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Our Director Lord Singh intervened in a debate on the second reading of the Offensive Weapons Bill earlier this week to ensure the Sikh practice of honouring people with full-length kirpans is fully protected under law. As it stands, the draft Bill retains the existing legal protection for the religious use of a kirpan, however ‘honourary’ kirpans – given to dignitaries (not just Sikhs) as an appreciation of service, would fall outside the proposed legislation and be criminalised. This concern was not addressed in either the Commons debate or in the minor wording change in the ‘photo op’ meeting of the Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) with government officials.

During the debate on Monday, Lord Singh said: ‘My Lords, I too believe that the Bill is both timely and necessary. As a Sikh, I would like to voice my appreciation of the sensitivity shown by the protection of the existing right of Sikhs to wear a short kirpan for religious reasons. However, it appears that the common Sikh practice of presenting a full-length kirpan, or sword, as a token of esteem or appreciation to those who have made a significant contribution to Sikh ideals, such as tolerance and respect for other faiths, has been overlooked and is not currently protected.’

He added: ‘The recipients of this honour do not have to be Sikhs. I have made presentations on behalf of the Sikh community to His Royal Highness Prince Charles, when he joined us as the main guest at a major function at the Royal Albert Hall, and to the late Lord Weatherill, the former Speaker of the House of Commons, for his work with the Sikh community in India and Britain. Years earlier, the Sikh community in Leicester honoured Sir John Templeton, founder of the Templeton Prize, after he awarded me the UK equivalent, for furthering religious understanding.

For Sikhs, this custom is no less important than the protection given in the Bill to the use of a sword for theatrical performances or for its keeping for historical reasons. Unfortunately, the presentation and keeping of this token of esteem is not protected in the proposed legislation. It is important that, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, so eloquently put it, we do not criminalise people unintentionally. On behalf of the UK Sikh community, I will seek a small amendment to the existing wording to ensure that the presentation and receipt of this traditional ceremonial Sikh honour remains protected.’

The Offensive Weapons Bill (sponsored by the home secretary Sajid Javid) was published on 20th June 2018 and is now scheduled to go to committee stage in the House of Lords.[i] The Bill covers three types of weapon – acid, knives and offensive weapons, and firearms. Although SFUK issued a statement on 21st November 2018 describing an amendment to the Bill (coordinated by Preet Gill MP) for ‘larger’ kirpans titled, ‘Kirpan victory: Ministers listen and back Sikh community’, it transpires this so called ‘victory’ was a premature celebration as it didn’t do what was needed, that is, cover ‘honourary’ kirpans. The NSO with support of concerned members of the Sikh Council UK aims to ensure the kirpan is given full protection under law and cross-party peers agree it is necessary.

[i] https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2017-19/offensiveweapons.html

Proposed APPG definition (from Islamophobia Defined):

“Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”.

Over the summer we provided oral evidence to the APPG on British Muslims inquiry into a working definition of Islamophobia/anti-Muslim hatred further to submitting written evidence explaining how Sikhs have suffered since 9/11. We believe our work over the last few years has put Sikh concerns firmly on the government agenda. In a recent debate about the proposed ‘Islamophobia’ definition suggested by the APPG earlier, a few peers independently acknowledged Sikhs suffer ‘Islamophobia’ and Baroness Warsi mentioned Sikhs in interviews she gave to the media further to publication of the report Islamophobia Defined. However, we are not sure ‘Islamophobia’ is the best word to describe a complex amalgam of issues, and believe anti-Muslim hate, like anti-Sikh, is far clearer, precise and more helpful language.

During the debate last month, our Director Lord Singh said, ‘We all sympathise with the suffering of the Muslim community, encapsulated in the word “Islamophobia”. It is our common responsibility to tackle it but we have to be clear about its meaning to do so. To me, the suggested definitions are still woolly and vague; I will try to give a more precise one. If we do not have a clear definition, “Islamophobia” risks being seen as an emotive word intended to get public sympathy and government resources—a concern raised by the APPG on British Muslims.’

He went on, ‘Unfortunately, it is a fact that some communities use government funding to produce questionable statistics to show that they are more hated than others; groups without a culture of complaint, such as Sikhs, fall off the Government’s radar. We have had debates on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, but what about other communities? Should we not be thinking about all communities, not just those in more powerful positions? I believe that the Government must be even-handed.’

