The Sikh community with the support of the DfE have made tremendous efforts to establish their local faith schools over the last three decades. Most of the schools are thriving and outcomes are high however when a school seriously underperforms and is threatened for academisation or re-brokerage, the issues can rapidly become highly sensitive for the local community. In some cases, this is due to the increasingly complex religious sectarian issues within the Sikh community. The NSO have been involved in tackling such situations which can lead to tensions between the DfE and the Sikh community which in some cases have led to complex, lengthy and costly legal challenges.
History has shown that when Sikh faith schools have underperformed, the reasons can be varied and complex. Local political barriers can sometimes prevent rapid school improvement support and system leadership to be provided to standalone academies or in some cases to schools within a multi-academy trust.
The NSO have introduced a range of school improvement services to help support rapid school intervention and support to enable the school to recover and at the same time provide confidence to the regulators that academisation or re-brokerage can be avoided.
Our school improvement services are provided by individuals that work closely with the NSO and are often experienced headteachers who are or have run outstanding schools as well as field experts in specialised areas such governance, safeguarding, curriculum and SEND provision. The NSO will provide these school improvement partners directly to schools who will pay them for the support. The amount of intervention will depend on the needs of the school and vary from a few days per term to longer in some cases.
JUSTICE COMMITTEE HATE CRIME AND PUBLIC ORDER (SCOTLAND) BILL
SUPPLEMENTARY SUBMISSION FROM NETWORK OF SIKH ORGANISATIONS
The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) is a registered charity no.1064544 that links more than 130 UK gurdwaras and other UK Sikh organisations in active cooperation to enhance the image and understanding of Sikhism in the UK.
This submission is supplementary to our original REF: J/S5/20/HC/1756 dated 17th September 2020 and our 2nd submission dated 16th November 2020 REF: J/S5/20/HC/1771, which followed the oral hearing on 10th November 2020 in which our Deputy-Director Hardeep Singh gave evidence to the Justice Committee alongside several other organisations. This 3rd submission is in response to consideration of options tabled for a new overarching free speech clause, which has been proposed by the Secretary for Justice.
1.1Previously agreed clause for protecting free speech when it comes to matters of religion and belief
We are surprised that only two of the options offered for review as a ‘catch all’ free speech provision by the Secretary for Justice, include an already agreed amendment when it comes to protecting free speech when discussing matters of religion and belief. This was approved unanimously by the committee last week and something we raised along with others in oral evidence to the Justice Committee, and in our previous written submissions. The new and controversial ‘stirring up hatred’ offences must include free speech clauses to protect speech beyond merely ‘criticism’ and ‘discussion’ of religion. The previously agreed amendment would have provided greater protection to expressions of ‘antipathy’, ‘ridicule’, ‘dislike’ or ‘insult’ of religion or belief and brought this free speech protection (in the Hate Crime and Public Order Bill) in line with an equivalent clause in section 29J of the Religious Hatred Act 2006[i] (England & Wales).
During the oral evidence session on 10th November 2020 Anthony Horan Director, Catholic Parliamentary Office of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, Neil Barber, spokesperson for Scotland, National Secular Society (NSS) , Kieran Turner, Public Policy Officer, Scotland, Evangelical Alliance, and our Deputy-Director Hardeep Singh all supported the echoing of freedom of speech provisions in English law, when it comes to religion and belief.[ii] This was later agreed as an amendment by the committee. It is frankly remarkable how this now appears to have been rescinded in two of, ‘four options for freedom of expression provision.’[iii] We are not alone in our astonishment and disappointment at this development – our allies in the Free to Disagree Campaign, the NSS have rightly described this development as ‘perplexing and farcical.’[iv]
1.2 More time is required to consider the ‘catch all’ free speech clauses
We are alarmed by the speed in which this critical part of the public consultation is now being conducted. Our Deputy-Director was a signatory to a letter calling for deferring scrutiny of the draft stirring up hatred offences proposals until after the May election.[v] This stage of the public consultation was announced on 18th February 2021, and evidence in response to the ‘catch all’ free speech provision has been given the deadline of 10:00 Monday 22nd February 2021. This is only two working days and simply not sufficient notice to provide these ‘catch all’ free speech clauses the attention they deserve. There are also questions as to why the free speech defence for religion and belief (in two of the proposed provisions) which mirrors English law, has not been expanded to other protected characteristics in which only ‘discussion or criticism’ is protected. This not only creates a clear hierarchy of free speech defences but puts those who for example, want to air strong opinions on transgender issues/women’s rights in serious difficulty if this legislation is enacted.
