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Last week the government of Ontario passed a motion which officially recognizes the 1984 anti-Sikh riots orchestrated by Congress politicians as ‘genocide’.

Legislator’s in Ontario’s provincial government passed the motion which was put forward by Liberal Member of the Legislative Assembly Harinder Kaur Malhi last Thursday. The Private Members Notice of Motion number 46, was passed with a majority vote of 35 to 5.

It was first introduced last year by the New Democratic Party (NDP) Deputy Leader Jagmeet Singh, but failed to get cross-governmental support at the time.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon, who has been tirelessly campaigning for justice for the victims of 1984 said:

“We applaud the initiative of Harinder Kaur and the Ontario Legislature in describing the widespread government killings of thousands of Sikhs in India as genocide.”

He went on: “We hope that other governments will follow, resulting in an international inquiry to punish the guilty and bring closure to thousands of still grieving families.”

In a debate in the House of Lords in 2014, Lord Singh said the widespread killing of Sikhs in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination was incited by the words ‘Khoon ka Badla Khoon’, meaning ‘Take blood for blood’ on All India Radio.

At the time he informed peers: “We know all about the disappearances and killings in General Pinochet’s Chile, but a WikiLeaks document carrying a signed report from the American embassy in India shows that more Sikhs were brutally murdered in just three days in 1984 than those killed in Pinochet’s 17-year rule.”

A detailed report on the subject, 1984 Sikhs’ Kristallnacht can be found here

['The Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland': image by Gryffindor under license CC 3.0]

[‘The Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland’: image by Gryffindor under license CC 3.0]

Talk given at the Palais des Nations, the United Nations Office at Geneva [22-09-16]

Friends,
It is a real pleasure to be with you to give a Sikh perspective on Religious Literacy and Freedom of Religion and Belief today. Religion is very much in the news, often for the wrong reasons. Religion, and religious bigotry are often wrongly seen in the public mind as one and the same thing. There is therefore, a clear need for religious literacy to help us distinguish between religion and the misuse of religion.

Basic literacy
Unfortunately, instead of explaining the essentials of different religions and what motivates people of faith, the inter faith industry has made religious literacy a subject for academics who voice their understanding in highly abstruse and difficult to understand lectures and seminars. We need the basics in clearly understood language.

Let’s start with Sikhism: a little known religion in the West, although tens of thousands of Sikhs gave their lives for the West in two world wars and were briefly welcomed with smiles and flowers. Today, Sikhs are confused with Muslims and often referred to as Bin Laden, although, as you will see, they are clearly two different faiths.

Sikhism is a religion with about 25 million followers that began in Punjab some five and a half centuries ago; a religion that believes in one God who is beyond birth and timeless. Teachings stress the equality of all members of our one human family, full gender equality, rejection of all notions of race or caste and a commitment to tolerance and respect between different religions; a belief that God isn’t a bit impressed by our different religious labels, but in what we do in serving our fellow human beings. That is all anyone needs to know about Sikhs and Sikhism in my understanding of basic religious literacy.

We need to adopt the same basic approach in looking at other religions, and then go on to look for and rejoice in shared commonalities, and be aware of irreconcilable differences that should be questioned, respected, or possibly be challenged.

The real purpose of religious literacy is to remove dangerous ignorance. Prejudice thrives on ignorance and leads to irrational hate. We all know that in a fog or mist, even normally familiar objects like a tree or bush can assume sinister or threatening proportions. It is the same with people of different religions or cultures when we see them in a mist of ignorance and prejudice. Remove the fog or mist of ignorance and we see them as fellow human beings.

Let me now talk briefly about Freedom of Belief. Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights declares that we all have a human right to practice and manifest our religion, and in precept at least, it is binding on all members of the UN. Unfortunately, the Declaration is often more honoured in its breech than in observance.

There are two difficulties:

1.Secular society can, at times, be antagonistic to beliefs that they may regard as a challenge to secular politics.
2. Arrogant behaviour of religions and factions in religions that look down on both other religions and secular society.

Secular Challenge
A history of oppressive religion in France at the time of the French Revolution, led to religion being seen as a threat to material progress, leading it to it being banished to the margins of society. In France and some other countries any public manifestation of religion like a Sikh turban is banned, despite France being a signatory to the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

A European Court of Human Rights ruling that discrimination against the turban is illegal, is simply ignored. Ironically France’s narrow interpretation of secularity is similar to the narrow interpretation of religion by some religious bigots. Today we need to understand that a truly secular state is one in all systems of belief can flourish and in which no religion or system of belief dominates political life to the exclusion of others.

