The Judiciary of England and Wales and the Ministry of Justice are encouraging people from all walks of life and different faiths to apply to become magistrates, to help keep their communities safer. The campaign is also part of efforts to make the magistracy better reflect the diversity of British society today.
Statistics on the diversity of the magistracy in England and Wales over the last five years show an increase in magistrates from underrepresented groups. This includes people aged under 50 (currently 18% of the local judiciary), people from an ethnic minority background (currently 13% of the local judiciary) and women (around 57% of the magistracy).
Although this is a step in the right direction, there is still further to go to ensure that the magistracy is representative of all communities that it serves. This includes the Sikh community, which accounts for over 524,000 people in England and Wales.
What is a magistrate?
A magistrate is a volunteer that sits in criminal, family and/or youth courts. Magistrates often work closely in groups of three alongside a legal adviser who provides expertise on matters of law, practice and procedure. No legal qualifications or experience are needed to join the bench. All volunteers are given training and legal support to reach decisions on cases.
Anyone between the ages of 18 to 74 who are able to commit to at least 13 days a year for at least five years can volunteer as a magistrate. As part of the bench, you will have the opportunity to learn new skills, enjoy new challenges and become part of a network of other magistrates within your community.
Sikh magistrates have stepped forward to discuss the many benefits that the role has bought to their lives and the different skills they have gained.
Baljit, from Derby, is a Learning Consultant at E.ON . She has been a magistrate for over five years. She applied for the role because she wanted to give back to her local community. Being of Indian heritage, she wanted to ensure greater representation in the magistracy.
On her role as a magistrate, Baljit said: “Being a part of the magistracy is a great learning experience. I’ve discovered so much about myself and about people with different backgrounds to my own. The role is a real eye-opener and encourages you to look at a situation from different perspectives before making a decision – an invaluable skill. You don’t need any legal background or experience as you are fully supported by legal advisers to help with the decision-making process. If you’re interested in helping others within your community, I would urge you to apply.”
Pam from Walsall works as a Regional Enterprise Director at NatWest and has been a magistrate for over seven years. She joined as she is passionate about diversity and inclusion, and wanted to help contribute to a more diverse bench.
On her role as a magistrate, Pam said: “One of the highlights of the role for me is knowing you are supporting the community and paying it forward. It is also very rewarding knowing you have made a difference to someone at a critical time in their life. If you’re interested in creating positive change in society while learning new skills, I urge you to apply to join the magistracy today.”
Justice Minister Mike Freer said: “Ordinary people up and down the country play a vital role as magistrates help to ensure that crimes in their community are penalised, and we want more people to join them.
I am always impressed by the people I meet who volunteer their time and experience from all walks of life and I would encourage anyone with a desire to help victims get justiceto apply.”
As part of the application to sit in the criminal court, applicants are required to observe at least two magistrates’ sittings in court. This is an opportunity to learn more about the role and see magistrates in action. Cases heard in the magistrates’ court can include domestic abuse, drug offences, motoring offences, theft, assaults, criminal damage and public order offences.
Family court hearings are heard in private so public observations are not possible. To apply to sit in the family court, applicants must complete research into the family court. This may include watching videos and reading information found on icanbeamagistrate.co.uk. Family court magistrates can have a significant impact on a child’s life and a family’s future. They make decisions that affect vulnerable children, such as enforcing child maintenance orders and protecting children subject to significant harm, so they move to a safe environment.
Magistrates typically develop highly transferrable skills such as critical analysis, complex problem-solving, mediation, influencing and decision-making, all of which stand to benefit them in their wider lives. Research conducted in 2021 by the Ministry of Justice among HR and business leaders showed people who volunteer as magistrates were likely to have sound judgement (89%) and effective decision-making (81%).
Any study of Sikh teachings and Sikh history will show that the Gurus’ teachings differ from other religions in that, while giving advice on responsible living, they also reach out to recognise important commonalities between faiths.
Sikh teachings emphasise ‘sarbat ka bhalla,’ looking to the wellbeing of all members of our one human family. The far-sighted teachings of our Gurus predate, by some four centuries, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights drawn up in the aftermath of the Second World war, as essential for the survival of what the Declaration also terms, our one human family.
Sikhism is a religion that is open to all, not only for personal improvement, but also with a commitment to work for the wellbeing of wider society. It has nothing whatever to do with ethnicity, which by definition refers to transient differences in social and cultural practices.
Why the obsession with ethnicity among some Sikhs?
The Mandla Case
In the early eighties, a Sikh schoolboy was sent home from school on the grounds that wearing a turban was against the school rules. The turban was a religious symbol and under the 1976 Race Relations Act religious discrimination was perfectly legal.
