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In a motion to take note moved by Baroness Stowell of Beeston in the Lords on Friday, Lord Singh of Wimbledon spoke on plans for military action against Islamic State, (IS) whilst reflecting on Sikh teachings. Please see full text of speech:

‘My Lords, Sikhism teaches that we should resort to the use of arms only when there is no other option to stop the killing of the weak and innocent. This situation has now been reached and we must give military support to the Iraqi Government in their fight against the brutal behavior of the Islamic State.

However, we must be clear about our objectives, both short and long-term, and, importantly, make these clear not just to the Government but to the people of Iraq and adjoining countries. Yes, there must be targeted air strikes, but air strikes alone are not enough. Parallel support for action on the ground will be needed to destroy ISIS.

However, at best this can only bring us back to the instability that followed the defeat of Saddam Hussein. The Middle East has for decades been one of the most unstable and fractured regions of the world, with national boundaries that split communities carved into countries by the West following the demise of the Ottoman Empire.

For too long, initially Britain and France and more recently the United States and Russia, have propped up one dubious dictator after another, turning a blind eye to brutal repression in return for trade and political advantage. It was not too long ago that I was invited to a reception at No. 10 for President Assad, who was being heralded as a torchbearer for peace and religious freedom in the Middle East. Today, the situation has been made worse by new players such as China looking for trade and strategic interest before human rights.

A paradigm shift to new criteria is needed, which must be honoured by those seeking our military support. They must pledge themselves to uphold freedom of religion and belief, gender equality and protection of minorities as a condition of our support. These rights must trump all considerations of trade and supposed strategic advantage in the cradle of civilisation and in the rest of the world.’

Sikhs are often described as a martial race. Two things wrong with that. First, Sikhism is a religion open to all, and one of its basic teachings is that we all belong to the same, one human race. Nor are we particularly martial, and our Guru’s teaching on responding to personal affront is, (I hope metaphorically), ‘to kiss the feet of those who would do you harm’.

At the same time Sikhs are duty bound to stand up to injustice against the weak and vulnerable and if necessary and as a last resort, by the force of arms. Unfortunately, in a short history of constant persecution, we’ve had plenty of practice.

I was reminded of this last Friday when I attended an impressive function at the Royal Military College Sandhurst to commemorate Saraghari Day. On September 12th, 1897, 21 brave Sikhs holed up in a small brick and mud fort at Saraghari on the North West Frontier of India, held back an army of some 10,000 marauding and pillaging tribesmen, for nearly a day to give valuable time for their colleagues to regroup. Eventually they were all killed, but the thought of surrender never entered their minds. Their courage received a rare standing ovation in the British parliament and their achievement has been recognised by UNESCO as one of eight most inspiring stories of collective bravery in human history.

I saw more modern examples of uplifting courage in a visit to the Invictus Games, the brain child of Prince Harry. In the Games, wounded soldiers show how despite appalling injuries, they can still laugh, joke and compete in athletic activities. The Games, take their name from Henley’s poem Invictus, which reminds us that however difficult or unfair life may appear, we should never give up. It ends with the immortal lines:

It matter not how straight the gate; how charged with punishment the scroll, I am the master of my fate; the captain of my soul.

I saw limbless blade runners, one with severe burns to his face, and others racing in wheelchairs enthusiastically embracing life. They and the brave soldiers of Saragarhi remind us of the importance of courage and commitment. Courage that refuses to accept the bludgeoning’s of chance, and helps put all our petty aches and pains, and grumblings about the unfairness of life, into true perspective.

 

SARAGARHI DAY AT SANDHURST

September 20th, 2014 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Press Releases - (0 Comments)

On Friday 12 September Lord Singh, The Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) was given the honor of inspecting and taking the salute with Major General Nitsch at the Sandhurst parade, of the Sikh Platoon dressed as World War 1 soldiers.

The commemoration at the Royal Military Academy, remembered the fallen in Saraghari, whilst launching the British Army Sikh Association (BASA).

Full text of Lord Singh’s speech at the launch of the BASA and the commemoration of Saragarhi Day is given below:

Major General Nitsch, Lords, ladies, Captain Makand Singh and members of BASA, honoured guests, friends,

It’s a real pleasure to be with you on this commemoration of Saragarhi day and the launch of BASA – British Army Sikh Association aptly timed to coincide with one of the most heroic episodes in the history of warfare. On this day in 1897, 21 brave Sikhs of the then 36th Sikh Regiment holed up in a small brick and mud fort held back an army of some 10,000 Afghan tribesmen for nearly a day to give valuable time to their army colleagues. Eventually they were all killed, but the thought of surrender never entered their minds. They lived and died true to the Sikh teaching ‘Purja purja kat mare, kaboo na chadey khet’.