Sikhs reflect on this discrimination against the manifestation of religious belief as we mark the centenary of World War 1, in which tens of thousands of Sikh soldiers were briefly welcomed with flowers before going on to fight and die in the freezing and vermin infested mud filled trenches of the Somme, and in Gallipoli and other battlefields, fighting for those who now discriminate against the turban. We feel particularly bad as the Sikh turban reminds us to be true to freedom of belief, tolerance and respect for others.

Demonising of religion in schools is also counter-productive. If children do not acquire some basic religious literacy in school, they will simply carry their ignorance and prejudices to adult life. In the USA which bans the teaching of religion in schools, the first person shot in revenge for 9/11 was a Sikh. This was followed by other incidents including Sikh worshippers being shot dead in a gurdwara in Wisconsin as a result of mistaken identity. Such incidents, also suffered by other faiths, result from ignorance and prejudice.

 [Above: Right to Left, Baroness Berridge and Lord Singh during panel debate]

[Above: Right to Left, Baroness Berridge and Lord Singh during panel debate]

Religious arrogance and rivalry
Freedom of Religion does not carry a right to harm or disparage others It must conform to basic human rights including full gender equality. Historical religious texts sometimes contain harsh strictures on geographic neighbours and other faiths at a time of the early development of that faith, as well as dated social attitudes. These have become embedded not only in some religious scriptures, but also in the psyche of unthinking believers.  These need to be removed or disregarded if religion is to realise its true role in society.

As a Sikh, I believe that that a major impediment to religious harmony is the claim that the one God of us all is prejudiced or biased towards any particular faith, or that ours is the only way to God. This is not only insulting but a recipe for conflict. In the same way, the killing of innocents in the name of God, is the ultimate blasphemy.

Discussion in this area is also made more difficult by a jargon jungle of pejorative language. Words like fundamentalist, extremist, moderate, terrorist or Islamist do not enhance discussion and are simply used by governments and others to smear those they do not like. Let me give an example: Many of you will be aware that in 1984 that the Indian government pandering to latent majority Hindu racism in an election year, invaded the historic Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar on one of the holiest days in the Sikh calendar, on the pretext that it housed some ‘separatists’.

Thousands of innocent pilgrims in the vast complex were brutally killed and much of the complex destroyed. The Indian propaganda machine labelled all practising Sikhs as terrorists and even sought to pressurise those like myself abroad, protesting in the media about the Indian Government action.

Early one Sunday morning two Scotland Yard police officers knocked on my front door. I invited them in and offered them a cup of tea. Somewhat embarrassed, they asked if I was an extremist or a moderate. I replied that I was extremely moderate. Then they asked if I was a fundamentalist. I replied ‘well I believe in the fundamentals of Sikhism, like the equality of all human beings and commitment to work for greater social justice, yes I suppose I am a fundamentalist.’ The two officers finished their tea and left thoroughly confused.

Negative Political Influence
Unfortunately, politicians throughout the world also show a reluctance to be even-handed in their approach to human rights and religious freedom, basing their stance on trade and power block politics. Some examples from Britain, but it’s much the same across the world. At the time of the mass killing of Sikhs in India in 1984, I went to see the British Home Secretary who I knew well and asked him why was the government silent on this near genocide. He turned to me and said ‘Indarjit we know what is going on; we’re walking on a tightrope; we have already lost one important contract (the Westlands helicopter contract) what can we do?’

More recently, a minister in the House of Lords rose to state that Her Majesty’s Government wanted an international inquiry into human rights abuse in Sri Lanka. I rose and asked: ‘will the government support a similar international inquiry into the killing of tens of thousands of Sikhs in 1984? The minister’s dismissive response: ‘that is a matter for the Indian government’. The great human rights activist Andrei Sakharov declared: ‘that there will never be peace in the world unless we are even-handed in looking to human rights’. We should heed his sane advice.

The trumping of trade over human rights was even blatant at the time of a visiting Chinese trade delegation in 2014. The Minister then responsible for trade publically stated that: ‘when we are talking trade with China, we should not raise issues over abuse of human rights’. I have cited examples from Britain, but sadly most countries in the world behave in exactly the same way.

Conclusions
Religious literacy and inter faith dialogue is a basic need for religious harmony. It is too important to be the sole preserve of so-called scholars, or religious leaders who meet and make virtuous pronouncements, and then go away to denigrate the beliefs of their inter faith colleagues and say to their congregation that they and they alone, are the one true faith.