Ethnicity however was a protected characteristic. I advised the then Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) that as most Sikhs then in the UK were born in the Punjab, we had a good chance of winning protection on the grounds of Punjabi ethnic origin. We won protection of Sikh religious identity through the loophole of ethnicity.
Today, the loophole of Punjabi ethnicity would not apply as most Sikhs in the UK were born in the UK. Nor is it necessary because discrimination against religion is now against the law.
Ethnicity and the 2021 Census
Cynically ignoring the Gurus’ teachings on the oneness of our human family, the Sikh Federation UK have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds, promoting themselves as defenders of an exclusive Sikh ethnicity, ignoring the fact that religious belief has nothing to do with ethnic origin. We have asked the SFUK how much exactly was spend and what proportion of these funds were donated by the sangat, but they gave not responded to us. Gurdwaras in places like Wolverhampton and Southampton have been depleted of gurdwara funds.
Sikh responses in the 2021 Census
Sikh responses showed that the UK Sikh community totally rejected SFUK’s attempt to conflate ethnicity with religious identity. 99.7% of Sikhs confirmed their commitment to Sikhism.
Only 0.3% – 1,725 identified with ethnicity alone, rather than with Sikhism, as a faith. Of this group, more than half did not record their religion, 13.6 per cent said they were Muslim, 8.7 per cent Christian, and 12 per cent no religion.
Dabinderjit Singh (who likes to pluck figures from the air) – stated the ONS was wrong in recording the UK Sikh population to be some 526,000. It is, he maintained, nearer to 900,000.
Dr Jasdev Rai acknowledged that the SFUK’s campaign to declare Sikhs an ethnic group had come to a ‘dead end.’ However, his cunning plan was to say that Sikhs are not members of a religion but, a ‘quam’ or ‘dharam’ and, as that these words have no English translation, he maintained, with Baldrick logic, Sikhs should be given a special status.
Dabinderjit Singh, who supports the SFUK’s claim on Sikh ethnicity with the Mandla case (which was decided in part on the premise that most Sikhs at the time of the ruling were born in Punjab), went on to contradict SFUK’s central argument for separate Sikh ethnicity, by also stating 3/4 of UK Sikhs in the 2021 Census were born in the UK.
Dr Jasdev Rai, setting aside his own ‘think tank’ credentials, claimed that intellectuals were responsible for all the problems in the Sikh community.
Dabinderjit Singh when challenged by S Gurnam Singh, said he would be happy to give a full account of the spending (of what is reported to be over one hundred thousand pounds for one judicial review alone[i] – there were three) in campaigning and litigation for a Sikh ethnic tick box. He then went on a peculiar tangent and asked how much the NSO had spent in promoting Punjabi ethnicity.
NSO Comment: The NSO have consistently stated that Sikhism is a world religion open to all and not limited by ethnicity. We have not spent a single penny promoting Punjabi ethnicity.
Given Dabinderjit Singh agreed to disclose the legal costs involved, can the British Sikh community now have the full details of SFUK’s spending in relation to three judicial reviews on their claim that Sikhs are a separate ethnic group?
Give the gift of life after your death, please talk to your family. This will give them the certainty that they need to support your decision at a difficult time. Talk about your faith, what the Gurus say.
Organ donation is when a healthy organ is given to someone who needs it. Thousands of lives are saved every year by organ transplants. For many patients in need of a transplant the best match will come from a donor from the same ethnic background. Kidney donors and recipients are matched by blood group and tissue type, and people from the same ethnic background are more likely to have matching blood groups and tissues. For other organs there is a need to match blood groups, but less of, or no requirement to match tissue types. People can donate organs and tissues whilst they are alive, but today we’re mainly going to discuss organ donation after death.
Due to a shortage of suitably matched donors, Black, Asian and minority ethnic patients often have to wait significantly longer for a successful match than white patients. If more people with these ethnic backgrounds donated their organs after death, or as a living donor, then transplant times would reduce.
Most donated organs come from people who have severe brain injury in which really important parts of the brain that are vital to maintain life are damaged. These patients receive treatment on a ventilator in an intensive care unit. When these areas of the brain become damaged, the chance of survival is very low and the patients are essentially kept alive by machines.
When all efforts to save the patient have failed, death is certified by a doctor who is completely independent of the transplant team. It is important to remember that the patient is the priority of the doctors. NHS staff are committed to saving lives; they do everything in their power to avoid the death of patients.
A panel of doctors have to declare the deceased as brain dead before the organs can be taken out. People who die of natural causes are usually not able to donate, because the donor’s heart must be beating recently for the organs to remain alive and viable for transplantation.