1.3Parliamentary scrutiny and procedure on previously agreed free speech clause for religion and belief
We would also like to understand the mechanism and process by which the previously agreed free speech clause for religion and belief, has essentially been shelved in all but two of the proposed ‘catch all’ clauses. It would indeed be helpful if an explanation is provided by the Secretary for Justice during the oral evidence session scheduled at 14:30 on 22nd February 2021.
NSO submission to APPG for the Pakistani Minorities inquiry into Abduction, Forced Conversions and Forced Marriages of Religious Minority Girls and Women in Pakistan
The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) is a registered charity no.1064544 that links more than 130 UK gurdwaras and other UK Sikh organisations in active cooperation to enhance the image and understanding of Sikhism in the UK.
For the sake of brevity and convenience, we have used headings in the APPG briefing document. We are grateful to former councillor/detective Gurpal Virdi for his input.
Human Rights Organisation/NGOs/Faith and non-faith based groups, Experts
i. Name and organisation? What is the nature of your work on the topic? Do you work with the victims and their families? How many victims or their families do you work with? What assistance do you provide?
Over the last few years, the NSO has followed cases of forced conversion and written about the forced marriage and abuse of religious minority girls and women in Pakistan. This is an issue that has an impact on all non-Muslim minority girls in Pakistan – predominantly Hindu and Christian girls, but it has also impacted the minority Sikh community too. One of the most high-profile cases in recent years has been the case of Jagjit Kaur.[i] She was alleged to be kidnapped at gunpoint from her home in Nankana Sahib (Lahore), converted (given the Muslim name Ayesha) and married to a Muslim boy.[ii]
In many cases the victim’s family face legal challenges, intimidation and according to Professor Javaid Rehman from Brunel University, ‘local authorities, especially police, particularly in the Punjab province, are often accused of being complicit in these cases by failing to properly investigate reported cases or prosecute offenders’.[iii] Legal petitions filed in court from the family members of the accused boy/men, often follow a similar pattern with statements alleging the girl(s) converted and married of their free will. This makes it difficult, if not impossible for the victim families to get access to justice through the courts. Many come from poor backgrounds, and do not have the necessary resources to defend their rights.
According to the academic research on this matter, we understand that approximately 1,000 women and girls from religious minorities are abducted, forcibly converted to Islam, and then married off to their abductors every year in Pakistan.[iv] Our Director Lord Singh of Wimbledon has raised the treatment of minorities in debates in the House of Lords. In a debate on 2nd July 2019 ‘Pakistan: Aid programmes and Human Rights’ – our Director said:
‘Minorities are frequently allocated menial tasks such as the cleaning of public latrines. Homes of minorities are frequently attacked and women and girls kidnapped and converted or sold into slavery. I have at times questioned the appropriateness of Pakistan, with its ill treatment of minorities, still being a member of the Commonwealth, a club of countries with historic ties to Britain. Members are required to abide by the Commonwealth charter, with core values of opposition to, “all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds”.’[v]
ii. What, in your opinion, are the weaknesses and limitations of the existing laws?
The APPG briefing paper outlines the existing laws including the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 of Pakistan, and in Sindh – the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2014. It says, ‘In another major province, Punjab, the Punjab Marriage Restraint Act 2015 kept the legal age of marriage at 16 years. In 2018, the chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology announced that a nikah (Islamic marriage) can be performed at any age but the couple can only live together after the age of 18.’ The difficulty here is changes to Pakistan’s law designed to safeguard minors and criminalise those that marry underage boys or girls, although well-meaning conflict with some interpretations of sharia being propagated by influential preachers and Islamic organisations.
Although we submit this isn’t limited to the issue of forced marriage and conversion of minority faith girls only, it has been seen most prominently with the backlash against Pakistan’s Supreme Court decision in the Asia Bibi blasphemy case. Both Bibi and the Supreme Court justices’ received death threats because of the decision to free her.[vi] The courts make important rulings, and some influential clerics push back. The late Khadim Hussain Rizvi, leader of the hardline Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party (whose family was given condolences when he died by Imran Khan),[vii] was a pro-blasphemy law campaigner.
He can be seen in footage giving a speech in which he says keeping relationships with ‘kaffirs’ (a derogatory term), or non-Muslims should be treated like one’s relationship with a toilet.[viii] The dissemination of this kind of doctrinally motivated hatred against non-Muslims by pro-blasphemy clerics in Pakistan serves to incite hatred against non-Muslims and dehumanises them. Whilst laws designed to safeguard against child marriage are indeed a welcome step, do they make a difference in real terms with this backdrop? We believe the problem is compounded because there appears to be little done to address hate speech against non-Muslims. The propagation of this hatred sows the seeds of prejudice, and facilitates the ongoing issue of abduction, forced conversions, and forced marriages of religious minority girls/women in Pakistan.
iii. What, in your opinion, is the problem with implementation of the existing laws that should have protected the victims?