We also need to urgently get away from arguments of religion versus secularity. They are not mutually exclusive and can be mutually enhancing. Religion emphasises responsible behaviour and secular politics emphasises behaviour that conforms to society norms. Religion emphasises ethical values that do not change with time and can or should underpin secular society. Basic religious literacy can not only show that different religions are not all that different in ethical values, but also that our shared ethical values can help make secular society more humane and caring and our world a more peaceful place.

Lord (Indarjit) Singh, Vice Chair APPG International Religious Freedom

Note: Lord Singh’s contribution was received with rapt attention and warm appreciation. Bishop Duleep De Chickera from Colombo, was moved to comment that ‘Lord Singh’s talk was so full of common sense that I wish we had him as President of Sri Lanka‘.

He was invited to join a select Panel to talk to and take questions from national representatives the next morning

top-10-human-rights-organisations

Earlier this month Lord Alton of Liverpool asked her Majesty’s government what steps they were taking to promote Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Lord Singh’s contribution to this important debate has been reproduced in full below:

My Lords, I also offer my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating this important debate and for the vast amount of work he does in this field. All too often, debates and questions in this House describe the appalling treatment of religious minorities across the world. Unfortunately, the response from government is in my view far from even-handed. The world, it seems, is still seen in terms of friendly countries to be spoken to quietly, if at all, and the characterisation of those who are not dependent on us for trade or strategic influence as nasty regimes to be condemned in the most strident terms.

Let me give an example. In 2014, the Government described the human rights record of the Sri Lankan Government as “appalling” and called for an international inquiry. I asked whether the Government would press for a similar inquiry into the Government-led massacre of thousands of Sikhs in India. The short, sharp response was that it was “a matter for the Indian Government”. Why the lack of even-handedness? I have asked the same question several times both in the Chamber and in Questions for Written Answer, but always to no effect. On the last occasion, some six months ago, I was promised a considered reply from the Minister, but I am still waiting for it.

In France today, Sikhs are being humiliated by being asked to remove their turbans for identity photos in defiance of a UNHCR court ruling that the actions of the French Government are an infringement of the rights of Sikhs under Article 18. There was no mention of this in our Government’s recent report on human rights abuses across the world. France, after all, is a “friendly” country. These examples of religious discrimination are especially hurtful to the followers of a religion in which freedom of belief is considered to be so important that our Ninth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, gave his life defending the right of Hindus, those of a different religion from his own, to freedom of worship.

What is of concern to me and others is that we, like other members of what we euphemistically call the Security Council are still living in a world of 19th-century power politics, a world in which the abuse of human rights was conveniently overlooked in a greed-fuelled era of strategic alliances. If there are any doubts about the failure of our power-bloc politics, we should reflect on the current tragedy of the Middle East, which began a century ago with the carving up of the former Ottoman Empire by British and French diplomats.

As a Christian hymn reminds us:

“New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient good uncouth;

They must upward still, and onward, who would keep abreast of Truth”.

The great human rights activist Andrei Sakharov said that,

“there can be no real peace in the world unless we are even-handed in our attitude to human rights”.

We will fail future generations if we do not heed his far-sighted words.

APPG
Keynote address: Lord Singh of Wimbledon, Secretary APPG for Religious Education

Religious literacy, once desirable, has now become absolutely necessary in the smaller world of the 21st century. It can help society in two important ways.

Firstly in combating irrational prejudice. Such prejudice is all too common. Let me tell you about an unfortunate but basic aspect of human behaviour. Indarjit’s law, It states: when two or more people find sufficient in common to call themselves ‘us’, they will immediately look for a ‘them’ to belittle, to strengthen their sense of unity.’

You see it when a group of people are chatting together on a street corner or in a pub, and one leaves. Those remaining will almost certainly find something negative to say about the person that has just left, to strengthen their new sense of togetherness. You see the same sort of unity, through negative attitudes to others, on the football terraces in the chants of rival supporters. Shakespeare in Richard the second has John O’Gaunt talking about this precious isle ‘set in a silver sea to guard against infection and the hand of war’, Infection here, does not refer to a disease like BSE but to contamination by foreigners; those different to us.

Religions are not immune to similar irrational prejudice against sister faiths. For some, superiority and exclusivity are almost central tenet of belief. In a recent ‘Thought for the Day’ broadcast on Radio 4, I referred to the Sikh teaching, ‘that no one religion has a monopoly of truth’. I received a prompt rap on the knuckles in an email from a Jewish lady, saying I was wrong, because God himself said so in the bible.

