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London: (17thof Dec 2013) In a debate last week led by Lord Dubs, Peers gave their views on plans to change laws in favor of “assisted dying”. The Assisted Dying Bill was tabled by Lord Falconer, it had it’s first reading earlier this year, it will go to a second reading in 2014. The Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO), Lord Singh of Wimbledon added a Sikh perspective to last weeks debate, stressing the importance to ‘accept that life is a gift from god’ whilst highlighting the ‘Sikh teachings of compassion, dignity and care for the suffering’. Please see full text of speech:

My Lords, this debate takes us into new ethical territory with complex medical, legal and emotional implications. Rational discussion is made more difficult by a polarisation of attitudes and opinions. I saw something of this about 12 months ago when I attended a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Assisted Dying. I raised some concerns and was made to feel that there was something wrong with my thinking if I could not immediately see the open-and-shut case for changing the existing law. I am also too aware of the opposite arguments, couched in religious terms, that life is a gift from God and we should never, ever, even think of curtailing it.

I served for some years as a member of the BMA Medical Ethics Committee and am well aware of major changes in society and bewildering advances in science and medicine that require us to constantly look anew at previously accepted views and attitudes. Sikhs accept that life is a gift of God to be cherished and preserved wherever possible, but we are also required to bear in mind the important Sikh teaching of compassion, dignity and care for the suffering. These two considerations are not necessarily incompatible. However, I am unhappy about a narrow focusing on individual autonomy to justify attitudes that clearly affect others. We have seen some of this today. We constantly hear the argument that we are all individuals and that our happiness and needs are all-important to the exclusion of our responsibility to others. I believe that this over-focusing on self, on me and my, is responsible for many of the ills in society today. For example, we are all aware that religious teachings suggest that marriage is a committed partnership for mutual care and support and for ensuring that children grow up as responsible adults.

What I believe to be a short-sighted contemporary social attitude encourages us to believe that it is okay to look exclusively at our rights, without consideration of the effect on others. This focusing on individual needs rather than on the family as a whole is, at least in part, responsible for the growing increase in dysfunctional families, with children frequently ending up in what we euphemistically call care, or with them mirroring the narrow thinking of their parents. A person’s decision to end their own life has an effect on friends and, importantly, on the message it can give to wider society of trivialising life. We all have wider responsibilities in all that we do.

I shall pull together these different threads in rational and compassionate decision-making to arrive at the way forward. First, we should always respect the gift of life and question the concept of autonomy. Secondly, there are times when those in ill health feel that life is not really worth living but, within a short time, they often feel that it is not really that bad. It is worse for those who find themselves with severe disabilities but, as the Paralympics showed, despite such disabilities, it is often possible to live a meaningful life. Relatives and carers sometimes find looking after someone onerous, and they can inadvertently make their feelings known to those they are caring for, making them feel an unnecessary burden. Sadly, there are others who may have more mercenary motives. A seemingly hopeless situation today may not always remain so. Huge strides are constantly being made in combating previously incurable diseases, as well as in palliative care.

In summary, while we should always be on our guard against the notion of individual autonomy trivialising life, we need to recognise that, from an individual’s perspective, life can become pretty intolerable and there is an argument for helping to end it in strictly controlled circumstances. The danger is that, if we go down this path, it could itself be a slippery slope to trivialising life, altering the very ethos on which medical care is provided. I feel, on balance, that we should leave the law as it is.

Baroness Morris of Bolton, Lord Taverne, Lord Alton of Liverpool, Baroness Warnock and Baroness Hayman and other Peers contributed to the controversial debate. Last month, three of Britain’s most senior legal authorities including Baroness Butler-Sloss, said relaxing the law on assisted suicide would amount to asking Parliament to write a “blank cheque” for euthanasia.

Notes to Editors.
 
1.      The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) is a registered charity that links more than 100 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

London: (07thof Dec 2013) The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) has written to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT) suggesting the inclusion of both the Sikh (1984) and Tamil (2009) genocides, on Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) on the 27th of January 2014.

In an unprecedented move the NSO wrote:

‘The list of major atrocities following the Holocaust against the Jewish people is rather selective Notable omissions are the organised mass killing of more than 100,000 Sikhs throughout India in 1984 and the more recent killing of more than 40,000 Tamils by government forces in Sri Lanka.

It’s important that we are seen to be even-handed in reminding ourselves that even those with whom we have trade and political links can carry genocide out anywhere.

The 27th of January marks the liberation of the largest Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau. The millions of people killed by the Nazi’s and the subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur will be remembered, whilst survivors of these hate filled regimes honored.

The NSO earnestly hopes the list will be amended in future years, adding both Sikh and Tamil genocides.

