Where Unity Is Strength
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  Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) write:

Last week Lord Singh the 86-year old peer who has positioned himself successfully in the wider public and the government as the only voice of the Sikh community for almost the last 40 years..

Comment:

  1. Why the ageist reference? According to Sikh teachings, it is not age, but ability and commitment that count.
  2. Referring to ‘the 86-year-old peer’ is better than a previous SFUK description ‘a dinosaur’. What is it about the SFUK and references to age?
  3. The SFUK in its different forms has been around for nearly 40 years. Why is it that this one individual has done more to promote an understanding of Sikh teachings in the government and wider public than the whole of SFUK put together?

 

 SFUK write:

Lord Singh has also been overshadowed in Parliament for the last 18 months by the energetic Preet Kaur Gill, the first Sikh woman MP who became a shadow Minister within months of being elected and Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, the first turban wearing Sikh MP. Lord Singh is no longer the only Sikh politician that government, fellow Parliamentarians and the media turn to.

Comment:

This childish ‘you’re not the only one,’ is simply school playground jealousy. The more Sikh MPs, the better.

SFUK write:

However, what Lord Singh failed to disclose in the debate is he is the one and only life-time Director of the NSO.  It now emerges he may not have declared this for the last seven years in the Register of Lords’ Interests, since he became a Lord in October 2011.

 

Comment:

I am not a lifetime director. All power lies with the elected Executive. They can sack me any time. It is an honorary post for which I do not receive a penny. In last month’s AGM, I specifically requested a diminution in my responsibilities.

Our website will confirm that membership of the NSO requires a commitment to live and propagate Sikh teachings. I believe, that as the first turban wearing Sikh in Parliament, this commitment is seen whenever I stand up to speak. It is appreciation of this commitment to uplifting Sikh teachings that enabled me to get cross-part support for the Amendment.

Why I stated in the debate that the government should consult with myself and the NSO in discussing any reservations about the amendment.

It was I who raised the issue at Second Reading. It was I who subsequently requested a meeting with the Minister, Baroness Williams and her advisers. It was I who had discussions with Lord Kennedy and Lord Paddick.

At the conclusion of my meeting with Baroness Williams it was agreed that they would come back to me. Instead of doing this as courtesy requires, they, ‘in the innocent belief that they are all the same’, then spoke to the SFUK who were naturally unable to respond to the points raised. But for them speaking to the wrong people, the Amendment would have received unanimous approval at Grand Committee. The Government have already apologised for this.

My comment that SFUK does not speak for all Sikhs

I mentioned this because it is true. If it were not true, SFUK would not have lost power in gurdwaras in Leicester, Southampton and their former stronghold in Wolverhampton.

The APPG for British Sikhs

I said the APPG for Sikhs and SFUK were one and the same, because this is true. The Chair is a SFUK sympathiser who appointed them to be its secretariat. There is only one other Sikh member. Four Sikhs in the House of Lords were excluded from its inaugural meeting.

Indarjit

Lord Singh of Wimbledon Director Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) 

The Offensive Weapons Bill is at committee stage in the House of Lords

Our Director Lord Singh continues to work with cross-party peers to ensure the kirpan gets the full legal protection it requires, with proposed amendments to the Offensive Weapons Bill (OWB). Under current legislation the kirpan has an exemption from the provisions relating to the possession of an offensive weapon under the Criminal Justice Act. All that was required, is to include a clause to protect longer kirpans gifted to Sikhs and non-Sikhs as a sign of honouring contribution to society – recipients of whom include senior police officers and the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The failure of Sikh MPs to address this gap in the House of Commons made it necessary for Lord Singh to retrieve the situation. Cross party support was readily given, and Lord Kennedy supported by Lord Paddick tabled an amendment to ensure the kirpan is fully safeguarded under British law.

Despite the failure to address this in the House of Commons, on 21st November 2018, the Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) who run the APPG for British Sikhs, bizarrely announced a ‘victory’ on social media with an accompanying ‘photo op’ with Ministers.

On 30th January 2019, peers discussed proposed amendments to OWB at committee stage in the House of Lords.