We all have a right to believe what we like, but it goes wrong when we begin to disparage others to show our superiority. Even today, the dictionary definition of heathen is ‘those not of an Abrahamic faith’- so you can see where that leaves me!

We all know that in a fog or mist, familiar everyday objects can assume threatening proportions. It is the same when we allow prejudice to obscure our understanding of different faiths. Prejudice and assumed superiority can all too easy to blind us to important commonalities, and cause us to look negatively at the religious belief and practices of others.

The first reason for a need for greater religious literacy, is then, to remove distorting ignorance and assumed superiority and see different religions as they really are: overlapping circles of ethical belief, in which the area of overlap is importantly, far greater than the smaller area of difference.

For example, lines of a favourite Christian hymn:

To all life thou givest to both great and small
In all life thou livest the true life of all

have their parallel in the Sikh teaching:

There is an inner light in all and that light is God

In my Thought for the Day broadcasts, I regularly draw attention to such commonalities. At one time, negative attitudes to others didn’t matter too much. We could refer to those with different faiths in a superior and disparaging way because they lived in far off countries and rarely came into contact with us. This disparaging of distant people perversely enhanced our own sense of cohesiveness. Today in our smaller world, our immediate neighbour is often from some other country having a different faith, and importantly, the same applies to our children’s classmates in school.

In the words of a well-known hymn, ‘new occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth’. We all need to adjust to a changed world. Countries like the USA and France which pride themselves in a refusal to allow the teaching of religion in schools, are simply allowing children to grow up ignorant of the beliefs of those around them, and easily influenced by the irrational prejudices of their parent’s generation. With ignorance of other faiths being the norm in the States, it’s not surprising that the first person shot in anger at the 9/11 outrage was a Sikh in a case of mistaken identity, and that a Sikh gurdwaras was subsequently attacked and innocent people killed.

In comparison to many other countries, Britain has done much in recent years, to teach children about the beliefs of other faiths. But we need to go further. All too often in the teaching of other faiths, the focus is on peripherals rather than the actual ethical teachings. There is still an undue emphasis on rituals and artefacts: on the shape and layout of places of worship and even in radio quiz, the number of arms of a certain Hindu goddess. Such things may be quaint, but they have nothing whatever to do with the ethical teachings of the founders of our different faiths.

We see then, that greater religious literacy is not simply desirable, but necessary for true understanding of sister faiths and greater community cohesion. This leads me to the second reason for greater understanding and cooperation; the true role of religion, which, in the Sikh view, is to highlight norms for responsible living. Norms that should influence both individual behaviour and public policy.

Parliament spends considerable time and allocates billions of pounds in trying to remedy the effects of careless, selfish and irresponsible living. This is seen in daily reports of neglect of the elderly or infirm and neglect of parental responsibility, leading to children put in supposed care often ending up in as victims of abuse, or drawn towards crime.

A report this week revealed that 80,000 children a year suffer from depression unable to cope with the complexities of modern life, with 17,000 attending Accident and Emergency, I could go on. Religions, all religions, in their own way try to teach right, wrong and responsibility; vital ingredients for greater social responsibility. We can make a real difference by working together to make responsible behavior more of a norm, saving the country huge sums addressing the consequences of irresponsible living.

Religion then can be a powerful force for good. In today’s increasingly unstable world. If not properly understood, it can, as we see again and again, lead to dangerous conflict and horrendous suffering.
To be truly effective, we need to go easy on divisive talk of exclusive and superior special relationships to the one God of all creation, and work together to embed the ethics of the founders of our faiths into more considered policy making, for a fairer and more contented society, and a more peaceful world.

Response to questions from the Audience.

Question: Can greater religious literacy help in the fight against extremism and radicalisation?
Reply: In order to move to greater religious literacy, we need to be wary of words like: extremism, radicalisation and fundamentalist, being used pejoratively or to obscure meaning and cloud debate on important issues. Let me give an example:

In 1984 the Indian government attacked the Golden Temple in Amritsar killing well over 1000 pilgrims. In the propaganda of the day, wanton killing of innocents, was an attack on ‘extremists’. Sikhs abroad were outraged. A few months after the attack, I was visited at home by two Scotland Yard Officers, They asked me if I was an ‘extremist’ or a ‘moderate’. I replied I was extremely moderate. Then they asked me if I was a ’fundamentalist’. I paused and replied, ‘I believe in the fundamentals of Sikh teaching such as: the equality and oneness of the human race, a stress on the full equality of women, respect for all religions and a commitment to help the poor and underprivileged. Yes, I am a fundamentalist’. My plea is for clarity in debate so that we can discuss real concerns.

