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A Grotesque Challenge to Sikh Teachings on Compassionate Care:

The British Medical Association (BMA), allied healthcare professionals and religious leaders are united in pressing for better palliative care for all. Sikh teachings emphasize the responsibility of society to care for the elderly and vulnerable, whilst making them feel loved and valued members of the community. As Sikhs we should remember the example of Guru Har Krishan, who put the care of victims of a smallpox epidemic in Delhi at greater importance than his own life. The importance of ‘assisted living’ and caring for those around us is central to Sikh teachings.

It is therefore a matter of real concern that Rob Marris MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Sikhs, will be introducing legislation in Parliament in early September, that cuts across Sikh teachings on our collective responsibility to care for all members of society (sarbat ka bhalla), and instead assist vulnerable people to take their own lives. Marris, MP for Wolverhampton South West tabled a Private Members Bill ‘Assisted Dying (No.2)’ in June 2015. This follows on from a similar Bill introduced by Lord Falconer last year, which didn’t get past the third reading in the Lords. Some Peers expressed concerns about the ‘financial incentives’ involved in ending the lives of the terminally ill. The Bill was further described as a ‘breeding ground for vultures.’

Many see the dangers of depressed individuals at a low ebb surrounded by uncaring relatives, feeling morally pressurised to stop being a burden on others by seeking help to end their lives. Hundreds of letters received by Lord Singh from disabled people underline their fear and concern over the proposed legislation. In a debate on ‘assisted dying’ last year, Lord Singh said:

“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.”

Action Required

  1. All Sikhs should lobby the Chair of the APPG for Sikhs, Rob Marris (whose majority is only a few hundred) to withdraw his ill-considered and demeaning bill. The undeniable strength of the Sikh Federation on the APPG could be particularly helpful.
  2. All Sikhs should lobby other members of parliament not to support a Bill that cuts across our responsibility as human beings and the whole thrust of Sikh teachings to assist vulnerable people to live with dignity and good palliative care.

 

sf-thumbs-main-Dr.-Indarjit-Singh

My Lords, I too pay tribute to the noble Lord Alton for securing this important debate, and for his sterling work in putting concern for human rights high on the agenda of this House.

Article 18 of the 1948 UN Declaration is unambiguous in its guarantees of freedom of religion and belief. Yet we live in a world where all too often those rights are all too frequently ignored.

We have been recently remembering the horror of Srebrenica where 20 years ago 8,000 Muslim men and boys were rounded up by Serb forces and ruthlessly murdered, simply for being Muslims. Last year Sikhs commemorated the 30th anniversary of the brutal murder of thousands of Sikhs in India, simply for being Sikhs. The Middle East has become a cauldron of religious intolerance and unbelievable barbarity. The number of Christians has dwindled alarmingly, and we hear daily of thousands fleeing religious persecution in leaky, overcrowded boats with little food or water

Where have we gone wrong? In commerce or industry if a clearly desirable idea or initiative fails again and again, it’s back to the drawing board. Today we need to ask ourselves, why the widespread abuse of the right to freedom of belief? This important right, like others embedded in the UN Declaration, needs the total commitment of countries with political clout to make it a reality. Unfortunately, even permanent members of the Security Council, frequently put trade and political alliances with countries with appalling human rights records, above a commitment to rights. There are many examples, but time permits me to mention only a couple relating to our own country.

During the visit of a Chinese trade delegation in June of last year, a government minister said ‘we should not allow human rights get in the way of trade’. His statement undermining the UN Declaration, went virtually unchallenged.

At about the same time, we had a statement in your Lordships House that the government was pressing for a UN led inquiry into human rights abuse in Sri Lanka. Fine. But when I asked if the government would support a similar inquiry into the mass killing of Sikhs in India (a bigger trading partner), I received a brusque reply: ‘that is a matter for the Indian government’ I have asked the same question on five occasions: why does the UK government regard the systematic killing of Sikhs in India to be of no concern, only to receive the same dismissive non-response. My Lords, I ask it again today, and hope your Lordships and Britain’s half million Sikhs will get the courtesy of a properly considered reply. The great human rights activist rightly said that we must be even- handed in looking at human rights abuse.

My Lords, if our country, one of the most enlightened in the world, puts trade above human rights, it is easy to understand why other countries turn a blind eye to rights like freedom of belief; a right so central to Sikh teachings that our 9th Guru , Guru Teg Bahadhur gave his life defending the right of Hindus, a different religion to his own, against forced conversion by the then Mughal rulers.

My Lords, we can list human rights abuse forever and a day without it making a jot of difference, if we and other great powers continue to put trade and power block politics above human rights.

We start each day in this House with prayers to remind us to act in accord with Christ’s teaching. He, like Guru Nanak reminded us never to put material gain before concern for our fellow beings. We need to act on such far-sighted advice.

[Lord Singh of Wimbledon’s full speech in House of Lords debate on human rights, 16 July 2015]

1984_sikhs

Lord Singh has questioned the government’s inequitable approach to the issues of genocide and human rights abuses.

During a recent debate centering on the 1915 atrocities by the Ottomans, peers discussed the need for Britain to recognise the genocide against Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians.

Lord Singh disappointed at the governments position on the mass killing of Sikhs in India, said:

‘My Lords, is the Government’s response to genocide and human rights abuse predicated by who does it and where it occurs? I ask the question because when I raised the issue of the mass killing of Sikhs in India about a year ago, I was told that that is a matter for the Indian Government.’

The Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) Lord Singh of Wimbledon has asked the government for parity in tackling hate crimes against all communities, not just Muslims.

A Muslim Peer, Baroness Afshar tabled a question leading to a debate last week:

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures they have put in place to counter the impact of Islamophobia and stigmatisation on young Muslims.”

During the debate Lord Singh asked the government:

“My Lords, is the Minister aware that ever since 9/11 there has been a huge increase in the number of attacks on Sikhs and Sikh places of worship in cases of mistaken identity? The most recent case was a machete attack on a young Sikh dentist in south Wales, which was described on “Newsnight” as Islamophobia. Does the Minister agree that hate crime is hate crime against any community, and that it should be tackled even-handedly, irrespective of the size of the community?”

Baroness Williams of Trafford, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Communities and Local Government responded in agreement:

“The noble Lord is absolutely right—hate crime is hate crime.”

The backlash to Islamic extremism is particularly heightened following terror attacks. The Sikh community is an example where bigots target the ‘Muslim looking other’ in the wake of terrorist atrocities like 9/11 and 7/7. In his book, My Political Race former government Minister Parmjit Dhanda revealed how a pig’s head was thrown in his drive following his 2010 election defeat.

Racial prejudices have also motivated hate crimes against minorities. Last Week Mold Crown Court found Zack Davies a ‘white supremacist’ guilty of trying to behead a Sikh dentist in a machete attack. Davies was reported to have taken inspiration from Jihadi John, and to have chosen his victim because of his race not religion.

The government has pledged it will support the recording of anti-Muslim incidents as well as anti-Semitic, across all UK police forces. There are currently no plans in place for hate crime victims from other minority faiths.

The NSO has written to the government in light of the current strategy, which we believe urgently requires a more inclusive approach

 

 

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