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Author Archives: Hardeep Singh

Lord Singh of Wimbledon

The Sikh Federation is always looking for a campaigning issue. The latest, is the inclusion of Sikhs as a distinct ethnic group in the next census. Predictably, Federation supporters, like Gurmukh Singh (Sewa UK), cite the Law Lords Ruling in the Mandla Case to justify an assertion that Sikhs are a distinct ethnic group. We are not, and to say we are shows a lack of understanding of the Law Lords’ findings, the meaning of ‘ethnicity’, and worse, ignorance of the teachings of the Sikh Gurus.

The Mandla case

The initial meeting to fight the Mandla case, with Seva Singh Mandla and the barrister Harjit Singh, took place in my house. Harjit Singh explained that the then Commission for Racial Equality wanted to protect the right of Gurinder Mandla to wear a turban in school. They wanted me to help them prove that Sikhs were a distinct race. I explained that to call Sikhs a race, would be going against Sikh teachings.

Our Gurus taught that all humans are of the same one race, and that man made divisions based on caste or race are divisive and false. I advised that protection under the category of ethnicity would be a better option. Ethnicity simply recognises the reality that people living in particular parts of the world can share common characteristics such as language, culture, and religion and a generally common diet, as well as a common propensity to certain diseases and comparative resistance to others. My argument was accepted and I then helped set out the case for protection of Sikhs on the grounds, that most Sikhs then in the UK were born in Punjab, had a common culture, wore the symbols of a distinct faith as well as sharing similar genetic characteristics.

I was asked to be the expert Sikh witness in the case and spent a day and a half being rigorously cross-examined in court. In the end, the case went all the way to the House of Lords where we eventually won. To understand the limited significance of the ruling, it is helpful to think of a dirty big box marked ‘ethnicity’. The Law Lords ruled that SOLELY for the purpose of protection under the 1976 race relations act, Sikhs could fit into that box, Nothing more, nothing less.

It is dishonest to say the Law Lords stated Sikhs were an ethnic group per se. The Law Lords, who I met at the time, were a clever lot, but it was not in their gift to alter geography and nature, or the social environment in which a community has its roots. Nor can the much-boasted signatures of 100 MPs make any difference. 

Harjinder Singh who now lives abroad, is a good practicing Sikh. If he lived in this country, he would be protected under the 1976 Race relations Act. As far as propensity, or comparative immunity to disease and illness goes, he remains an ethnic European. Most Sikhs in the UK are in the true meaning of ethnicity, ethnic Punjabis, and as such, have a greater propensity to diabetes and heart and liver disease. The Law Lords cannot change a person’s DNA.

Nor can they alter the Gurus’ teachings. This is what those obsessed with ethnic monitoring are effectively trying to do by extrapolating the Law Lords clearly limited ruling, to arrogantly pronounce the falsehood that Sikhs everywhere belong to a distinct ethnic group. Living in Europe, Harjinder Singh is a Sikh with European ethnicity. Ethnicity is not a matter of personal choice.

Is ethnic monitoring either practical or necessary?

The Sikh Federation maintain that having an option to write Sikh in the ethnic category will somehow give Sikhs a greater share of goods and services. Really? There is no evidence of ethnic monitoring being used to benefit any distinct community in the UK. Muslims and Jews, on the other hand, do well enough without it. As a former Labour Minister put it, ‘it’s the wheel that squeaks that gets the oil.’

Negative effect on practising Sikhs

Even if ethnic monitoring of Sikhs were a practical proposition, some Sikhs would probably declare their ethnicity as Indian, resulting in under-counting.

More seriously, in employment, ethnic monitoring would worsen the position of practicing Sikhs. Much of existing discrimination against Sikhs is on the basis of visible appearance. Monitoring of ‘ethnic Sikhs’ could mask and give legitimacy to discrimination towards turban wearing Sikhs. For example, a large organisation like the BBC might pass the ethnic quota test with few if any practising Sikhs. The irony is that the Mandla case was fought to protect our right to wear the symbols of our faith.

Khalistan

Some Sikhs naively believe that calling ourselves an ethnic group (which we are not) will strengthen the case for Khalistan, an emotionally attractive homeland for Sikhs. Forgetting the political impediments, there are two reasons why talk of Khalistan is nothing more than a campaigning slogan:

  1. Absence of a contiguous area, in Punjab where Sikhs will always be in a majority.
  2. A religious State, on the lines of Israel or Pakistan, where Sikhs have more rights than those of other faiths, would be totally against the clear teachings of our Gurus.