During the debate Lord Singh pressed the minister about what work was being conducted for other faith groups aside from Muslims and Jews. He also clarified that although the APPG on British Muslims considered a variety of evidence from academics, organisations and victims’ groups in helping come to the proposed ‘Islamophobia’ definition, not all of it was agreed in the definition. In fact, when Lord Singh gave oral evidence to the APPG, Lady Warsi ended the session by saying, ‘I disagree with everything you’ve said Lord Singh.’ Some of our evidence was echoed by that of Southall Black Sisters and the National Union of Students, as well as in a letter published in the Sunday Times coordinated by the National Secular Society.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine gave a compelling speech in which she challenged the racial component of the proposed definition. She said, ‘When you define a religion—in other words, a belief system—as an adjective and declare that this is rooted in race, which is biological, you ascribe to belief an immutability which cannot work’. She also discussed the prejudice her family had faced moving from India to Pakistan in 1947, and that she had personally faced from her co-religionists in Muslim countries for being ‘insufficiently Muslim’, adding ‘but that experience was as nothing compared to the discrimination that Ahmadiyyas, Shias and various others still face today at the hands of other Muslims.’

The NSO believes ‘Islamophobia’ is an unhelpful and vague term, because it could include a number of distinct and separate components. These include anti-Muslim hate, a racialization of Islamophobia and ‘mistaken identity’ attacks on non-Muslims (like Sikhs), a reaction to the perceived teachings within Islam, and the perceived behaviour of a minority of Muslims. As Baroness Falkner rightly suggests, it also includes prejudice within Muslim communities against one another for being ‘insufficiently Muslim.’ There is no mention of this aspect in the APPG report Islamophobia Defined. We are strongly of the view that anti-Muslim hate crime, (like anti-Sikh) is the best terminology for policy makers to use moving forwards.

The debate and Lord Singh’s full speech can be viewed here.

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

 

Last Wednesday the NSO held its UK Parliament Week event in the House of Lords with guest speakers Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi MP, Mandip Sahota and Gurpal Virdi.

The NSO was an official partner with UK Parliament Week in a year we commemorate the centenary of women’s suffrage and the right for women to vote in Britain.

Opening the event Lord Singh told the audience, ‘everyone of us can make a real difference in not only articulating our concerns but also making others aware of our incredibly modern religion and we’ve failed to do this properly.’

Giving an example of how individuals can make a difference, he described how he used a pen name ‘Victor Pendry’ to highlight discriminatory treatment of Sikhs in Punjab, at a time when the largely Hindu owned media in India automatically rejected anything coming from a Sikh.

Dhesi the MP for Slough, highlighted the importance of being proactive and talked of his efforts to lobby (cross-party) for The National Sikh War Memorial Trust (NSWMT). He talked of how ‘socially minded activists’ also have a key role in today’s digital age.

Echoing these views, Mandip Sahota Strategist & former Civil Servant said, ‘We’re all change-makers – so it’s important to understand how to navigate structures of power. This is your Parliament.’ She was clear that ‘megaphone diplomacy’ has its place, but conversations in private are sometimes also as powerful and that we must build relationships to succeed.

Summing up, she emphasized effective engagement is achievable, but we must be strategic, clear and ambitious.

Gurpal Virdi, former Councillor and Community Activist, gave pointers on how to get involved encouraging people to join local resident’s groups. He said, ‘You’ll need to start building your profile with local people and working out your position on local ‘hot’ issues such as crime, traffic, the environment and schools.’

Lord Singh concluded the meeting by saying, ‘I urge you all to get fully involved in understanding strengthening and improving the democratic process in this country, in a way that is consistent with Sikh teachings.’

An attendee e-mailed the NSO following the event showing appreciation, ‘for hosting and delivering a wonderfully enthused and innovative meeting.’

You can access the UK Parliament Week resource produced by the NSO in partnership with UK Parliament Week here.

 

Jallianwala Bagh massacre April 13, 1919

In a debate earlier this week Lord Ahmad asked Her Majesty’s Government what initiatives they had in place to commemorate the contribution to the Great War of people who came from what is now Pakistan, or in other words undivided India.