Lord Tunnicliffe said:

‘My first ask of the Minister is that she meet my noble friend Lord Kennedy, the noble Lord, Lord Singh of Wimbledon, and representatives of the Sikh community. In asking for a meeting, I put on record that the status quo is not adequate, as it only provides a defence of religious reasons if a person is charged with a criminal offence. It does not cover other reasons such as ceremonial, historical or sporting, where kirpans are offered as gifts to dignitaries. The status quo only provides a defence if a person is charged—the amendment in the name of my noble friend will provide an exemption for the possession of kirpans. The amendment will provide specific reference in the law for the kirpan, which Sikhs have been calling for.’

Lord Singh who has met the Minister – Baroness Williams and worked with respected colleagues like Labour peer Lord Kennedy and Lord Paddick former Deputy Assistant Commissioner in London’s Metropolitan police service said:

‘My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. I shall give just a little background. Sikhs are sometimes referred to as a martial race. The description is wrong on two counts: we are neither martial, nor are we a race. Sikh teachings criticise all notions of race or caste, emphasising that we are all equal members of one human race.’

He added, ‘The martial assumption comes from the fact that Sikhs have had to endure being a persecuted minority for many years—at one time, there was a price on the head of every Sikh caught dead or alive. Sikhs have had to develop dexterity with a sword to survive, and, importantly, to protect the weak and vulnerable of other communities in society. Kirpan, the Sikh word for sword, means “protector”, and figures prominently in religious practice and ceremony.’

Amendment 70 was withdrawn in line with convention in the Grand Committee, however there was unanimous support from all parties including the government, for the need to effect change in order to fully safeguard the kirpan in law.

The Sikh Federation UK, misleading social media posts and fake news

(Left: Tweet in which SFUK falsely suggest Hounslow gurdwara (Alice Way) was one of 112 gurdwaras which supported their failed ‘ethnic’ tick box campaign)

The Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) is the successor body to the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF) which was de-proscribed from the UK’s list of organisations proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000 in March 2016.[i]

Over the years, the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) have become accustomed to their modus operandi. They no doubt, have been particularly successful in plugging their often grievance filled narrative on social media. We have had to address misleading statements made by SFUK regarding their now failed ‘ethnic’ Census tick box campaign aimed at limiting a world religion to a single ethnic group. We are still waiting for them to disclose the list of gurdwaras they say supported their campaign for a separate tick box in the 2021 census. We have concerns given what we discovered about Hounslow gurdwara (Alice Way). SFUK tweeted to say they were one of the gurdwaras who supported their campaign, but the committee categorically refuted this in writing.

As you can imagine the SFUK who run the APPG for British Sikhs are angry that the ONS decided not to recommend a Sikh ‘ethnic’ tick box in the White Paper. All concerned with getting full protection for the kirpan would applaud Lord Singh for his initiative in the Lords to rectify the Commons error. Instead, the SFUK predictably, began to throw their toys out of the pram by attacking Lord Singh with a post on Facebook on 31st January titled: ‘SHOCKING, IGNORANT AND OFFENSIVE COMMENTS MADE IN HOUSE OF LORDS’. They write:

‘Soon after 9/11 someone advised the government that Sikhs can wear miniature wooden or plastic Kirpans. Some automatically assumed it was Indarjit Singh ..’

What the SFUK haven’t disclosed is that following legal action, one of their leading supporters gave Lord Singh a written apology in May 2015 for inferring Lord Singh had given advice to the government that is was OK for Sikhs to wear ‘a wooden kirpan’. It is simply not true and the repeated inference in the statement above posted on Facebook repeats the libel. We’ve discussed why Lord Singh and other cross-party peers were forced to intervene in the 2nd debate on the OWB above. It is to fully safeguard the kirpan in law, something which should have been done in the House of Commons, despite a SFUK declaration of ‘victory’ on the matter and ‘photo op’ with a Minister and the Chair/Vice Chairs of the APPG for British Sikhs (for which they are secretariat).

SFUK who’ve previously referred to Lord Singh as ‘a dinosaur’, also complained on Twitter about Lord Singh’s comment ‘we are neither martial, nor are we a race’ – but they failed to include his full speech and context given above.