Organs that can be donated by people who have died include the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreas, and small bowel. Tissues such as skin, bone, heart valves and corneas also can be used to help others. One donor can help save up to 50 lives. During organ donation, the donor is kept alive by a ventilator, which their family may choose to remove. When organs are removed by the medical team, the body remains as intact as possible. The removal of organs is carried out with the greatest care and respect. The family can see the body afterwards and staff can contact the religious leader if the family wishes.
There is no age limit for organ donation. The oldest donor was 92 years old in the USA, in May 2020. There are a few certain conditions that will limit patients from donating, but the doctors will be aware of this at the time of donation. You can find out more information on the NHS website.
England has an opt-out system. This means that all adults in England have agreed to potentially become an organ donor when they die and can choose to opt-out if they wish. However, just because you’re on the register it doesn’t mean that when you die your organs will automatically be donated. At the time of death, the family is always involved in the decision and their consent is still needed in order for organs to be donated. It is therefore really important that you discuss the possibility of organ donation with your family beforehand, so that they are informed of what happens and are aware that this is a possibility.
At the time of death, the family will likely be processing a lot of thoughts and there is only a short window in which to donate, so a conversation beforehand is of utmost importance. It is a difficult and emotional conversation to have but will potentially save many lives. You can find out more information on the NHS website and by talking to your doctor.
Sikh teachings about organ donation
The Sikh philosophy and teachings place great emphasis on the importance of giving and putting others before oneself.
Importance of service
ਮੁਇਆ ਗੰਢ ਨੇਕੀ ਸਤੁ ਹੋਇ। p 143 Guru Granth Sahib (heron inward GGS)
The dead sustains their bond with the living through virtuous deeds
The true servants of God are those who serve Him through helping others.
There is only one certainty that physical life comes to end. Life is grounded in death. Death is the natural progression of life.
Physical death for everyone
Physical death is certainty
We all are in queue waiting for death
The death is the return of the basic elements to their origins.
Like water in the water of the sea and the wave in the stream, I shall merge with God. Meeting with the supreme soul, my soul shall become impartial like the air.
The Sikh faith stresses the importance of performing noble deeds. There are many examples of Sikhs doing selfless service such as giving free food, groceries, and oxygen to the victims of coronavirus COVID-19.
‘It is entirely consistent with the spirit of service that we consider donating organs after death to give life and hope to others. In my family we all are for donating organs after death and would encourage others to do so.’ Right Honourable the Lord Singh of Wimbledon CBE, Director Network of Sikh Organisations, UK
Donating one’s organ to another so that the person may live is one of the greatest gifts and ultimate seva to humankind.
Seva or selfless service is at the core of being a Sikh: to give without seeking reward or recognition and know that all seva is known to and appreciated by the Eternal. Seva can also be donation of one’s organ to another. There are no taboos attached to organ donation in Sikhi nor is there a requirement that a body should have all its organs intact at or after death. Physical body is only a vassal in its journey, left behind and dissolved into elements.
‘One of Sikhism’s most basic messages-as advocated by Guru Nanak is for a human being to be of service to humanity. I believe every Sikh who has understood and inculcated this aspect of spirituality would consider his or her greatest honour to be of use to another human being in death. It certainly would be for me.’ Says Sikh scholar and writer, Dr Karminder Singh.
I end with the wisdom of our Guru, the Guru Granth Sahib:
The Sikh community with the support of the DfE have made tremendous efforts to establish their local faith schools over the last three decades. Most of the schools are thriving and outcomes are high however when a school seriously underperforms and is threatened for academisation or re-brokerage, the issues can rapidly become highly sensitive for the local community. In some cases, this is due to the increasingly complex religious sectarian issues within the Sikh community. The NSO have been involved in tackling such situations which can lead to tensions between the DfE and the Sikh community which in some cases have led to complex, lengthy and costly legal challenges.
History has shown that when Sikh faith schools have underperformed, the reasons can be varied and complex. Local political barriers can sometimes prevent rapid school improvement support and system leadership to be provided to standalone academies or in some cases to schools within a multi-academy trust.
The NSO have introduced a range of school improvement services to help support rapid school intervention and support to enable the school to recover and at the same time provide confidence to the regulators that academisation or re-brokerage can be avoided.
Our school improvement services are provided by individuals that work closely with the NSO and are often experienced headteachers who are or have run outstanding schools as well as field experts in specialised areas such governance, safeguarding, curriculum and SEND provision. The NSO will provide these school improvement partners directly to schools who will pay them for the support. The amount of intervention will depend on the needs of the school and vary from a few days per term to longer in some cases.