The contribution to the war effort of all faiths was duly acknowledged by Lord Bourne, who said: ‘Hindus, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Jains, Baha’is and people of all faiths and none, fall side by side with their Christian and Jewish comrades on the fields where they fought and died together.’

Whilst reflecting on the British Indian army’s contribution, Lord Singh took the opportunity to ask the Minister to address historic wrongs of Empire.

He said, ‘My Lords, undivided Punjab played a substantial part in the greatest volunteer army in history. One of the reasons that was done was because people were promised a substantial measure of independence following the end of the war.’

He went on, ‘Instead, there was fierce repression under the Rowlatt Act and, following that, in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of several hundred unarmed civilians. We British are justly known for our sense of fair play and justice. Given that, should we not now make an unequivocal apology to the people of the subcontinent?’

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 4.0

The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) has requested the BBC to acknowledge a glaring omission following a segment [57:13-57:54] in its Cenotaph television coverage today in which David Dimbleby forgets to mention Sikhs amongst the 22 faith leaders in attendance for the centenary commemorations.

During the coverage of Remembrance Sunday, he said:

“There are 22 faith leaders here today”.

Dimbleby then goes through the names of faiths being represented as they appear in the footage, listing them one by one – “Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, Jain, Baha’i, Mormon, Humanists and Spiritualists”. He forgot to mention Sikhs, despite our Director Lord Singh’s clear presence.

The omission which may have been inadvertent, has resulted in several complaints to the NSO. Given the size of the Sikh community in Britain, as well as the fact that today’s Remembrance Sunday commemorations marks one hundred years of the end of the Great War, we believe the inordinate contribution of Sikhs deserved recognition. To illustrate why, at the outbreak of hostilities in the Great War, 20% of soldiers in the British Indian Army were Sikhs, despite comprising less than 2% of British India’s population.

In the circumstances the NSO feels the BBC should make an urgent correction.

As many will know we have strenuously opposed the Sikh Federation UK’s (SFUK) ill conceived campaign to classify ‘Sikh’ as an ethnicity for many years.

In recent months this increasingly divisive debate has become the subject of significant mainstream media coverage, including an article in the Times last month. The  article ‘Sikhs may get ethnicity status’ instigated another flurry of debate and conversation for and against.

Meanwhile during this period, some exchanges on social media turned rather unpleasant, troubling and on occasion personal. Our Director responded to the Times article with a letter (below).

 

To help provide a summary of arguments against we refer to the following Q&A and a short summary below. We have spoken to many Sikhs who are undecided whether the SFUK campaign is a good idea or not, and this is largely based on not understanding the issues at hand. Some elements are admittedly complex. We hope the explanation below which has been shared with key stakeholders and decision makers, provides absolute clarity for those grappling with this important issue. In short Sikhism is a great world faith open to all, it is not an ethnic group.

(more…)

(Above: Afghan Sikhs carrying a coffin of one of the victims of the Jalalabad suicide bombing)

Following the deadly suicide bombing in Jalalabad targeting Afghanistan’s Sikh and Hindu minority the NSO has flagged its concerns with the government and taken steps to raise the issue with the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB).

You only have to look at the declining numbers of minorities to realise the gravity of persecution they face in Muslim majority Afghanistan. Prior to the collapse of Kabul government in 1992, there were 220,000 Sikhs and Hindus in the country, and today only 220 or so families remain. Sikhs and Hindus need police protection to cremate their dead as it is deemed offensive to Muslims, they are forced to pay the jizya or ‘tax of humiliation’, and are fearful their women and daughters will be kidnapped and converted to Islam.

Afghan Sikhs we’ve spoken to in London have told us it is now time for Sikhs to leave Afghanistan and seek sanctuary elsewhere. The victims of the Jalalabad attack included Awtar Singh Khalsa who had planned to stand for parliament in elections this October.

In light of this most recent atrocity, our Director Lord Singh has asked the government 1. What discussions they intend to have with the Afghan authorities to safeguard the security and right to freedom of belief 2. What representations they intend to make to the government of India to encourage them to grant asylum to victims and families 3. Whether Britain intends to offer asylum to the families of those who were killed. We will be sharing the response received from Ministers.

