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Lords Debate on Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Lord Singh asks Government to Look at the Reasons why People Become Perpetrators of Religious Violence

In a debate led by Lord Alton last week, members of the House of Lords debated the importance of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whilst reflecting on religious violence across the world.

Lord Singh the vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom said:

“We have heard moving accounts of Muslims in Burma and Tamils in Sri Lanka persecuted by militant Buddhists, with Christians persecuted and marginalised in much of the Middle East, Sudan and other parts of Africa. Yesterday’s Times carried a moving article by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on the plight of Christians in Iraq. We are all disturbed by the loss of life in conflict between the Shias, Sunnis and Alawites in Syria and Iraq and the persecution of Ahmadiyyas and Shias in Pakistan. I could go on. We can continue to condemn such killings, but if we are to make real progress, we need to look hard and dispassionately at why people of religion become either victims or perpetrators of religious hatred.

I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I speak frankly. Religions do not help themselves by claims of exclusivity or superiority. This simply demeans other members of our one human race and suggests that they, the others, are lesser beings. We all know what happens in the school playground when one boy boasts—it is usually boys—that, “My dad is bigger or stronger or cleverer than your dad”. The end result is fisticuffs. My appeal to our different religions and the leaders of religion is to stop playing children’s games. Guru Nanak witnessed the suffering caused by this children’s game of “my religion is better than yours” in conflict between Hindus and Muslims in the sub-continent in the 15th century. In his very first sermon, he declared that the one God of us all is not in the least bit interested in our different religious labels, but in our contribution to a fairer and more peaceful world.”

He added: “There is another important area that must be tackled if we are to move away from continuing conflict between religions. Most religious scriptures were written many years after the death of the founder of the religion. Scriptural texts often contain a complex amalgam of history, social and cultural norms of the day that can easily become dated. They can easily mask and distort important underlying ethical imperatives about our responsibilities to one another and to future generations. It is sometimes claimed that often-contradictory texts in different religions are the literal word of God. Those who wish to resort to violence in the name of religion can all too easily ignore the context and use quotations in scriptures to justify negative attitudes and violent behaviour towards others.

I believe that what is required is greater open dialogue that puts transient social and cultural norms embedded in scriptures in their true context. It is not easy. My plea to our Government is for them to give an energetic lead in promoting true interfaith dialogue that puts distorting history and culture in their true perspective to reveal common underlying ethical imperatives in our different faiths. Such a dialogue would provide sane and uplifting guidance for responsible and peaceful living in the complex world of today.”

Lord Singh asks Government to Consider Human Rights Whilst Marking ‘Record Level’ Trade:

During a debate on ‘record level’ British trade with China chaired by Lord Popat in the House of Lords this week, Lord Singh spoke about the untenable position Britain finds itself in, whilst trading with a nation notorious for human rights violations.

Lord Singh said: “My Lords, according to a report on 17 June in the Times, the Business Minister, Michael Fallon, said that human rights must not stop trade with China. Does the Minister agree that that statement demeans the very concept of human rights?”

Lord Popat, failed to directly answer the question.

Last year Lord Singh raised the issue of Britain’s ‘selective’ approach to human rights, where the government was swift to condemn the use of sarin in Syria, but silent over the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam.

He said other world powers like India, China, Russia and the USA behave in the same way, making a coordinated approach on human rights “virtually impossible.”

Lord Singh quoted, Andrei Sakharov, the Russian nuclear physicist, turned human rights activist, who said: “there will be little progress in our universal yearning for peace and justice unless we are even-handed in our approach to human rights.”

Lord Singh of Wimbledon, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) has challenged measures proposed in the Assisted Dying Bill in a debate last Friday involving a record 130 Peers.

The Bill is a Private Members Bill (PMB) put forward by Lord Falconer of Thornton, a former Lord Chancellor.

If enacted the legislation would make it legal for adults in England and Wales to be given assistance to end their own lives, applying to those with less than 6 months to live.

During the 10-hour debate Lord Singh said:

“My Lords, the Bill is flawed on many counts. In attempting to show compassion to a few, it neglects due compassion to many thousands of others. It has created immense fear in vulnerable people that they are being seen as a problem by society, with consequent damage to their sense of self-worth. Much has been said about autonomy in this debate—about our right to take decisions about our lives. But all too often it ignores the reality that what we do or omit to do affects others. This narrow view of autonomy is little more than an unhealthy obsession with self, which is considered one of the five deadly sins in Sikh scripture. The reality is that all of us are part of a wider society. What we say or do affects others. Importantly, our attitudes and decisions are influenced by those around us. Relatives, through what they say or omit to say, or simply by not being around, can affect the mood or even the will to live of the vulnerable.”