Question: Some defend questionable behaviour by saying that it is supported by their scriptures which are ‘the word of God’. Can such attitudes be questioned without giving offence?

Reply: Sikhs believe that it is important to question beliefs and practices that appear to demean people or seem contrary to common sense. Guru Nanak and other Sikh Gurus often criticised superstitious or demeaning practices, such as the caste system and the treatment of women in the faiths around them.

Scriptures like the Old Testament and the Quran have a substantial historical element that relates to particular circumstances at a particular time, many hundreds of years ago. For example, the Quran accepts slavery in giving advice for their better treatment, but today, slavery itself is widely condemned, and could never be the will of God. Historical texts must be interpreted in the context of a particular time. To me as a Sikh it is, to say the least, wrong to blame God for ungodly behaviour.

The Director of The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO), Lord Singh has rejected an invitation to the ‘UKWelcomesModi’ reception and dinner hosted by the Indian High Commissioner.

The events being held this Friday are in honor of the Indian Premier Narendra Modi, who is on an official state visit to the UK.

Europe India Forum, organisers of ‘UKWelcomesModi’ have billed the forthcoming welcoming reception in Wembley as “the Diwali event for the family this year”. They aim to bring together, “individuals from the 1.6 million-strong Indian community in Britain- from all backgrounds, generations and regions – to celebrate two great nations with one glorious future.”

Thanking the High Commissioner for the invitation, Lord Singh responded, “Sikhs are delighted that under Mr Modi’s premiership, the widespread killing of Sikhs in 1984 has now been recognised as ‘genocide’.”

He went on, “This is a big step to bringing the Hindu and Sikh communities together, and in this context, as a leader of Britain’s half million Sikhs, I would be grateful for 5-6 minutes with Mr Modi to suggest ways of taking his initiative towards closure, in a way that brings the Hindu and Sikh communities closer together for the benefit of India as a whole.”

The High Commissioners office confirmed there would be no opportunity to discuss issues with Mr Modi, bar a handshake. Lord Singh declined the offer.

In separate developments, the Network of Sikh Organisations can confirm Lord Singh has been in communication with the Labour leader’s office, who confirmed Jeremy Corbyn will be raising the 1984 Sikh genocide with Mr Modi.

Sikh man being surrounded and attacked by mobs in 1984

Sikh man being surrounded and attacked by mobs in 1984

The office for the leader of the Labour Party has said Jeremy Corbyn will be taking up the issue of the 1984 Sikh genocide with the Indian premier during his visit to Britain this week.

The development comes following recent correspondence between Lord Singh of Wimbledon, the Director of The Network of Sikh Organisations, and the Labour Leader’s Office.

Lord Singh informed Mr Corbyn’s office that prior to Mr Modi’s landslide victory, he and his party had placed the blame for the killings of Sikhs on the then Congress government. Furthermore, following appointment to office Mr Modi’s Home Minister described the killings as “genocide”.

He wrote: “According to cables from the American Embassy in Delhi at the time, more Sikhs were brutally murdered by government orchestrated violence in the first three days of November 1984 than the total number of those killed in the long terror years of General Pinochet’s rule in Chile.”

He went on, “Sikhs are acutely concerned that a year after his election, Mr Modi has done nothing to bring identified Congress leaders who urged gangs of hooligans, to kill, murder and burn Sikh men, women and children, to justice. They now freely roam the streets gloating of their achievements to the bewilderment of relatives of those murdered, as well as the wider Sikh community.”

Lord Singh requested Mr Corbyn to ask Mr Modi to help bring closure to the remaining grieving families by setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which indicts those responsible for inciting murderous mobs. He said this would allow others to learn lessons, for what David Cameron described last year as “the worst stain on the history of post partition India.”

Mr Corbyn’s office confirmed he would be taking up the issue with Mr Modi when they meet later this week.

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.’

1.     On four separate occasions, I have asked in the Lords, why is the government  backing an independent UN led inquiry into human rights abuses against Tamils in Sri Lanka, but refusing to support a similat international inquiry into the attrocities of Sikhs in India. Are Sikhs lesser human beings? The government, in its consistent refusal to answer the question, clearly thinks we are.
2.     On 26th March 2014 Prime Minister David Cammeron effectively said that that the UK government is not concerned about the attrocities of Sikhs in 1984. All that matters is what Sikhs do for us in the UK.
3.     The last straw. The Sikh Council has been effectively sitting on a response from Baroness Warsi to the meeting of 24 February which effectively amounts to a huge slap on the face of all Sikhs, in its smugness about UK support for the persecution of Sikhs in 1984, and its arrogant refusal to support an international inquiry.
At the conclusion of the meeting of 24 February, Mr Kandola asked Baroness Warsi to send him her response to the points raised, undertaking to immediately forward the response to all who had participated. The Sikh Council has not kept to the promise made to all present. Even apologists for the Sikh Council like Gurmukh Singh will find the Council’s determination to sit on this latest slap on the face until after the photo opportunities at Downing Street, distasteful and insulting to still grieving families in India. The worldwide Sikh community expects a united response from the UK Sikh community to the smugness and indifference shown us.
Lord (Indarjit) Singh

