I inquired why there was no mention of Sikhs, I was told that the figures were based on complaints received and Sikhs rarely bothered to complain. At the time I thought this was simply an excuse for a flawed survey, but on reflection there’s some truth in what was said.
The Sikh Gurus taught that we should treat adversity as a new challenge. It’s an attitude of mind that has certainly come in handy over the years but it is not a valid excuse for a failure to highlight negative attitudes to Sikhs, which, from personal experience, have certainly increased since 9/11 with, some people in this country and abroad assuming turbaned Sikhs to be Muslim extremists.
When we went on to look at future policies, it was agreed that the key lay in much greater education, particularly in early schooling. Much has been said in recent days about free faith schools which fail to respect the culture of others. As a Sikh I believe that any school, free or otherwise that fails to teach an understanding of and respect for other ways of life, is a failing school and should be treated as such
Ignorance is a bit like a fog in which, like everyday objects, people from different cultures can appear frightening and menacing. Prejudice thrives on such ignorance and is difficult to remove once it becomes engrained in everyday attitudes and behaviour, making short superficial induction courses less likely to succeed.
But the responsibility for moving us to a fairer society does not just lie simply with government and bodies like the Ministry of Justice;
in the Sikh view, religions too have a real responsibility to work to remove self-created barriers of superiority, difference and exclusivity which add to suspicion and distrust at home and horrendous conflict abroad. As Guru Nanak taught, we all need to work together for greater fairness and true social justice for all members of our human family.