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:
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.
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.
The Network of Sikh Organisations