The Guru’s taught us to ‘recognise the human race as one’, and the fledgling Sikh community had to defend itself to survive persecution – the circumstances transformed the community into one which was ready to defend itself and others from tyranny. However, the ‘martial race’ theory was propagated by British military scientists, who wanted to increase enlistment to the British Indian Army during the Great Wars – categorising Gurkhas, Pathans, Hindu Punjabis and Sikhs in this pseudoscientific category. It is not consistent with Sikh teachings.

SFUK remarkably tweeted: ‘A martial race is one that is brave and ready for battle. It appears Lord Singh would like to see Sikhs as ‘Indians’ unfit for battle’. We are not sure what ‘battle’ the SFUK think they are fighting and how Lord Singh’s speech could be possibly interpreted as suggesting Sikhs were ‘unfit’. We do not think it is ‘brave’ to publish misleading posts on social media.

The saddest part of all of this is the way in which SFUK’s misleading post which selectively quoted Lord Singh’s speech, has been received by a vocal minority who follow them on Facebook and other social media platforms. The nature of the SFUK supporters is illustrated by comments like the following below which contribute nothing towards a rationale and reasoned debate.

Manj Onetel ‘He’s a Dogra, the enemy within, claiming to represent Sikhs without being elected or selected to do so. Non Sikhs are more supportive of Sikh issues than these keshadhari Hindus- he has no rehni behni other than the outer appearance literally a lions garb on a sheep.’

Comments on the SFUK Facebook page under the post vary from being plainly rude, conspiratorial, but some disturbingly ageist in nature, like the SFUK previous reference to Lord Singh as ‘a dinosaur’. The individuals concerned should be utterly ashamed of themselves. Following the publication of the despicable ‘karma’ tweet after the death of Sir Jeremy Heywood last November, which the SFUK apologised for, we are by no means surprised by their modus operandi and the odious comments of some of their followers on Facebook. We imagine those in government circles won’t be too surprised either.

[i] https://www.europeansanctions.com/2016/03/uk-de-proscribes-isyf/

 

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) have made recommendations for the content of the 2021 Census, which was published in a White Paper titled, ‘Help Shape Our Future: The 2021 Census of Population and Housing in England and Wales’.

The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) is delighted common sense has prevailed and the ONS has not recommended the inclusion of a Sikh ‘ethnic’ tick box for the 2021 Census. We’ve been strongly opposed to this ill-conceived campaign led by the Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) and the APPG for British Sikhs whose secretariat is the SFUK and Chair Preet Gill MP. The ONS has conducted significant research and consultation on this matter across the British Sikh community over a long period of time. They revealed focus groups conducted showed, ‘younger second-generation participants wanted to express their Sikh background through the religion question as this is how they expected Sikh identity to be recorded.’[i]

Our position has always been clear. Firstly, Sikhs are already recorded appropriately in the Census under religion. The SFUK suggested there might be an undercounting of Sikhs, because the religion question is voluntary. However, research commissioned by the ONS in 2017 found, ‘There is no indication from the findings that the religious affiliation and ethnic group questions are capturing different Sikh populations. All respondents who stated they were ethnically Sikh also stated their religious affiliation was Sikh. This is in line with findings from the 2011 Census data.’[ii]

Secondly, the SFUK say we are an ‘ethnic’ group because of Mandla v Dowell Lee. The case involved a schoolboy discriminated against by his school for wearing his turban. When it went to the House of Lords they for the purposes of the then Race Relations Act 1976, ruled Sikhs could conveniently fit into an ‘ethnic origin’ box based on a few tests, like sharing common language, culture and geographical descent – this is because religion wasn’t protected under law at the time. If you apply the same tests today, Sikhs wouldn’t necessarily fit in the ‘ethnic origin’ box, because most Sikhs today are British born and speak English as a first language. Moreover, the Race Relations Act 1976 has been repealed in its entirety, and replaced by the Equalities Act 2010, in which all religions are equally protected from discrimination. In any case, from a doctrinal perspective, Guru Nanak was the founder of a great world religion, not an ‘ethnic’ group. Sikh teachings reject division of society on grounds of caste, creed. colour and by the extension of this debate ethnicity.