He added: “The Bill stipulates the need for a “settled” state of mind for those contemplating assisted suicide. A feeling of not being wanted or of being a burden on others can, importantly, tip the balance towards a settled state of mind of not wanting to live. The proposed legislation moves us even further from focusing on enhanced care and compassion for the vulnerable in society. Worse, it can encourage uncaring or greedy relatives to persuade vulnerable people that their lives are not worth living. All of us can at times feel that what Shakespeare called the,“slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, are too much for us. However, it is also true that loving care and compassion can change our mood. This is particularly true for the infirm and vulnerable. Daily reports of abuse of those who cannot care for themselves by family members or in care homes remind us how far we have moved as a society from our duty to help the vulnerable. Sikh teachings remind us that our own sense of well-being lies in devoting time to the well-being of others. It is a sentiment echoed by all major faiths. Near where I live is a new housing development with a large hoarding advertising the development with the words ‘Assisted Living’. My Lords, the need of the hour is not to look to ways of helping people kill themselves in the name of compassion, but to make compassion and concern for the vulnerable, central to life in civilised society.”

Many Hon. Peers endorsed Lord Singh’s sentiments.

 

The Director of The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO), Lord Singh of Wimbledon has written to Chaplaincy HQ, after they requested advice following an email sent to them by the Sikh Council. Please see full response below.

I would like to make the following observations:

1. The Sikh Council is well aware of the fact that the Sikh Chaplaincy Service under the NSO, has been the nationally recognised body to look to the spiritual and pastoral care of Sikhs in prisons, for more than 10 years. It is a pity that the Sikh Council did not have the courtesy to discuss this matter with myself. They are well aware that I am the Director of the SCS and NOMS Faith Advisor.

2. I am both saddened and concerned that a senior officer of the Sikh Council is either totally ignorant of basic Sikh teachings, or perhaps is trying to bend Sikh teachings to support a faction that rejects the Gurus’ message of equality.

The Sikh Council officer writes:

Context of concern:  xxxxx is an initiated Sikh who strictly observes orthodox Sikh teachings. Part of his religious discipline is to follow the strict dietary laws of the Gurus teachings and in fact has taking an oath to God to practice such things. His observance of Sikhism is of the highest calibre and purity.

As you may already be aware, strict Sikh orthodox teachings of this nature require him to observe the following dietary law:

  • Being lacto-vegetarian (i.e. not consuming any meat, fish or eggs but allowed to consume milk products).
  • Only eating ‘cooked’ or ‘prepared food’ by spiritually disciplined initiated Sikhs.
  • Using only pure iron utensils to cook and prepare the food and eating and drinking from a pure iron bowl or dish.
  • Subsequently, Mr  xxxxx has not eaten a proper meal since he was sent to prison, which was 6th June 2014.  He has been eating one or two fruits which he washes before he eats, and drinking water using his cupped hands to drink as he refuses to use any of the plastic cups or bowls to drink or eat from.’

3. There is nothing whatever in Sikh scriptures to support eating out of a bowl made out of a particular material. Such superstitious beliefs are totally contrary to the whole thrust of Guru Nanak’s teachings.

4.The Sikh Council suggests that the prisoner says he will be violating his religious vows if he eats food served by anyone not of his particular sect. Sikhism does not do superstition. The Sikh Gurus stressed that the idea of pollution by eating food prepared by or served by others was totally contrary to the whole thrust of Sikh teachings which underline the importance of all people of all backgrounds and religions eating together to break down divisive taboos. This is the meaning of ‘langar‘.

It is sad that an officer of the Sikh Council refers to someone who flouts such teachings as ‘an initiated Sikh who strictly observes orthodox Sikh teachings’.

5. It is said that he is an Amrithari Sikh. The Amrit Ceremony specifically forbids Sikhs indulging in anti-Sikh practices. While the dietary practice of the individual concerned has nothing to do with Sikh teachings, the SCS is doing all it can to help the individual by supplying an iron bowl and helping with his dietary needs as far as practicable.

Lord Indarjit Singh (Sikh Faith Advisor to NOMS)

 

 


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