JUSTICE COMMITTEE HATE CRIME AND PUBLIC ORDER (SCOTLAND) BILL
SUPPLEMENTARY SUBMISSION FROM NETWORK OF SIKH ORGANISATIONS
The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) is a registered charity no.1064544 that links more than 130 UK gurdwaras and other UK Sikh organisations in active cooperation to enhance the image and understanding of Sikhism in the UK.
This submission is supplementary to our original REF: J/S5/20/HC/1756 dated 17th September 2020 and our 2nd submission dated 16th November 2020 REF: J/S5/20/HC/1771, which followed the oral hearing on 10th November 2020 in which our Deputy-Director Hardeep Singh gave evidence to the Justice Committee alongside several other organisations. This 3rd submission is in response to consideration of options tabled for a new overarching free speech clause, which has been proposed by the Secretary for Justice.
1.1Previously agreed clause for protecting free speech when it comes to matters of religion and belief
We are surprised that only two of the options offered for review as a ‘catch all’ free speech provision by the Secretary for Justice, include an already agreed amendment when it comes to protecting free speech when discussing matters of religion and belief. This was approved unanimously by the committee last week and something we raised along with others in oral evidence to the Justice Committee, and in our previous written submissions. The new and controversial ‘stirring up hatred’ offences must include free speech clauses to protect speech beyond merely ‘criticism’ and ‘discussion’ of religion. The previously agreed amendment would have provided greater protection to expressions of ‘antipathy’, ‘ridicule’, ‘dislike’ or ‘insult’ of religion or belief and brought this free speech protection (in the Hate Crime and Public Order Bill) in line with an equivalent clause in section 29J of the Religious Hatred Act 2006[i] (England & Wales).
During the oral evidence session on 10th November 2020 Anthony Horan Director, Catholic Parliamentary Office of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, Neil Barber, spokesperson for Scotland, National Secular Society (NSS) , Kieran Turner, Public Policy Officer, Scotland, Evangelical Alliance, and our Deputy-Director Hardeep Singh all supported the echoing of freedom of speech provisions in English law, when it comes to religion and belief.[ii] This was later agreed as an amendment by the committee. It is frankly remarkable how this now appears to have been rescinded in two of, ‘four options for freedom of expression provision.’[iii] We are not alone in our astonishment and disappointment at this development – our allies in the Free to Disagree Campaign, the NSS have rightly described this development as ‘perplexing and farcical.’[iv]
1.2 More time is required to consider the ‘catch all’ free speech clauses
We are alarmed by the speed in which this critical part of the public consultation is now being conducted. Our Deputy-Director was a signatory to a letter calling for deferring scrutiny of the draft stirring up hatred offences proposals until after the May election.[v] This stage of the public consultation was announced on 18th February 2021, and evidence in response to the ‘catch all’ free speech provision has been given the deadline of 10:00 Monday 22nd February 2021. This is only two working days and simply not sufficient notice to provide these ‘catch all’ free speech clauses the attention they deserve. There are also questions as to why the free speech defence for religion and belief (in two of the proposed provisions) which mirrors English law, has not been expanded to other protected characteristics in which only ‘discussion or criticism’ is protected. This not only creates a clear hierarchy of free speech defences but puts those who for example, want to air strong opinions on transgender issues/women’s rights in serious difficulty if this legislation is enacted.
1.3Parliamentary scrutiny and procedure on previously agreed free speech clause for religion and belief
We would also like to understand the mechanism and process by which the previously agreed free speech clause for religion and belief, has essentially been shelved in all but two of the proposed ‘catch all’ clauses. It would indeed be helpful if an explanation is provided by the Secretary for Justice during the oral evidence session scheduled at 14:30 on 22nd February 2021.
NSO submission to APPG for the Pakistani Minorities inquiry into Abduction, Forced Conversions and Forced Marriages of Religious Minority Girls and Women in Pakistan
The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) is a registered charity no.1064544 that links more than 130 UK gurdwaras and other UK Sikh organisations in active cooperation to enhance the image and understanding of Sikhism in the UK.
For the sake of brevity and convenience, we have used headings in the APPG briefing document. We are grateful to former councillor/detective Gurpal Virdi for his input.
Human Rights Organisation/NGOs/Faith and non-faith based groups, Experts
i. Name and organisation? What is the nature of your work on the topic? Do you work with the victims and their families? How many victims or their families do you work with? What assistance do you provide?