Talking of Khalistan is an understandable way of vocalising our anger over the genocide in 1984; it is an excellent rallying call for generating unthinking emotional following and funding by groups like the Sikh Federation, but as a practicable or desirable proposition, it is a complete nonstarter.

Indarjit

Lord Singh of Wimbledon, Director – Network of Sikh Organisations.

[Image above: Lady Singh addressing the audience at Billion Women Parliamentary event]

Full talk given by Lady Singh at the launch of Lord Sheikh’s book Emperor of the Five Rivers at The Nehru Centre on the 6 September 2017.

My Lords, Ladies and gentlemen, Good evening. Thank you Lord Sheikh for giving me this opportunity to say a few words on this joyous occasion if the launch of the book Emperor of the Five Rivers. I am delighted and indeed honoured to have this opportunity. In only ten minutes, I will try to do some justice to this superbly written book. Usually we say that no self respecting Sikh will speak less than an hour. Let’s see.

Emperor of the Five Rivers provides a fascinating insight into an important period in Sikh history. It is both a well researched and reference book for the serious scholar and an enjoyable read. The author is to be congratulated for a remarkable addition to Sikh literature.

The book is set against a background of British expansion in India and the savage culture of the times. It provides a fascinating account of Ranjit Singh’s generosity, courage and extraordinary humanity in an age of unabashed greed and cruel regimes.

I found it a well researched book, with helpful references providing vivid examples of Ranjit Singh’s humility and compassion and extraordinary diplomatic skills. It also shows his human weaknesses including a fondness of wine and beautiful women.

Appropriately the story begins with how the teachings of the Sikh Gurus helped shape Ranjit Singh’s character and his attitude to religion and politics. We learn that the young Ranjit was virtually illiterate but possessed a sharp brain and an intense interest in the world about him. He would sit for hours in the gurdwara [a Sikh temple], listening to the stories of the Gurus and the respect they showed to the people of other religions.

The book shows how these teachings had a huge influence on the young Ranjit and the way in which behaved to both his subjects and his defeated enemies, in his sprawling empire which extended beyond the subcontinent to Kabul and Tibet, earning him popular acclaim as the ‘Lion of Punjab’. His inclusive attitude to other religions and nationalities is shown by the fact that he employed several French and European generals in his army and that more than half of his governing cabinet consisted of non- Sikhs.

Even in those early days Sikh Gurus’ teaching of equality of women with men was not forgotten by Ranjit Singh. Among his most famous commanders was his mother in law Maharani Sada Kaur, who was leading her armies at Lahore, Amritsar and other places. She was his advisor and a confidante for many years.

As Lord Sheikh writes, ‘ He handed responsibilities to those best able to discharge them, whatever their religion.’Again on page 47, Far more important aspect of Ranjit’s religious faith was its tolerance. Unlike either Islam or Christianity, Sikhism was not a missionary religion. Sikhs believed utterly in their religion and were only too happy for others to join them, but they did not try to coerce anyone to do so. Nor did they view non-Sikhs with contempt. This attitude underpinned Ranjit Singh’s entire religious outlook. Many calls him a secular ruler, but as pointed out by Lord Sheikh, Ranjit Singh was a Sikh ruler in the true sense whose rule was secular.

The author notes many examples of Ranjit Singh’s humility. He struck a coin for the investiture that paid tribute to Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh, he dispensed with his right to wear his crown or sit on a throne. He continued to preside over the Darbar sitting cross-legged on a modest chair. His modesty was entirely in keeping with the republican nature of Sikhism, and in total contrast to the way in which oriental kings normally presented themselves. Story of a Muslim calligraphist who had spent years transcribing the Qur’an beautifuly by hand was about to leave the Punjab to sell his product as no one would buy it. Ranjit summoned him to an audience, respectfully pressed the piece of work against his head, purchased it giving more than the asking price and later presented it to Fakir Aziz-ud-din.

Ranjit made it an ironclad rule that his armies would not indulge in carnage, burn holy books or destroy places of worship. The civilian population would remain free to carry on with their normal activities and no women were to be molested. When Ranjit rode through Peshawar after wresting it from the Afghans, the holy people of the city prayed openly for his long life.

It was not only Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs who enjoyed his generous patronage. Among his advisers in the highest ranks of his army , were French, English, Scots, Americans, Hungarians, Russians, Spaniards and Greeks.The Maharaja, illiterate but thirsty for knowledge would spend hours with these ‘firangees’, as they were called, learning about their country and their way of life.