STATEMENT FROM DIRECTOR: LORD SINGH OF WIMBLEDON

There is a tide in the affairs of men

                     Which taken at the flood leads on to fortune——–

  -On such a full sea are we know afloat

                                 And must take current when it serves or lose our venture

                                                                               Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

The need for an open independent inquiry into the genocide of Sikhs should be the most important demand for Sikhs in this 30th anniversary year of the Indian government’s planned massacre of Sikhs in 1984. We now have a better than ever opportunity to make this important Sikh demand a reality for the following reasons:

  • The revelation of the then UK government’s involvement, places a moral obligation on the present government to make amends by giving a measure of support for an independent inquiry, on the same lines as it is calling for a UN led inquiry into the massacre of Tamils in Sri Lanka
  • The centenary commemorations of the start of the Great War (1914-18) give an added reason to remind the UK government that 83,000 Sikhs gave their lives in the two world wars strengthening our demand for reciprocation of support
  • Wikileaks documents now available provide USA confirmation that more Sikhs were killed in just 3 days in India than in the 17 years of General Pinochet’s widely condemned cruel and arbitrary rule in Chile
  • India has a General Election in May. Two of the three main political parties have said they support an independent inquiry into the events of 1984 and Raul Gandhi, leader of the Congress Party has publically admitted that some Congress party members were involved
  • PM Manmohan Singh is also on record as speaking in the Indian Parliament on the genocide of 84 of ‘questions ‘still unanswered’
  • A General Election is to be held in the UK next year. There are sizable Sikh populations in many marginal seats and we can make it clear to political parties that Sikhs expect support for Sikh human rights

If we ignore this real opportunity, we will as Shakespeare observes, ‘lose our venture.’ This unusual combination of political developments will not occur again. UK Sikhs will betray the families of those who lost their lives in the genocide of Sikhs if we fail to make the need for an open inquiry the single- minded focus of Sikhs, to the exclusion of all side issues (including a time wasting inquiry into the minutiae of British government involvement which could take years without getting us any further).

Highlighting the Sikh Demand for an International UN-led Inquiry

My position in the Lords gives me a unique opportunity to constantly press politicians on this important issue, and with NSO support I have done this on four separate occasions. Yesterday I met the then Cabinet Secretary, Lord Butler to try to get his support, and am planning to ask a written question to Baroness Warsi as a follow up to the debate. It will not be easy but I will continue trying. One of the difficulties is the game of divide and rule, with the government saying other Sikhs are not necessarily backing the NSO demand. It is important to show Sikhs are united on this issue.

Need for Strategic Thinking

It is a matter of concern that although we are now fast approaching the June anniversary, and that May will see important elections in India, the Sikh Council appears to have no clear policy on what needs to be done. This has been admitted in recent email correspondence in which the Council asked the NSO for information on ten questions relating to background information so that they can begin consultations with constituent members.

Even more worrying, the Sikh Federation faction of the Council is actively seeking to divert attention and destroy momentum with a demand for a time wasting, judge led inquiry into British involvement that could take months, if not years without getting us any further!

In what many consider a historic House of Lords Debate on Monday 3rd March, I said all we want from the UK government is its backing for an International UN led inquiry into the 1984 genocide, on the same lines that HMG is supporting the need for a UN inquiry into human rights abuses against the Tamils in Sri Lanka.  I believe that the stance of the Federation faction of the Sikh Council in pursuing minutiae of UK involvement could prove counter-productive in alienating the UK government at a time when we need its support.

Unabashed, the Council are trying to claim credit for Monday’s historic debate in the Lords supposedly achieved with Sikh Council cooperation. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the Federation faction of the Sikh Council successfully muddied the waters by briefing Lord Triesman to shift the focus away from my demand for a UN backed inquiry into the behaviour of the Indian government, to instead, a time wasting inquiry into missing documents

Clarification

As I closed my speech in a strictly time limited debate, in which I had just 10 minutes to set the scene for the debate with a full history of the causes and details of the genocide of 1984,

I tried to impress on the government that Sikhs were united in our desire for an international inquiry and referred to the Sikh Council alongside reference to the NSO. This caused some ambiguity in the relationship of the Director NSO with the Sikh Council.