We’ve also contacted the APPG for FoRB to ask them to follow up on this issue and include the persecution of Afghanistan’s minority faiths on the agenda for their next meeting.

News of the Jalalabad attack comes in the wake of a case highlighted by Justice Upheld involving a Pakistani Sikh forced to go on the run having received a fatwa (to kill him) by the Taliban. His only crime in the eyes of Islamists – the setting up of a Sikh school in Peshawar.

(Above: graph from Dr Pannu’s paper showing mortality relates related to alcohol abuse amongst different groups)

Dr Gurprit Singh Pannu’s editorial on the consumption of alcohol amongst different groups has over the years highlighted a troubling trend for Indians, and in particular Punjabis among them. It is well known that the Scottish and Irish have higher rates of alcohol consumption compared to England and Wales. However a recent paper shared by Dr Pannu on social media indicates Indians, (of which Punjabis are the most significant proportion) have a 60% higher mortality rate from alcohol use when compared to the average in England and Wales. This startling statistic is supported by evidence that indicates higher hospital admissions rates, (including psychiatric ones) than the general public. We all have a responsibility to reduce these admissions and deaths within our community.

To be clear Dr Pannu isn’t talking about the majority of Punjabis who drink socially, but a minority who end up on a slippery slope, which eventually leads to higher mortality rates, and associated social problems. Criminality, domestic violence, workplace problems and social disorder are just some of the consequences pointed to in the paper. Just on domestic violence, according to Dr Pannu’s paper a third of all cases nationally are linked to alcohol abuse, with over one million children affected by their families problematic circumstances.

Although the consumption of alcohol is strictly prohibited in Sikhism, the Punjabi contingent highlighted by Dr Pannu of course includes those of Sikh heritage, who are culturally predisposed to drinking. This admittedly could be either Punjabi culture or British pub drinking culture, given these statistics would incorporate British born Punjabis as well as those born in India. It is interesting to note that those of Pakistani heritage, presumably because of stricter adherence to alcohol prohibitions in Islam, have significantly lower alcohol related death rates than Indians. It is a matter of huge embarrassment that non-Sikhs who attend Sikh weddings often marvel at the free flowing bottles of spirits and alcoholic beverages available at receptions, walking away with the wrong impression Sikhs are permitted to drink.

The NSO has supported Dr Pannu’s positive work over the years, and to this end we will be organising a series of workshops with experts to discuss the issue of alcohol abuse among Punjabis. We acknowledge there is a lot of good work out there already, however one of our aims will be to signpost families to access appropriate medical services and local support network’s essential for the process of rehabilitation from alcohol abuse. This knowledge must be readily accessible to all, and we look forward in working with Dr Pannu and allied healthcare professionals to address a social ill we cannot afford to ignore.

Dr Pannu said, ‘Alcohol misuse in Punjabi men is driving a large excess of admissions to general and psychiatric hospitals with 60% higher death rates than the rest of population in England. There is also evidence that Punjabis are more susceptible to organ damage caused by alcohol.’

He went on, ‘These people represent just the tip of the iceberg, with community studies showing high rates of liver damage in apparently well people. Also the associated social problems are often hidden from view. The solutions include prevention. How can we as Punjabis reduce our overall drinking to amounts similar to the general population? This is the key to stopping unnecessary pain and suffering in Punjabi families.’

The NSO’s Director Lord Singh said, ‘I am delighted to support this important initiative. Dr Pannu gave a thought-provoking presentation to a meeting of the NSO a few years back in which he highlighted the serious and disproportionate problem of alcohol abuse in the Punjabi community and we have continued to act on his advice and guidance. Despite clear warnings in Sikh teachings against the use of intoxicants, alcohol abuse is sadly all too evident among some in the Sikh community, leading to serious health effects, domestic violence and family breakdown. Many Sikhs in prisons are there for alcohol related crimes.’

He added, ‘Guru Nanak reminded us that the consumption of alcohol dims our awareness of our priorities and responsibilities. The proposed workshops recognise a real problem and will help many to get back to the direction of the Guru’s teachings.’

 

Baroness O’Loan during debate on conscientious objection

Our Director Lord Singh has supported a Bill designed to afford necessary protection for careers of medical practitioners who choose to object on grounds of conscientious objection when it comes to matters of life and death such as assisted suicide.