Hardeep Singh
Press Secretary
The Network of Sikh Organisations

London: (1st of Dec 2013) Lord Singh the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) was invited to give a talk on the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak at the High Commission of India earlier this week. In his speech and notably his first visit to the Indian High Commission since 1984, Lord Singh reminds the Indian Government about the carnage of 1984, calling for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Please see full text of speech:

Your Excellency, Friends.

It’s a real pleasure to be given this opportunity to talk about the life of Guru Nanak, an enlightened a visionary whose teachings offer uplifting guidance to all of us today, in the UK, India and the wider world.

Guru Nanak, who lived in the 15th century was deeply concerned that people at the time were ignoring the many ethical teachings our different religions hold in common, and instead focussing on supposed differences and divisions. It was against this background that the Guru in his very first sermon said

‘Na koi Hindu na koi Mussalman’; that is in God’s eyes there is neither Hindu nor Muslim, and by today’s extension, neither Christian, Sikh nor Jew. That the one God of us all is not interested in our different religious labels but in what we do to bring peace, justice and harmony to our fellow beings.

Guru Nanak travelled widely, with a Hindu and a Muslim companion, emphasising common ethical imperatives in our different faiths, while criticising superstition and divisive practices that attach themselves to, and take us away from true teachings of responsible living and care for our fellow beings.

More than 500 years ago, he emphasise the complete equality of all human beings, laying great stress to the dignity and full equality of women; something still not accepted by many societies today. The Guru repeatedly taught the importance of respect for all beliefs.  One of Guru Nanak’s successors, Guru Arjan, our 5th Guru underlined this respect for other faiths by inviting a Muslim saint Mia Mir to lay the foundation stone of the Darbar Sahib or Golden Temple. He also included verses of other faiths which parallel Sikh teachings in our holy scriptures the Guru Granth Sahib. The following lines by the Muslim poet Kabir for example, resonates with Sikh teachings on equality. Kabir writes:‘

The same one Divine light permeates all Creation. Why should we then divide people into the High and the low?

Guru Nanak reminded us and society today needs reminding, of the importance of responsible and balanced living. He taught that we should always live by three golden rules. These are Naam japna or reflecting on ethical teachings of right wrong and responsibility to give us a focus on daily living, kirt karna or earning by honest effort and thirdly and most importantly, wand chakhna or sharing with others, not only earnings, but also, increasingly important today, out time to help others. This Seva or looking to others is a common feature of our different religious teachings.

Guru Nanak’s teachings were widely welcomed by all communities and when he died, it was said of him:

Nanak Shah Fakir

Hindu ka Guru ; Mussalman ka Pir.

That is, he was regarded as a great religious leader by both Hindus and Muslims.

Guru Nanak’s never claimed any unique relationship with God or a monopoly of truth. He welcomed and rejoiced in parallel insights into the same truths, found in different religions, constantly stressing respect for our different faiths, and reminding us that we all need to work together, focussing on ethical values of right, wrong and responsibility in our common quest for a fairer and more peaceful society.

Friends, Sikhs perhaps more than others love celebrating important days in our history, but such celebrations are of little use unless we use them to re-charge our spiritual and moral batteries to help us live true to the values and truths we celebrate.

As we celebrate this year’s anniversary of Guru Nanak’s birth, it is important to remember that a central thrust of his teachings was to promote love and understanding between different religions. It therefore pains me to see how since partition, Hindus and Sikhs have grown apart from the days when our communities were so close that many Hindu parents would bring one of their children up as a Sikh.  Sadly the two communities grew further apart following the attack on the Golden Temple and the widespread killing of Sikhs throughout India in 1984.

Friends, next year sees the 30th anniversary of that terrible period in our recent history. I will be frank. My fear is some in the Sikh community, and others in the wider community, will use the anniversary to perpetuate anger and suspicion. This will not help anyone. My hope is that all in positions of political or religious power take the wind out of the sails of such people, by openly and objectively looking at and learning from the lessons of the past in building bridges of love and understanding between followers of our sister faiths as taught by Guru Nanak.

My plea is that next year’s anniversary be seen as an opportunity to establish some sort of Truth and Reconciliation Commission that brings to justice those responsible for criminal behaviour on either side, while at the same time, highlighting the much larger, largely unrecognised role of those who stood up bravely against the killings, sheltering and shielding Sikh neighbours. I firmly believe that a long overdue initiative on these lines will heal wounds, bring closure and make incredible India even more incredible. I will be happy to elaborate on anything I’ve said. Thank you for listening to me.

[Ends]

Notes to Editors.

1.      The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) is a registered charity that links more than 100 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

London: (23nd of Nov 2013) In a debate in the House of Lords earlier this week, Lord Singh, the Director of The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) talked of the importance in acknowledging and condemning all human rights violations, including those involving foreign friendly states. In his speech, Lord Singh said he hoped Her Majesty’s Government ‘will take the lead in working for a world in which principle always transcends the interests of trade and power-bloc politics.’ Please see full text of speech:

‘My Lords, I am grateful to my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this important debate. Manipulation of religious sentiment to persecute those of other faiths is a sad feature of human rights abuse in much of the world. I would like to take this opportunity to give a Sikh perspective on possible ways to a fairer and more tolerant society.