 

Concerns about the APPG’s methodology

We’ve seen a communication from the APPG for British Sikhs in response to the ONS decision, and it’s clear the SFUK and Preet Gill MP are upset and angry. They have put a lot of effort and energy into lobbying. On August 23rd 2018 (at 19:15) the SFUK put out a tweet suggesting Hounslow gurdwara (Alice Way) was one of the gurdwaras which supported their campaign with a letter written to the APPG.[iii] We asked the Hounslow committee if this was the case or not, and they informed us they did not support the APPG and believe Sikhism is a religion not an ethnicity. They had also made this clear in a meeting with the NSO, SFUK and Iain Bell from the ONS. Given the SFUK announced 112 gurdwaras have supported the APPG, and this figure has been reported in the press and provided to the ONS, we would like to see 1. The briefing given to gurdwaras by the APPG 2. Redacted versions of the letters received 3. The specific question asked to elicit a response. We have serious concerns that gurdwaras may have not been provided with a balanced view of the subject matter, which could lead to survey bias, and if there are 112 gurdwaras signed up in the first place.

The APPG have alleged the ONS has ‘misrepresented’ the survey of Gurdwaras they conducted.[iv] This is a serious allegation and given what we know about Hounslow frankly risible. Secondly, they go onto to claim the survey and response from 112 gurdwaras have an official membership of 107,000 and an estimated congregation of 470,000. How they came to these figures is not clear, however we can see that 470,000 is a larger number than the total population of Sikhs from the 2011 Census (423,000).[v] 112 gurdwaras is approximately 1/3 of the total number in the UK,[vi] so the suggestion is that more than the total population of British Sikhs (up to 2011) attended a fraction of UK gurdwaras. It is not clear whether the figures include overseas visitors or non-Sikhs coming to gurdwaras, or gurdwaras in Scotland which has a separate Census. They suggest 100% of gurdwaras that responded to their survey did so as an ‘independent decision’, however this again is unclear, until we see the particulars of the briefing provided to them by the APPG.

 

John Pullinger’s assurances to Preet Gill MP

What the APPG remarkably failed to disclose was a letter addressed to their Chair from the UK’s National Statistician John Pullinger. He has given Ms Gill significant reassurances that although the ONS don’t recommend an ‘ethnic’ tick box, they will support those who want to write in Sikh as an ethnic group under ‘other’. He informs her, ‘I want to assure you that everyone who wishes to identify as Sikh will be able to do so under our proposals for the Census.’

He describes the various options for Sikhs who may want to say they are ‘ethnically’ Sikh with the development of ‘search-as-you-type’ functionality online, which will assist those who want to fill the ‘other’ box under ethnicity. He confirms data outputs from both religion and ethnicity will be analysed and will, ‘increase the analytical offering and outputs for those who identify as Sikh.’ He also confirms there is a commitment to utilise the Digital Economy Act 2017 for data linking research purposes, so information about Britain’s Sikhs will be available across public services, not just Census collected data.

There are other clear commitments which aim to improve data collection beyond purely the Census, whilst encouraging collaboration with local authorities and British Sikhs. The ONS want to improve data collection and promote wider Census participation, as well as ‘raise awareness of the options of writing in their identity in the ethnic group question’.

We are surprised Preet Gill MP or the SFUK run APPG for British Sikhs have failed to mention this accommodating and conciliatory letter. The offer to help Sikhs who would still like to be categorised under a Sikh ethnic group is serious and goes much further than expected. It appears they are so obsessed with a tick box, they have lost sight of their initial goal.

