Where Unity Is Strength
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Yesterday, a Department of Health taskforce published a report recommending sweeping changes in the funding and operation of mental health provision for children and adolescents. The report follows a series of Times articles on a growing epidemic of mental health problems in children and adolescents resulting in a huge rise in children resorting to self-harm and exhibiting symptoms of anxiety and depression in schools.

Many are seeking treatment for mental health problems in hospitals, or worse ending up in prisons. In one of these articles, the columnist Libby Purves highlights the urgent need for parents, to re-set their priorities and recognise the ground realities of pressures on their children.

Her comments reminded me of a story of Guru Nanak meeting with a group of people in a mountain retreat searching for an understanding of God. They greeted the Guru with the words ‘ how goes the world below’ the Guru was not impressed and told the group that God was not to be found in the wilderness but in the service of family and wider society.

Today there’s not much wilderness left for retreat – selfish or otherwise – but it is all too easy to spend all our time on personal pursuits or lose, ourselves in the virtual wilderness of the internet to the neglect of those around. Worse, in the absence of comfort and support from parents, children may look to friendship, love and support on internet chat lines oblivious to the dangers of grooming, blackmail and the hurt that can be caused by on-line bullying.

While yesterday’s promise of enhanced provision will help, Sikh teachings and those of sister faiths suggest that the real remedy lies in the home.

Reflecting on parental responsibility, Guru Nanak reminded us that the birth of a child comes with an attached responsibility for the child’s care and comfort that continues even if parents split. It is the family rather than on the internet that children should share both triumphs and concerns and receive time consuming but necessary encouragement and support. Today, obsession with personal fulfilment has replaced a search for God. Our different faiths remind us that both personal fulfilment and God can be found in looking beyond ourselves to the care and support of those around us.

At the start of the Millennium, some of us from different faiths met in Lambeth Palace to reflect on the record of the 20th century in which more people were killed as a result of war than in the rest of recorded history. Not knowing the horrors of the conflicts that lay ahead, we resolved that people of all faiths should adhere to common values and we set out to establish what those should be. After a series of meetings we published a grandly titled document ‘Common Values for the New Millennium’. The list included looking to the needs of others, considering responsibilities as well as rights and understanding and respecting diversity.

We thought we had formulated a Holy Grail to lasting peace and social justice. But after a short burst of publicity, the document was soon forgotten. On reflection perhaps we were being simplistic and naive. As Sikh scriptures reminds us, we can’t effect change by simply wishing it.

A few years later, I attended another meeting in the very same room in Lambeth Palace to hear a lecture by a visiting American Preacher on working for lasting peace. He declared ‘what we need are common values’, and now a high powered Commission is engaged on yet another extensive consultation exercise to define British values.

All the values in the Lambeth list are found in Sikh teachings and are also evident in other faiths. The real problem is how to embed these in the fabric of a society that looks to individual fulfilment rather than the needs of society as a whole. How can we walk the talk, or as Sikhs put it, how can we move in a gurmukh or Godly direction. Not easy. A colleague in the Lords reminded me of this when he stated in a debate that religion was out of step with society. To me it was a bit like saying ‘my satnav isn’t following my directions’.

Sikh teachings on the need for cooperation between different faiths suggest that if we synchronise our ethical satnavs, we can begin to make a real difference. Perhaps the first step would be to recognise that despite following different road maps, in reality, we all share common aspirations and concerns, and resolve to work together to make these central to social and political action.

 

 

Sir, For many years political correctness has led to the identity of the community involved in the sexual grooming of children and young women in the UK being described as Asian rather than Muslim. We are consequently encouraged to hear the prime minister’s assertion that “a warped sense of political correctness” will not stifle attempts to fight these crimes — which he now classes as a “national threat”.

Sikh and Hindu communities have for decades been at the receiving end of predatory grooming by members of the Muslim community and have for some time been campaigning in the UK for the recognition that there seems to be a clear pattern emerging in recent high-profile sexual grooming gang cases. This pattern clearly highlights that these gangs seem to predominantly originate from a Pakistani Muslim community, while their victims are almost always of a white, Hindu or Sikh background.

We urge the prime minister to tackle head-on why so many young Muslims in the UK have this disrespectful attitude towards women in other communities, and to urgently engage with the leaders of the Muslim community to find answers to a problem that demeans women, does incalculable damage to interfaith harmony and harms the public perception of members of the Muslim community.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon Network of Sikh Organisations (UK)

Anil Bhanot Hindu Council (UK)

Ashish Joshi Sikh Media Monitoring Group (UK)

Mohan Singh Khalsa Sikh Awareness Society (UK)

[Letter published in the Times 5th March 2015]

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