The book gives a fascinating insight into the diplomatic intrigues of the East India Company and the British government; the shadow boxing between the Sikhs and the British, each wary and respectful of the other’s strength. We learn how the astute Ranjit Singh successfully countered British moves to extend their domination and control to the fertile and rich area of Punjab. Each side would maintain outwardly cordial relations with the other indulge in lavish hospitality and the exchange of fine gifts, while at the same time spying on the military strength of the other.

Emperor of the Five Rivers shows, in an easily readable way, how under Ranjit Singh’s enlightened rule, Punjab and the other areas enjoyed peace and prosperity for forty years. This part of the continent had seen only conflict and suffering, and sadly is still experiencing terrible conflict and religious extremism.

The Maharaja is shown as a knowledgeable patron of the arts with a priceless collection of jewellery, shawls and other beautiful works of art. He gave generously to gurdwaras and religious buildings of other faiths, not only in Punjab but other parts of India. He gave endowments and charities to all religions – put gold on Hermandir Sahib, became known as Golden Temple, gold plated temple in Banaras.

In the two Anglo Sikh wars of the 1840s the brave virtually leaderless Khalsa Army was narrowly defeated but not before it had shaken British rule in India to its very core. The author ruefully observes that if its leaders had not made shameful deals with the British, the whole history of the sub continent would have been entirely transformed.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh was one of the most charismatic figures in Sikh history who ruled much of North India including Punjab, present day Pakistan and Kashmir from 1801 until his death in 1839. Think of the romantic image that Richard the Lionheart has in English history: add to it the judgement and wisdom of Solomon and you have some idea of the place that Maharaja Ranjit Singh,Lion of Punjab’, holds in the heart of every Sikh, Hindu and Muslim in Punjab.

Ranjit Singh was powerful enough to have ruled in a totally autocratic way. Instead, he saw himself as the head of a commonwealth and took decisions only after consultation with other Sikh and non-Sikh leaders. It was fine while he lived. He was the hub at the centre, the referee between selfish and often conflicting interests. Ranjit Singh’s own personality was the glue that kept together a vast and sprawling empire. In military terms, Ranjit Singh’s commonwealth was so strong that even the all-powerful English to the South, though keen to establish their influence northwards, hesitated to face him on the battlefield. For some two generations, Punjab enjoyed, for the first time in its entire history, truly secular government.

And then in 1839, Ranjit Singh died and it all fell apart. Internal feuding between warring factions took place. There was treachery and betrayal. The English saw their chance. Two hard fought wars between the largely leaderless Sikhs and the English ensued and,within ten years, nothing was left of Ranjit Singh’s vast empire.

The strength of the Rule under Maharaja Ranjit Singh lay in the power source of Sikh teachings. Ranjit Singh was fired by the ideals of equality, selfless service, humility and concern for the less privileged. When those that followed Ranjit Singh, ignored these ideals, decay was certain.

We have a great lesson to learn from this book. Emperor of the Five Rivers clearly shows us that Sikhs Hindus, Muslims and by today’s extension Christians and Jews can live together in peace and harmony if their rule is even handed, be they elected, selected or hereditary.

A thanks to Lord Sheikh for bringing true history to us, without any bias. When I interviewed him for Sikh Channel and asked him how Ranjit singh was so well versed in all areas of administration, his reply was that Ranjit Singh was ‘a genius’. This one word genius, very appropriately describes the man of his book Emperor of the Five Rivers.

Thank you for giving me an opportunity to speak at the launch of your book and thank you all for listening to me.

Our Sikh World – Lady Singh & Mrs Maker interview Monty Panesar

August 1st, 2017 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Videos - (0 Comments)

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY – 25/07/17

July 30th, 2017 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Thought for the day - (0 Comments)

The weekend post brought its usual appeals for donations to help in alleviating suffering in Syria, Iraq and other areas of the Middle East The scale of suffering, wrought by internecine political, religious and ethnic conflict, is truly devastating and it is important that we support such appeals and help those risking their lives to help the victims of war and violence.

Next month representatives of different faiths and secular society will meet at a service at Westminster Abbey for Humanitarian Aid workers killed in conflict. At the inaugural meeting, 4 years ago, I referred to the extraordinary dedication and concern for others of an American, 26 year old Kayla Mueller, captured by ISIS and reportedly killed in a Jordanian air strike. In a letter smuggled to her family, she wrote: If I have suffered at all throughout this experience, it is only in knowing how much suffering I have put you through….The thought of your pain is the source of my own.