[Ends]

[i] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-2021-census-of-population-and-housing-in-england-and-wales
[ii] https://www.ons.gov.uk/census
[iii] http://nsouk.co.uk/why-we-need-the-appg-for-british-sikhs-to-be-transparent-with-their-ethnicity-campaign/
[iv] https://twitter.com/appgbritsikhs?lang=en
[v] https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/culturalidentity/religion/articles/religioninenglandandwales2011/2012-12-11
[vi] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-21711980

The APPG for British Sikhs has over the Past 12 months made successful efforts to keep Sikhs in the Lords excluded from its deliberations. By chance I learnt of Tuesday’s AGM and accompanied by Lord Suri, attended the AGM to try to get the Group to issue a statement of concern over the bullying attitude of the Department for Education (DfE) in giving of a 2-week ultimatum to withdraw funding and move to a closure of a Sikh school, Seva School in Coventry unless it agreed to be run by Nishkam. Nishkam is a group regarded by many Sikhs as outside mainstream Sikhism, with a spiritual Head to whom some followers owe total allegiance.

Lord Suri and I were surprised at the poor attendance at the AGM, with one MP brought in for a while to make a quorum. After Preet Gill MP asked the 5 MPs present to confirm her as Chair, I spoke about the widespread concerns of parents, governors, staff, the Council of Gurdwaras in Coventry, the Sikh Council and the Network of Sikh Organisations and others. I also mentioned that an earlier complaint made by me of racist behaviour towards the school (in which Sikh teachings were labelled extremist and negative) had been upheld in an investigation by Sir David Carter a top civil servant with the DfE, with a promise of more supportive behaviour by the minister Lord Nash.

Unfortunately, the harassment has continued culminating in a 2-week ultimatum of a cessation of funding unless the school agreed to be run by Nishkam.

Preet Gill MP seemed irritated by both my presence at the meeting, and because I had raised an issue about which she had clearly not been briefed by the Sikh Federation UK, the official secretariat of the APPG. She expressed her admiration of Nishkam. However asking a mainstream Sikh school to join Nishkam with its different ethos, is like asking a Church of England school to join a group led by Jehovah’s Witnesses. She then queried my credentials in raising the widespread concerns of the Sikh community. Ignoring the need for urgent action, she said that she would have to carry out her own investigation and consult local MPs, as if their views counted for more than those of the Coventry Sikh community and two national Sikh bodies.

Lord Suri and I, were perhaps, even more disappointed by the mute subservience of the 5 MPs. There was no discussion about the DfE’s bullying and racist behaviour, or the need for government to understand a little about Sikhism and the Sikh community. The MPs expressed no sympathy or concern over an issue affecting Sikhs and the education of our children.

Lord Suri and I left the meeting with the knowledge that the APPG exists only to further the interests of the Sikh Federation UK, and not those of the wider Sikh community.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On 23 July 2018 the APPG for British Sikhs, which is run by the Sikh Federation UK, announced they had written to 250 gurdwaras asking them if they supported their campaign for a separate Sikh ethnic tick box for the 2021 census. They say they received just over one hundred responses, confirming: ‘in a remarkable show of unity all 112 Gurdwaras, that include the largest Gurdwaras in the UK, have indicated they are in favour of a separate Sikh ethnic tick box.’

The figure of 112 was reported in the Times and has been something referred to in a number of articles in the mainstream media. We now have concerns about whether or not this number is accurate. A tweet by @SikhFedUK on 23 August 2018 (above) suggested Hounslow gurdwara (Alice Way) were one of the 112 that wrote to the APPG for British Sikhs in support of the ethnic tick box.

We asked Hounslow gurdwara if this was the case or not. The Joint General Secretary told us: ‘I was surprised to hear that allegedly, Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha Hounslow had changed its position on Sikhi not being an ethnic group. Having checked with the President and the General Secretary today (both copied on this email), I confirm that we stand with the NSO and have not changed our position. We are of the view Sikhi is a religion made up of diverse ethnicity which cannot be classed as a single ethnic group.’

We have asked the Sikh Federation UK for comment, but they haven’t yet responded.

Interestingly, when Dr Jagbir Jhutti-Johal from the University of Birmingham raised legitimate questions in an article titled ‘Sikh ethnic tick box in the 2021 Census and a question about research and methodology’, she was bombarded with vitriolic tweets, some deliberately tagged into her employers. Given what we now know about Hounslow, should the secretariat to the APPG for British Sikhs not urgently release the list of 112 gurdwaras, briefing supplied and responses received?

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