I would like to make it clear that I and the NSO have no desire to be involved with an organisation that includes factions that do not subscribe to the primacy of the Guru Granth Sahib, and on the current issue, acts in a way which I believe, seriously damages the Sikh cause. I have sympathy for Mr Kandola presiding over a group with conflicting agendas, but in this he is on his own.

My concern over the behaviour of the Sikh Council is that their lack of support may seriously harm this important Sikh demand. What I have written is backed by fact and I will be happy to debate it on any Sikh TV channel.

Conclusion

The NSO asks UK Sikhs and non-Sikhs committed to human Rights, for unqualified support for its demand for a UN-backed international inquiry into the genocide of Sikhs in 1984. It will be a betrayal of the families of victims if we allow ourselves to be deflected from this course.

Note: In preparing this statement the Network of Sikh Organisations wrote to Mr Kandola in an attempt to gain clarity on the Sikh Council’s strategy. Although Mr Kandola responded copying in colleagues, we are still no closer in understanding what their policy on the matter is. In the last communication Mr Kandola promised he would conduct consultation on the issue ending with the words ‘bear with us.’ We now understand Mr Kandola and his team have gone to India to help the UK government deal with asylum seekers.

NETWORK OF SIKH ORGANISATIONS UK 
PRESS RELEASE
 
Truth is high, but higher still is truthful living—Guru Nanak
Truth is high, but higher still is trade—1984 UK Government.
 

London: (08 Feb 2014); On Tuesday 4th February representatives of many Sikh organisations met with Rt Hon Hugo Swire, Minister MP at the Foreign Office to express concerns over the Cabinet Secretary’s Report on revelations on UK government support for Indian Army action against Sikhs in the Golden Temple.

SUMMARY

UK Sikhs are particularly concerned that despite a promised full inquiry, the Terms of Reference of the Report appear to have been designed to mitigate embarrassment resulting from incriminating documents inadvertently coming into the public domain. The Report of the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood is selective in its examination of documentation and concludes that British involvement was minimal. No mention is made of the background of a decade of increasingly active persecution of Sikhs by the Congress government as detailed in reports by Amnesty International and other human rights organisation.

The then Cabinet’s collective bias against Sikhs in the released papers is seen in a consistent labelling of Sikhs with a pick and mix assortment of pejorative descriptions such as separatist, dissident, extremist, fundamentalist etc. to produce a negative image of the community. The documents also showed the absence of a single word of sympathy for the thousands killed in the attack on the Golden Temple on one of the holiest days in the Sikh calendar and the organised widespread killing of Sikhs later in the year. The Inquiry Report instead seeks to show minimal UK military involvement.

The unanswered question remains why and on what criteria the UK government decided to accede to the then Indian government request for military assistance against India’s 2% Sikh community.

DETAILED CONCERNS

1.    Trade of greater importance than Human Rights of Sikhs Lord Singh, Director NSO was invited to meet the Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood on 21st January. He explained the hurt and sense of betrayal felt by UK Sikhs over the revelations of British government involvement. The Cabinet Secretary’s response was that his task was simply to look at all documentation and report accordingly. When Lord Singh mentioned that the documents showed that the only concern of the then government seemed to be that a lack of support for the Indian government might jeopardise arms exports, he received the astonishing response from the Cabinet Secretary that he and his team were unaware of any arms trade implications in the papers. Lord Singh responded that he had seen several references to arms sales to India being under threat, and at the Cabinet Secretary’s request, gave his office details of a Cabinet document dated 22 November 1984, referring to a five billion pound arms contract.

·      Cabinet papers reveal several other references to arms sale concerns. A two-hour search by an NSO researcher at the National Records Office at Kew, found additional material and importantly evidence of key documents being removed. It has since been confirmed that the missing file related to ‘military intelligence relating to India for 1984’.

 

·      Lord Singh also informed Sir Jeremy Heywood of a personal experience when he went to see a former Cabinet member in November 1984 to express concern over UK government silence over the widespread organised killing of Sikhs throughout India. The staggering response was ‘Indarjit, we know exactly what is going on, it’s very difficult; we’re walking on a tightrope: we have already lost one important contract’. 

2.    Cabinet papers show that all members of the then Cabinet wilfully ignored the reality of the persecution of Sikhs in India despite evidence then available.