Over the last few years, the NSO has followed cases of forced conversion and written about the forced marriage and abuse of religious minority girls and women in Pakistan. This is an issue that has an impact on all non-Muslim minority girls in Pakistan – predominantly Hindu and Christian girls, but it has also impacted the minority Sikh community too. One of the most high-profile cases in recent years has been the case of Jagjit Kaur.[i] She was alleged to be kidnapped at gunpoint from her home in Nankana Sahib (Lahore), converted (given the Muslim name Ayesha) and married to a Muslim boy.[ii]
In many cases the victim’s family face legal challenges, intimidation and according to Professor Javaid Rehman from Brunel University, ‘local authorities, especially police, particularly in the Punjab province, are often accused of being complicit in these cases by failing to properly investigate reported cases or prosecute offenders’.[iii] Legal petitions filed in court from the family members of the accused boy/men, often follow a similar pattern with statements alleging the girl(s) converted and married of their free will. This makes it difficult, if not impossible for the victim families to get access to justice through the courts. Many come from poor backgrounds, and do not have the necessary resources to defend their rights.
According to the academic research on this matter, we understand that approximately 1,000 women and girls from religious minorities are abducted, forcibly converted to Islam, and then married off to their abductors every year in Pakistan.[iv] Our Director Lord Singh of Wimbledon has raised the treatment of minorities in debates in the House of Lords. In a debate on 2nd July 2019 ‘Pakistan: Aid programmes and Human Rights’ – our Director said:
‘Minorities are frequently allocated menial tasks such as the cleaning of public latrines. Homes of minorities are frequently attacked and women and girls kidnapped and converted or sold into slavery. I have at times questioned the appropriateness of Pakistan, with its ill treatment of minorities, still being a member of the Commonwealth, a club of countries with historic ties to Britain. Members are required to abide by the Commonwealth charter, with core values of opposition to, “all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds”.’[v]
ii. What, in your opinion, are the weaknesses and limitations of the existing laws?
The APPG briefing paper outlines the existing laws including the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 of Pakistan, and in Sindh – the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2014. It says, ‘In another major province, Punjab, the Punjab Marriage Restraint Act 2015 kept the legal age of marriage at 16 years. In 2018, the chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology announced that a nikah (Islamic marriage) can be performed at any age but the couple can only live together after the age of 18.’ The difficulty here is changes to Pakistan’s law designed to safeguard minors and criminalise those that marry underage boys or girls, although well-meaning conflict with some interpretations of sharia being propagated by influential preachers and Islamic organisations.
Although we submit this isn’t limited to the issue of forced marriage and conversion of minority faith girls only, it has been seen most prominently with the backlash against Pakistan’s Supreme Court decision in the Asia Bibi blasphemy case. Both Bibi and the Supreme Court justices’ received death threats because of the decision to free her.[vi] The courts make important rulings, and some influential clerics push back. The late Khadim Hussain Rizvi, leader of the hardline Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party (whose family was given condolences when he died by Imran Khan),[vii] was a pro-blasphemy law campaigner.
He can be seen in footage giving a speech in which he says keeping relationships with ‘kaffirs’ (a derogatory term), or non-Muslims should be treated like one’s relationship with a toilet.[viii] The dissemination of this kind of doctrinally motivated hatred against non-Muslims by pro-blasphemy clerics in Pakistan serves to incite hatred against non-Muslims and dehumanises them. Whilst laws designed to safeguard against child marriage are indeed a welcome step, do they make a difference in real terms with this backdrop? We believe the problem is compounded because there appears to be little done to address hate speech against non-Muslims. The propagation of this hatred sows the seeds of prejudice, and facilitates the ongoing issue of abduction, forced conversions, and forced marriages of religious minority girls/women in Pakistan.
iii. What, in your opinion, is the problem with implementation of the existing laws that should have protected the victims?
The APPG for the Pakistani minorities 2019 report Religious Minorities of Pakistan: Report of a Parliamentary visit (27 September 2018 – 3 October 2018), cites a report produced by the Commonwealth Initiative for Freedom of Religion or Belief (2018):
‘the police will often either refuse to record an [First information Report] FIR or falsify the information recorded on the FIR, thus denying the families involved the chance to take their case and complaints any further. The lack of an FIR or the misrepresentation of information means that the family are unable to seek further justice in law courts, as an FIR is the vital first stage in the Criminal Procedure Code. Police are also often lethargic in attempting to recover a girl who has been abducted, thus allowing the conversion and marriage to take place. Both the lower courts and the higher courts of Pakistan have displayed bias and a lack of adherence to proper procedures in cases that involve accusations of forced marriage and forced conversions [and in such cases] the judiciary is often subjected to external influences, such as fear of reprisal and violence from extremist elements.’[ix]
We believe this sums up the plight for minorities in Pakistani, in their inability to obtain justice through the legal system. Unless the status quo is changed both in the way the police and judiciary deal with such cases, the ill treatment of minorities will continue unabated. The flaws in the existing system, along with the bias in favour of the accused abductors, is likely to not only further embolden perpetrators, but gives them the reassurance they need that they will be granted impunity for their actions.
iv. How, in your opinion, could the Federal and Provincial Governments improve the laws to eliminate the issue of abductions, forced conversions and forced marriages?