The Conscientious Objection (Medical Activities) Bill introduced by Baroness O’Loan had its second reading in the House of Lords last week. According to Baroness O’Loan the Bill ‘seeks to affirm as a matter of statute that nobody shall be under any duty to participate in activities they believe to take a human life. That means either in the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment, or in any activity authorised by the 1967 and 1990 Acts (including activity required to prepare for, support or perform them).’ Baroness O’Loan believes such reform would re-establish legal protections for medical conscientious objectors, reaffirming Article 9 rights.

Lord Singh the NSO’s Director who has previously opposed Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bills, in favour of ‘assisted living’ said:

‘My Lords, I support this important Bill. It is a timely recognition of the importance of conscience and ethical belief in looking at the end-of-life decisions, and the increasingly complex issues and personal dilemmas, that many face in their daily lives. Speaking from a Sikh perspective, I fully support the Bill’s sentiments as well as its aims and objectives. Majority opinion can, at times, be unthinking and we need to be wary of being pushed, or pushing others, to support debatable attitudes that at times affront ethical and moral principles.

This year, as has been mentioned, while commemorating the centenary of the end of the carnage of World War I, we should pause and reflect that it was also a war in which conscientious objectors were ​brutally treated—or even shot—for their belief that it is wrong to kill.’

He went on: ‘Something of the same dilemma was faced by Sikh soldiers when the Indian army attacked the Golden Temple in Amritsar in 1984. This attack on the holiest of Sikh shrines, on one of the holiest days in the Sikh calendar, was clearly political. Soldiers were ordered to shoot innocent pilgrims. Not surprisingly, some Sikh soldiers refused and were accused of mutiny. Some were shot, others were cashiered out of the army and some were to spend years in prison. They were accused of treason and disloyalty to their oath of allegiance to the state. True, yet in refusing to shoot non-combatants they were being true to the ethical teachings of their religion. This requirement to be true to our conscience is embedded in Sikh scriptures.

Guru Ram Dass, the fourth Guru of the Sikhs wrote:

“All human powers men make pacts with
Are subject to death and decay
Righteous teaching alone prevails”.’

Lord Singh continued: ‘In the Nuremberg trials at the end of the Second World War, many Germans accused of war crimes against the Jews and others pleaded that they were duty bound to follow orders, however questionable. The court held that the requirements of any state were secondary to the overriding norms of civilised behaviour.

Rapid advances in the field of medicine and today’s increasing tendency to overfocus on the rights of an individual can easily lead us to ignore the rights of wider society, and the ethical dilemmas that sometimes questionable procedures pose for those immediately involved. The downside of what we do is not always immediately apparent. The initial, clearly limited and humane objectives of the Abortion Act 1967 have, over time, been largely ignored. Abortion has become contrary to the original intentions of the Act and the ethical teachings of most religions and beliefs. It has simply become another method of birth control. We must have the right to object and to not take part in what we consider to be the unnecessary taking of human life.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, which legalised embryo- destructive forms of research, the rapid expansion in molecular biology and new genetic modification techniques can impinge on deeply held ethical beliefs, and people should not be compelled to do anything that they believe is contrary to respect for life. While conscience clauses were included in the initial legislation, they have been continually eroded by social pressures to conform. Those involved in procedures that impact on sincerely held ethical beliefs must be given the right to opt out.

The need to respect conscience goes beyond the field of medicine. Yesterday, I was invited by the DfE to give a Sikh perspective on relationship teaching in schools. As a Sikh, I am appalled at the undue emphasis on sexual relationships and sexual identity currently being taught in school. Young children are led to question their gender and are unhelpfully offered support to make permanent potential differences, which are generally passing phases in growing up. Parents and teachers should have a right to question or opt out of such teachings.

Today we should heed the words of the great philosopher James Russell Lowell who wrote:​
“We owe allegiance to the State; but deeper, truer, more
To the sympathies that God has set within our spirits core”.
This Bill is timely, well considered and necessary. I give it my full support.’

The full debate can be read here https://nsouk.us12.list-manage.com/track/click?u=0f788213c84a862348b0c4265&id=8882ff4ae1&e=39e8e2ed33.

The Bill will now pass on to a committee stage in the House of Lords.

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