Always live true to what you beliefs and fight for them at the cost of your own life. Their courage received a rare standing ovation in the British parliament. All were posthumously awarded the Indian Order of Merit, then the highest gallantry award given to Indian soldiers. Their achievement has been recognised by UNESCO the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation as one of eight most inspiring stories of collective bravery in human history.

Saragahri Day sets the bar high for today’s Sikh soldiers but from what I’ve seen of our serving Sikh soldiers they will be up to the challenge of living true to the spirit of Saragarhi and I wish BASA every success. They add a miri dimension to the piri one provided by the Sikh Armed Services chaplaincy. Today, I believe there are about 200 Sikhs in the British Army. According to population ratios, there should be more than 1000. With BASA’s lead, I’m sure numbers will significantly increase.

I have long campaigned to see Sikhs and other faith in all walks of life, having proper spiritual support and we made real progress in prison and hospital chaplaincy. About 9 years ago, colleagues and I from other faiths managed to get the British Armed Services to agree on the establishment of chaplains for other faiths. I was nominated as the endorsing officer for the Sikh faith and took part in an interview for the first Sikh chaplain and we appointed Mandeep Kaur and she has proved an excellent choice. Not only has her work achieved recognition from her colleagues in other faiths, but she has done much to bring Sikhs in the services together, particularly in the annual Chardi Kala Chaplaincy Conference which helps in the re-charging of spiritual batteries. Her work has helped to bring serving Sikhs together: a prelude to today’s formation of BASA. We owe her a great debt.

I would also like to pay tribute to the work of the Maharaja Duleep Singh Centenary Trust, led by the tireless Harbinder Singh, Daljit Singh Sidhu and others who do so much to keep our heritage alive. But for their work, few, Sikhs or non-Sikhs in the UK would even be aware of Saragarhi and other inspiring episodes in our history. In 2001 the Trust persuaded my colleague in the Lords, Viscount Slim to give a memorial lecture at the Imperial War Museum in the series ‘Portraits of Courage’. Lord Slim, who had spent a lifetime in India particularly among Sikhs, chose the siege of Saragarhi as the theme of his inspiring address.

In the last couple of days, I have been lifted by the example of two moving events. Today we remember the courage of the 21 Sikhs at Saragarhi. Yesterday, I attended the Invictus Games, named after the poem Invictus, which reminds us that however difficult or unfair life may appear, we should never give up. The poem ends with the immortal lines:

It matters not how straight the gate; how charged with punishment the scroll, I am the master of my fate; the captain of my soul.

Yesterday I saw limbless blade runners, one with severe burns to his face, and others in wheelchairs enthusiastically embracing life. They and the brave soldiers of Saragarhi set a high standard. I am confident that BASA and others in the armed services will live true to their example of inspiring courage. Courage that refuses to accept the bludgeoning’s of chance, and helps put all our petty aches and pains and grumblings about the unfairness of life, into true perspective.

Please see link to coverage of the event on the British Army website: http://www.army.mod.uk/news/26554.aspx

[Ends]

Media hype over this week’s launch of the latest smart phone and the million ways way it will help us connect to everyone and everything, leaves me a little cold. I’m a bit wary about sophisticated gadgetry telling us what to do with our lives. Admittedly I’m a bit of a Luddite about mobile phones, the social media and the internet. I envy those with the speed and dexterity of Madame Defarge who clicked away on her knitting needles while watching the guillotine in action I can’t cope with lengthy texts demanding instant replies. My granddaughter recently said she would send me an email because ‘you can’t text’. Determined to prove her wrong I slowly and ponderously wrote a text message signed ‘master texter’- and then, inadvertently sent it to her puzzled aunt.

My relationship with the internet lurches between love and hate. I can’t get over the power of the internet that gives near instant access to detailed information on the vaguest of topics—that is, when it works! At the moment we have lost our wi- fi and have only intermittent internet access due to a fault on the line. We’ve all had similar experiences.

My real concern is that it is all too easy to get hooked on such gadgetry in a way that takes us away from due attention to those around us. Guru Nanak too was concerned about the way people often neglected their responsibilities for more selfish pursuits. In his day, some people would leave their families and friend to go to the wilderness in search of God. The Guru once met some of these people on a mountain and they greeted him asking how the world below goes? He replied, the world is suffering and how could it be otherwise when those with knowledge and wisdom, desert it in a selfish way. God cannot be found in the wilderness but in the service of your family and fellow beings.

Today there isn’t much wilderness left, but it is all too easy to drift into a virtual wilderness in pursuit of virtual friendships to the neglect of real people around us. I am reminded of the poet’s words:

‘We flatter those we scarcely know, and rush to please the fleeting guest, but heap many a thoughtless blow on those who love us best. Now there’s a ‘Thought for the Day’ -in less than 140 characters!

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