We believe the way to tackle this is two-prong, looking at both shifting societal attitudes, as well as training and education for officials. Firstly, there must be meaningful effort to reduce societal hatred and hostility towards non-Muslims. Second there must be training for officials to highlight their obligations when it comes to the rights of non-Muslim children.
Rather than reinventing the wheel, there have already been some meaningful recommendations put forward for the attention of the Pakistani authorities by this very APPG in their 2019 report. Some examples which would encourage better treatment of minorities in Pakistan:
ban all discriminatory employment advertisements reserving low-paid or menial
jobs for non-Muslims only and introduce financial penalties for breaching the
More broadly speaking there should be the requirement of mandatory training programmes for the police, social workers, the judiciary on the rights of children and their responsibility to safeguard those rights which are enshrined under Pakistan’s constitution and the law, moreover, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and within international human rights law.
vii. What, in your opinion, are the effects of such abductions, forced conversions and forced marriages on a) the victims and b) their families?
Although we have not conducted any direct victim assessments, it is clear the impact of these heinous crimes is severe for the victim and their families. Those who try to fight back through the legal system often face intimidation and threats. The family of Jagjit Kaur were reportedly threatened.[xiii] It is difficult for us to fathom the upheaval and chaos the families and victims go through. Tweeting about the case of Simron Kumari, Veengas a Sindh based journalist and founder of The Rise News, writes, ‘parents have been raising voice for their daughter since 2019. Now, Simron Kumari who was abducted and converted to Islam. Family seeks help but who will listen to their anguish. You cannot do justice to mothers. I request you (sic) that if you have heart then feel their sorrow.’[xiv] In the same thread she writes, ‘Unfortunately, Urdu Elite Media don’t cover Forced conversions issues as they should have covered. Majority of minor girls being abducted & converted to Islam.’[xv] According to another report, a father of two Hindu girls kidnapped in Sindh, protested outside a police station and said, ‘You can kill me. I will never tolerate this. My daughters have been abducted—I had patience.’[xvi]
ix. How can the Home Office be persuaded that the presumption in any such victims case, if applying for asylum in the UK, should be that they have been persecuted for their faith?
Country policy and information notes on Pakistan, which are published by the Home Office should be updated to include information about the persecution of minority faiths in Pakistan on the issue of abduction, forced conversions, and forced marriages. There should be an understanding of the issue at hand amongst Home Office staff, not least immigration officials – so they can make the appropriate assessments for asylum applications.
At the AGM of the APPG for British Sikhs earlier this year, Chair Preet Gill MP, announced that the group would be looking to address the issue of hate crime against Sikhs. It was agreed that APPG would work with the NSO, given we had already done much work in this field.
We wrote to Preet Gill on 12th October 2020 to remind her of her commitment to work with us and shared information about the progress we’ve made on hate crime. The commitment to build on what already exists for the benefit of the UK Sikh community was regrettably (but unsurprisingly) ignored. The APPG, which primarily involves the Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) and its affiliates like The Sikh Network (and one of the two co-existing Sikh Council UK’s) are ignoring what has previously been achieved, to suggest that they are pioneers in the fight against hate crime.
Their statements not only show a lack of understanding of the nature of hate crime, but more seriously, an appalling ignorance of basic Sikh teachings. Moreover, the definition that they have proposed for ‘consultation’ is not only ambiguous, it absurdly does not include the post 9/11 backlash faced by Sikhs across the West in so called ‘mistaken identity’ or ‘Islamophobic’ attacks.
The reason we are not surprised by the behaviour of the APPG, lies in their limited contact with the wider Sikh community. The Chair of the APPG works closely with Dabinderjit Singh as an advisor. He also happens to be ‘principal advisor’ to the SFUK. The Chair and a member of her family are prominent in a group called The Sikh Network which is also linked to the SFUK. Some ‘team’ members of one of the coexisting Sikh Council UK’s – another group linked to SFUK, and favoured by the APPG also happen to be members of The Sikh Network ‘team’.
There are some question marks about the mathematics being used by the APPG in recent reports on hate crime. We are not too sure how they’ve come to suggest hate crime against Sikhs has increased 70% year on year.[i]
We’ve looked at the Home Office figures being referenced in media reports. They show the number and proportion of religious hate crimes recorded by the police by the perceived targeted religion for, 2019/20 and 2018/19.