No self-pity; no harsh word about her captors. Only a concern for others. There are many others like Kayla, and they all deserve our prayers and support. The reality however is their dedication and international aid efforts alone, cannot cope with the suffering of those caught up in the fighting, and in the huge displacement of people we have witnessed, which just goes on and on.

I believe it is important to look more closely at the causes of such suffering. True, that violence begins with local rivalries, but unfortunately, these are magnified and made more horrific by larger factional rivalry between the great powers, supporting rival factions with ever-more sophisticated means of killing in pursuit of strategic interest. The Sikh Guru, Guru Amar Dass, looking at the dubious alliances fracturing the society of his day wrote:

I am of Gods Faction. All other factional alliances are subject to death and decay.

Speaking from a Sikh perspective, if we wish to avoid the continuing man made suffering of innocents, I believe we must continually remind all in power to look beyond, solely, their own self-interest, to what Sikhs call Sarbat ka Bhalla, a single-minded resolve to secure the well-being of all.

Tribute to Jagraj Singh

July 23rd, 2017 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Current Issues - (0 Comments)

 

[Image] Jagraj Singh, founder of Everythings 13 (Sikh Press Association)

We pay tribute to Jagraj Singh who lost his battle with cancer on the 20th July. Singh rose to prominence with his viral Youtube videos – ‘Basics of Sikhi’, where he can be seen promoting Sikh teachings and educating members of the public with open dialogue. He has been described as an ‘innovator’, and his contribution to Sikhs in Britain and across the globe cannot be over emphasised.

The NSO sends its deepest condolences to the friends and family of Jagraj Singh. His charisma, commitment to Sikh ideals, and indomitable strength of character continues to be an inspiration to us all.

Debate: Saudi Arabia and Human Rights

July 23rd, 2017 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Current Issues | Human Rights - (0 Comments)

Declaring his interest as member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Abolition of the Death Penalty, Lord Dholakia asked Her Majesty’s Government what representations they had made to the Saudi government concerning the imminent execution of fourteen individuals including to juveniles.

In response Baroness Goldie said, “we condemn its use in all circumstances and in all countries. It is particularly ​abhorrent when applied to minor crimes and to juveniles in disregard of the minimum standards set out in the EU guidelines on the death penalty of 2008, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Arab Charter on Human Rights.” She went on, “Saudi Arabia remains a Foreign and Commonwealth Office human rights priority country, in part due to its use of the death penalty, and it is aware of our position.”

NSO director Lord Singh who has previously spoken out against human rights violations by the Kingdom said, “My Lords, why are the Government so quiet about trade with Saudi Arabia? Why do we export billions of pounds-worth of arms to Saudi Arabia when it is probably the greatest abuser of human rights in the world, against not only neighbouring countries but also its own people, including juveniles?”

In response to Lord Singh Baroness Goldie said Saudi Arabia was an ‘important ally’, and that intelligence shared by them had potentially saved British lives. However despite the close relationship she said, “That does not gag or inhibit us from expressing our strongly held views about abuses of human rights or deployment of the death penalty.”

 

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY – 18/07/17

July 23rd, 2017 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Thought for the day - (0 Comments)

Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dicks’ weekend statement that police had prevented as many as five near imminent terrorist attacks over the last few months-, reminds us that we still have much to do to understand and combat the roots of such terrorism.

The seeming paradox behind increasing terrorist outrages and much of the violence in the world today, is how can religious teachings designed to help us be better human beings, be manipulated to lead to the deliberate killing of innocents?

Sikh teachings remind us that what generally passes for religion, is, in reality, a complex mix of superstition, rituals, culture, group history and uplifting ethical teachings. No religion, including my own is immune from followers going against its ethical teachings. Ethical teachings are easy to state, but difficult to live by, and in practice, greater emphasis is often placed on culture and rituals, and sometimes, a perversely unifying belief, that God favours our faith over that of others.

Guru Nanak, looking at conflict between religions in the India of his day, reminded us: ‘the one God of us all is not the least bit interested in our different religious labels but in what we do for others.’ It’s a perversion to believe that God condones killing and murder in His name, and to horrendous crimes and savagery not only between faiths but within the same faith. Today, despite many years of earnest effort for inter faith understanding, there is virtually no dialogue between faiths to explore and understand their different religions. Religious leaders come together, deplore the violence in the world, share tea and samosas, and then, often go back to their congregations to preach exclusivity.