When we talk of human rights abuse, we immediately think of countries such as Syria, North Korea and Iran. We rightly condemn their abuses of human rights, but we look more benignly at countries with which we have close political alliances or trade links—as the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, perceptively observed. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby reminded us, we should look to the mote in our own eye. If we were consistent, the UN report of a government massacre of some 40,000 men, women and children from Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority and evidence of continuing human rights abuses would have led to that country’s immediate suspension from the Commonwealth pending an investigation.

I will give another example of this less than even-handed approach to human rights. Next year sees the 30th anniversary of the Indian army attack on the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar and the subsequent massacre of tens of thousands of Sikhs throughout India. An independent inquiry headed by a former Chief Justice of India found overwhelming evidence of top Congress Party involvement. Yet our Government’s response to this attack on a minority faith was total silence. When I raised the matter with a then Cabinet Minister, I received the reply, “Indarjit, we know exactly what’s going on, but we are walking on a tightrope. We have already lost one important contract”. He was referring to the Westland helicopter contract.

We rightly condemn the use of sarin gas in Syria but were silent over America’s use of Agent Orange in Vietnam—which, even today, is causing horrendous birth defects half a century after its use. The same country’s use of drones to fly over sovereign territory to kill and maim those it does not like and, in the process, kill many innocent civilians sets a dangerous precedent.

I have spoken about our country’s selective approach to human rights only as an example. Other world powers, including India, China, the USA and Russia, behave in exactly the same way, making any co-ordinated approach on human rights virtually impossible. It was the great human rights activist Andrei Sakharov who said that there will be little progress in our universal yearning for peace and justice unless we are even-handed in our approach to human rights.

My hope is that Her Majesty’s Government will take the lead in working for a world in which principle always transcends the interests of trade and power-bloc politics. I firmly believe that our country is best placed to give a lead in this wider view of human rights.’

 [Ends]
Notes to Editors.
1.      The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) is a registered charity that links more than 100 Gurdwaras and other UK Sikh organisations in active cooperation to enhance the image and understanding of Sikhism in the UK.
2.      NSO231113
Hardeep Singh
Press Secretary
The Network of Sikh Organisations

London: (16th of November 2013) Members of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) are proud to announce the launch of their new website http://nsouk.co.uk/ to coincide with the Gurpurb of Guru Nanak Dev Ji.

The newly revamped site includes many new features including video uploads, a media section and an opportunity for people to download the latest edition of the NSO’s quarterly magazine, the Sikh Messenger.

Lord Singh, the NSO’s founder and Director said “Guru Nanak’s uplifting teachings of responsible living and respect for people of all beliefs are positive guidance for the world today. We hope the updated website will provide a useful resource for studying the teachings of Guru Nanak and other Sikh Gurus. It is also intended as a focal point for discussions on current concerns affecting the Sikh community.”

London: (2nd of October 2013) In a keynote address to Transplant Alliance last week at TheDepartment of Health Conference Centre, Skipton House London, Lord Singh talked of the importance of organ donation and the role of religion. Please see full text of speech:

London: (2nd of October 2013) The Director of The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) Lord Singh was signatory to a letter to The Sunday Telegraph last week, encouraging the government to set a higher rate for planned tax breaks for married couples. The signatories said marriage is a “fundamental building block” for society, highlighting the financial implications of “devastating” family breakdown. The signatories included Rt Rev Peter Forster, the Bishop of Chester, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, President, Oxford centre for training, research and dialogue, Lord Singh Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations, Dr Majid Katme, Muslim member of the Alliance for the Family (and six others; see telegraph.co.uk) The full letter is reproduced below:

London, (22nd of July 2013):  The Same Sex Marriage Bill passed through Royal Assent last week and was enacted. In a final debate in the Lords, Lord Singh, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) proposed a referendum, stating that the ‘wider implications’ of the legislation had not yet been fully considered.

Please see full text of Lord Singh’s speech on the 10th of July:

London, Saturday (June 29th 2013): In two separate debates recently, Lord Singh of Wimbledon the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) gave a Sikh view, during the Committee stage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. Please see text of speech below:

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Following on from a series of high profile convictions of predominantly Pakistani men in places like Rochdale, reports including those published by the BBC chose to describe those convicted of sexual grooming as ‘Asian.’ This caused significant disquiet amongst many British Sikhs and Hindus. In 2012 the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) led a campaign challenging the vague description, galvanizing support from both the Hindu Forum and Hindu Council of Britain, who equally expressed concerns.

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