For the most recent year the figure for ‘Sikh’ is 202 and for the previous it is 188. That is an increase of 14 incidents from 2018/19. 14/188 multiplied by 100 = 7.4%
We asked Preet Gill how the APPG came to the 70% figure and she responded:
‘Please can you confirm who this email is written by, and signed off by. Please provide name and details.’
Why ignore basic Sikh teachings?
The groups involved are ignoring the basic Sikh teaching of sarbat da bhalla in in seeking to establish a legal definition of hate crime against Sikhs. Sikh teachings require us to look at the wider picture. Rather than looking inward, the NSO has protested the government’s bias approach in this area in solidarity with other faiths who’ve been marginalised, as well as those of no faith. There should be a level playing field for everyone.
Our Director referred to this in the Lords, in a discussion on Islamophobia, when Baroness Warsi was pressing the government to accept a controversial definition of ‘Islamophobia’ that has the potential to stifle discussion of issues like Muslim grooming gangs, Islamic extremism and aspects of history, like Mughal persecution of minorities. This includes the martyrdom of our Gurus. With former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, sitting next to him, and Baroness Warsi in the row in front. Lord Singh said:
My Lords, emotive definitions such as Islamophobia are simply constraints on freedom of speech. A phobia is a fear, and the best way to combat irrational fear or prejudice suffered by all religions and beliefs is through healthy, open discussion. Will the Minister endorse the commitment given last week by Heather Wheeler, Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, to protect all religions and beliefs without fear or favour?
The Minister fully agreed as did the rest of the House in loud appreciative ‘hear hears’.
This timely intervention supported the legitimate free speech concerns raised by several prominent individuals and a number of organisations (including the NSO) resulted in Baroness Warsi’s failure in her attempt to impose a divisive definition on the House. The government rejected it. Now the APPG for British Sikhs and their followers want to ignore the thrust of our Gurus’ teachings and go down the same path. In urging the APPG to be consistent with Sikh teachings and work with others with experience in the field, we are highlighting some of the progress made by the NSO.
It was the NSO who found that crimes against Sikhs and others are being recorded under ‘Islamophobic hate crime’ in London – research appreciated by Christians, Hindus, Atheists and others.
It was the NSO that pushed back against ‘Action Against Hate’ (2016) for marginalising the non-Abrahamic faith communities in favour of Abrahamic faiths.
It was the NSO that influenced (through giving oral and written evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee) policy when the government made a commitment to support Hindus and Sikhs in reporting hate crime.
The NSO pushed back against a controversial ‘Islamophobia’ definition which would have risked censorship of important chapters in Sikh history – like the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur.
It was the NSO that has worked alongside Galop over the summer and collaborated with other organisations, the police and policy makers in #TogetherAgainstHate2020. We could go on.
A Sikh perspective on hate crime
We should be true to our Gurus’ teachings in all we do as Sikhs. This requires us to look beyond concern for ourselves, to sarbat da bhalla, in this case to all who suffer from so-called ‘hate crime’.
The important point from Lord Singh’s contribution was that fear and prejudice, sometimes seen as hatred, arises from ignorance. It is therefore important to work actively to remove widespread ignorance of Sikhism and Sikh teachings. This is important because of the ongoing conflation of Sikh identity with that of images of Islamic extremists – be it Bin Laden, ISIS or the Taliban. If the APPG still want to go down the legally recognised definition route, then it’s frankly absurd not to include the post 9/11 element.
Our Guru’s taught us a distinct and enlightened way of life which we must put to the fore in turning ignorance and prejudice into respect and appreciation. While we should be resolute in reporting and tackling unacceptable hate crime, we have much to do in educating the wider community about who we are. Our Guru given values are a powerful vehicle for turning latent prejudice to appreciation and communal harmony.
Reports indicate the APPG are requesting the government, ‘financially supports the work of the Sikh Network and Sikh Council to track hate crimes against their community with start-up grants and annual funding for the next three to five years.’[ii] We think there may well be a conflict of interest here, given some individuals involved in the organisations for which funding has been requested, have links (including familial) with the APPG chair.
We asked Preet Gill to respond to this point. She said:
‘Please can you confirm who this email is written by, and signed off by. Please provide name and details.’
We will be highlighting our concerns about this with relevant government departments.