There is an urgent need to look at the environment in which the cancer of terrorism thrives. We need legitimate discussion of questionable attitudes and practices, beginning with those that discriminate against women, gay people and others. Prime Minister Theresa May was right when she recently spoke of the need for difficult conversations about religion. A bold, but courteous, questioning of seemingly divisive practices will help make religion, what it was always intended to be, an active player in working for the common good of all.

 

Interfaith talks need to go beyond teas and samosas

July 22nd, 2017 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Current Issues - (0 Comments)

Our Director’s recent opinion editorial in the Times:

 

Terrorism and Extremist Propaganda

July 3rd, 2017 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Current Issues - (0 Comments)

Last week Conservative peer Lord Naseby asked Her Majesty’s Government what measures were being taken to ‘combat extremist propaganda released through multimedia channels, particularly social media, videos, the internet and other online sources.’ The focus of Lord Naseby’s question was limited to online activity, however the NSO acknowledges the issue is not limited to this alone, but is far more complex.

Pointing to issues beyond the internet and specifically interpretation of religion, NSO Director Lord Singh said, ‘My Lords, does the Minister agree that what generally passes for religion is not only ethical guidance for sane living, but a sometimes oppressive culture and a shared history often bent or moulded to dislike or hate others?’

He went on, ‘It is such material that is used to radicalise people. Does the Minister agree that there should be open debate about these things and that this aspect of religion should not be protected by political correctness if we want a truly healthy society?’

Minister of State Baroness Williams said, ‘Lord Singh, as always, makes insightful points.’ She added, ‘The Prime Minister said the other day that we must be prepared to have difficult conversations and I totally agree.’

Emergency services attend to victims of the Tower Bridge terror attack

The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) feels it’s time for the country to have an honest debate about the religious motivation behind the jihadist terror attacks in Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge.

For far too long we have heard platitudes from politicians and commentators like ‘terrorism has no religion’ or ‘Islam means peace’, without questioning the real motivation behind the sequence of terror atrocities our country has faced. Many innocent lives have been lost and statements from the Prime Minister like ‘enough is enough’ must be backed with practical steps to get to the root cause of the problem without fear of being labeled ‘Islamophobic.’

We take the view that Western intervention in the Middle East has contributed to contempt for countries like Britain in the eyes of extremists, their sympathizers and sponsors. Moreover the duplicity of politicians like Trump, who on one hand pledge the destruction of Islamic State, whilst selling their backers Saudi Arabia weapons to murder Shias in Yemen, is counter-productive. However, we also know from the history of our forefathers who suffered terrible persecution under India’s Islamic invaders, this is not simply just about Western foreign policy. There is something else at play, and has been for a number of centuries. We must have the courage to name the elephant in the room.

The NSO takes the view that jihadist attacks are primarily motivated by foundational religious texts, and Britain can no longer ignore this. We can no longer bury our heads in the sand and pretend there is no doctrinal motivation. An honest conversation, however difficult, must now take place, acknowledging the existence of verses that are clearly being interpreted by extremist Muslims as a divine license to kill non-believers or kuffar (a derogatory term for a non-Muslim). This is how true interfaith must now evolve and where the conversation, however difficult, must go. We must be clear on which verses are problematic, and how they are being interpreted. We urgently need to know what the Muslim community will do to stop hate preachers from plugging extremist narratives, particularly ones that encourage hate, murder and mayhem.

Lord Singh NSO Director said, “Today’s response to terrorist outrages is frankly pathetic with statements like: ‘the vast majority of Muslims are decent law abiding people’. Of course, they are. So are followers of other faiths. But what of smaller numbers who earnestly believe murderous action against fellow human beings is justified by their religion? Statements like, ‘we must all stand together’, or, that ‘those that seek to divide us will never win’, are fine, but they, and pledges to increase security and intelligence, do nothing to address the underlying causes of religious terrorism.”

He added, “Today, there is an urgent need to look at the environment in which the cancer of terrorism thrives. We will never get anywhere until we are bold enough to attack and break down false barriers of arrogance and superiority between and within different religions. If we do this, we will find core ethical teachings have much in common. We will also find cultural practices of blatant discrimination against women, and others who are in any way different from the norm.”

He went on, “Such attitudes, questionable even centuries ago, have no place in the world of the 21st century and should be unceremoniously discarded. Not easy. It requires religious leaders to declare that oppressive cultural attitudes, and historical enmities embedded in religious texts, have no relevance to the world of today.”

The NSO extends its heartfelt condolences to the friends and families of those who lost loved ones during the London attack.


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