·      The UK consistently says that it does not interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign countries. Yet a policy decision seems to have been taken by the 1984 Cabinet to give unquestioning support to a Congress government with democratically tainted credentials in military action against India’s minority Sikh community. The decision ignored widely available evidence of the systematic persecution of Sikhs. This freely available evidence included:

·      A detailed report by Amnesty International in 1983 (AI Index: ASA 20/01/84 Distr: SC/CO) documenting widespread human rights abuses by the government.

·      A Report by highly respected Hindu civil rights lawyers entitled ‘Who Are the Guilty’, was smuggled out of India in November 84 and personally placed by Lord Singh in the pigeonholes of every MP.

·      A presentation was also given to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights who unanimously decided to send a two man investigating team to India. The Indian Government refused them visas. They appealed saying that their inquiry would help reduce tensions in the UK. They were still refused visas.

3.    Censorship of foreign journalists.

·      Jane Corbyn, a highly respected journalist from Channel 4, in India at the time of the organised killing of Sikhs in the first week of November, had her film confiscated by the Indian authorities. She did however manage to smuggle a duplicate copy to the UK. This censorship of foreign journalists is mentioned in the documents and was only relaxed after the end of the organised killings of Sikhs throughout India.

·      Perusal of the released papers also reveals Cabinet discussions on the need to curb the UK media against allowing any reporting or interviews about or with Sikhs that might offend the Indian government.

·      Unhelpful use of pejorative language in Cabinet papers to tarnish the image of UK Sikhs.

·      Reading through the documents gives the impression that anyone who expressed concern over the plight of Sikhs in India was immediately labelled an extremist by the UK government.

·      The papers show several examples of government pressure on the media to deny Sikhs a voice.

·      This use of pejorative language to smear a religious minority (referred to earlier) is underlined by Lord Singh’s personal experience. In November 84, two Scotland Yard officers visited him early on a Sunday morning. They said they were concerned about tensions in the Sikh community and asked Lord Singh if he was ‘an extremist or a moderate’? To emphasise the absurdity of such terms he replied he was ‘extremely moderate’. They then asked if he supported Sikh fundamentalism, to which he replied that the fundamentals of Sikh teachings were about the equality of all human beings, respect for other ways of life and a commitment to work for the betterment of society, ‘Yes I do try to be a Sikh fundamentalist’.

ACTION DESIRED

The present government cannot be blamed for what happened 30 years ago. But the Cabinet in 1984 must have been aware that the day chosen for the attack on the Golden Temple was the martyrdom anniversary of Guru Arjan, (the founder of the Golden Temple) when the huge Temple complex was full to overflowing with innocent pilgrims. The reason given was to remove supposed extremists. The unanswered question is why then were 40 other gurdwaras in Punjab attacked at the same time? Today the UK government should reflect on the continuing hurt of the Sikh community, including the then government giving unthinking support to the cruel and vindictive Mrs Gandhi. To many outside the Sikh community, the events of 1984 are, in the words of the poet, ’dying embers’; to Sikhs they remain ‘red hot coals’ now fanned afresh by the revelation of British government involvement.

The events of 1984 damaged the previous close relationship and mutual respect between the Hindu and Sikh communities. 30 years after the event it is time for an open, independent inquiry that that punishes the guilty and leads to healing and closure.

Two of the three main political parties in India have openly declared their support for such an inquiry, and even Raul Gandhi speaking for the Congress has agreed that there was Congress involvement in the genocide.

Sikhs in the UK call on the government and UK political parties to give their strong backing for a long due open inquiry. In response to a question from Paul Uppal MP, in the Commons, the Foreign Secretary obliquely supported the need for such an inquiry; it should now be given support at the highest government level.

Sikhs are duty bound to stand up for the human rights of all people (Sarbat Da Bhalla), and in this spirit we call on the UK government to show that the subordination of human rights to arms sales to any part of the world is no longer present policy. If the UK government does not do this it forfeits any moral right to lecture other countries on the abuse of human rights.

All Sikh Organisations that attended the Foreign Office briefing showed heartening unanimity in their statements. If we can maintain this unity, we have a real chance in meeting our common objective of an open independent inquiry into the holocaust of Sikhs in 1984.

 
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 [Ends]
 
Notes to Editors.
1.      The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) is a registered charity that links more than 130 Gurdwaras and other UK Sikh organisations in active cooperation to enhance the image and understanding of Sikhism in the UK.
 
Hardeep Singh
Press Secretary
The Network of Sikh Organisations
http://nsouk.co.uk

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