Now the SFUK who have used the APPG as a vehicle to promote their partisan agenda have failed in their ill-conceived Sikh ethnic tick box campaign, they will be desperate to regain credibility with the broader Sikh community, and the government in other areas. The APPG for British Sikhs may well choose not to work with us, nor learn from the progress and recognition we’ve achieved on hate crime. If so, this only continues to emphasize a non-inclusive, narrow, and limited way of working. The fact that our Director was elected as treasurer for the APPG simply adds insult to injury.
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: email@example.com
The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) has produced a hate crime guide to help signpost members of the Sikh community to organisations who can support them, as well as encouraging victims to report incidents to the police. The charity has additionally produced a second guide designed to support organisations supporting Sikh victims.
The guides have been complied as part of a project, Together Against Hate, co-ordinated by the UK’s only specialist LGBT+ anti-violence charity Galop. The project has been funded by The Mayor’s Office for Policing And Crime (MOPAC).
There has been a clear trend in the targeting of Muslims as well as Sikhs in the aftermath of terror attacks as has been evidenced post 9/11 and the London 7/7 bombings. The Sikh identity, in particular the turban and beard of observant men, is often conflated with the appearance of Islamic extremists which has resulted in the targeting of Sikhs and Sikh places of worship (gurdwaras).
In 2015 a Sikh dentist was almost beheaded in a revenge attack for the murder of Lee Rigby, and the following year a case in which Sikh women were referred to in derogatory terms resulted in a conviction. In 2018 a Sikh environmentalist almost had his turban forcibly removed when visiting an MP in parliament, and in May 2020 a hate crime against a gurdwara in Derby appears to have been motivated by a geopolitical grievance in relation to the troubled region of Kashmir.
NSO Deputy-Director Hardeep Singh said:
Hate crime against Sikhs often goes unreported and victims do not always feel they need to inform the police of such incidents. Some will not know you can simply report hate crime online, rather than go to a police station to file a report, which can be time consuming.
We hope the guides provide clear, relevant, and timely advice to members of the community. They need to know they are not alone and there are people out there who can help. We also believe it’s important they report incidents to the authorities, which can be done anonymously if need be.
Mel Stray, Galop, Hate Crime Policy and Campaigns Manager said:
These new hate crime guides are a vital resource for the Sikh community and organisations working with Sikh victims of hate crime. We are delighted that the Network of Sikh Organisations has come together with nine other organisations as part of the Together Against Hate project, to stand up alongside each other against hate targeting our communities.
– Ends –
Notes to Editors:The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) is a registered charity no.1064544 that links more than 130 UK gurdwaras and other UK Sikh organisations in active cooperation to enhance the image and understanding of Sikhism in the UK.
There are two hate crime guides (i) Guide for Sikh victims (ii) Guide for organisations supporting Sikh victims – you can download them below
Peers debated the contents of draft Census (England and Wales) Order 2020 in the Lords earlier this week. The flawed Sikh ‘ethnic’ tick box argument was raised following a debate in the Commons last week in which Labour party politicians briefed by the Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) cited questionable statistics.
Our Director, Lord Singh who has been a prominent opponent of the SFUK’s tick box campaign told peers about the misunderstanding of the Mandla case from the 1980’s which SFUK rely upon and for which he was expert witness.
He said, ‘The law then protected ethnicity, but not religion, against discrimination. The Law Lords ruled that as most Sikhs in the UK then were born in Punjab and had Punjabi ethnicity, Sikhs were also entitled to protection. The criteria of birth and origin would not be met today, as most Sikhs are born in the UK, nor is such a convoluted protection necessary. The Equality Act 2010 gives full protection to religion.’
He went on, ‘The politically motivated federation falsely claims mass support, with questionable statistics. The ethnicity argument was discussed at the large gurdwara in Hounslow, in front of ONS officials, and was firmly rejected, yet the federation includes Hounslow among its supporters. Many Sikhs and people of other faiths are appalled at the way in which some politicians, anxious for votes, are willing to trample on the religious sensitivities of others and accept as fact the absurdities of those who shout the loudest. I urge that we look to what the different religious groups actually do for the well-being of their followers and wider society.’
Supporting Lord Singh’s position on the issue, Former Bishop of Oxford and crossbench peer Lord Harries of Pentregarth, said: ‘I believe that Sikhism is a great and very distinguished world religion. I do not think there should be any blurring of that fact and I worry that putting this in the ethnic minority category will somehow diminish what Sikhism has to offer as a world religion.’
Once the Order has been approved, Census Regulations will be laid before Parliament. According to the House of Commons Library, ‘the ONS aims to publish an initial set of census reports one year after it has taken place, and to make all outputs available within two years.’
We hope the British Sikh community can now move on from this debate and focus on the uplifting teachings of our global world religion, and all it has to offer today’s fractured society.