The APPG for the Pakistani minorities 2019 report Religious Minorities of Pakistan: Report of a Parliamentary visit (27 September 2018 – 3 October 2018), cites a report produced by the Commonwealth Initiative for Freedom of Religion or Belief (2018):
‘the police will often either refuse to record an [First information Report] FIR or falsify the information recorded on the FIR, thus denying the families involved the chance to take their case and complaints any further. The lack of an FIR or the misrepresentation of information means that the family are unable to seek further justice in law courts, as an FIR is the vital first stage in the Criminal Procedure Code. Police are also often lethargic in attempting to recover a girl who has been abducted, thus allowing the conversion and marriage to take place. Both the lower courts and the higher courts of Pakistan have displayed bias and a lack of adherence to proper procedures in cases that involve accusations of forced marriage and forced conversions [and in such cases] the judiciary is often subjected to external influences, such as fear of reprisal and violence from extremist elements.’[ix]
We believe this sums up the plight for minorities in Pakistani, in their inability to obtain justice through the legal system. Unless the status quo is changed both in the way the police and judiciary deal with such cases, the ill treatment of minorities will continue unabated. The flaws in the existing system, along with the bias in favour of the accused abductors, is likely to not only further embolden perpetrators, but gives them the reassurance they need that they will be granted impunity for their actions.
iv. How, in your opinion, could the Federal and Provincial Governments improve the laws to eliminate the issue of abductions, forced conversions and forced marriages?
We believe the way to tackle this is two-prong, looking at both shifting societal attitudes, as well as training and education for officials. Firstly, there must be meaningful effort to reduce societal hatred and hostility towards non-Muslims. Second there must be training for officials to highlight their obligations when it comes to the rights of non-Muslim children.
Rather than reinventing the wheel, there have already been some meaningful recommendations put forward for the attention of the Pakistani authorities by this very APPG in their 2019 report. Some examples which would encourage better treatment of minorities in Pakistan:
ban all discriminatory employment advertisements reserving low-paid or menial
jobs for non-Muslims only and introduce financial penalties for breaching the
More broadly speaking there should be the requirement of mandatory training programmes for the police, social workers, the judiciary on the rights of children and their responsibility to safeguard those rights which are enshrined under Pakistan’s constitution and the law, moreover, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and within international human rights law.
vii. What, in your opinion, are the effects of such abductions, forced conversions and forced marriages on a) the victims and b) their families?
Although we have not conducted any direct victim assessments, it is clear the impact of these heinous crimes is severe for the victim and their families. Those who try to fight back through the legal system often face intimidation and threats. The family of Jagjit Kaur were reportedly threatened.[xiii] It is difficult for us to fathom the upheaval and chaos the families and victims go through. Tweeting about the case of Simron Kumari, Veengas a Sindh based journalist and founder of The Rise News, writes, ‘parents have been raising voice for their daughter since 2019. Now, Simron Kumari who was abducted and converted to Islam. Family seeks help but who will listen to their anguish. You cannot do justice to mothers. I request you (sic) that if you have heart then feel their sorrow.’[xiv] In the same thread she writes, ‘Unfortunately, Urdu Elite Media don’t cover Forced conversions issues as they should have covered. Majority of minor girls being abducted & converted to Islam.’[xv] According to another report, a father of two Hindu girls kidnapped in Sindh, protested outside a police station and said, ‘You can kill me. I will never tolerate this. My daughters have been abducted—I had patience.’[xvi]
ix. How can the Home Office be persuaded that the presumption in any such victims case, if applying for asylum in the UK, should be that they have been persecuted for their faith?
Country policy and information notes on Pakistan, which are published by the Home Office should be updated to include information about the persecution of minority faiths in Pakistan on the issue of abduction, forced conversions, and forced marriages. There should be an understanding of the issue at hand amongst Home Office staff, not least immigration officials – so they can make the appropriate assessments for asylum applications.
At the AGM of the APPG for British Sikhs earlier this year, Chair Preet Gill MP, announced that the group would be looking to address the issue of hate crime against Sikhs. It was agreed that APPG would work with the NSO, given we had already done much work in this field.
We wrote to Preet Gill on 12th October 2020 to remind her of her commitment to work with us and shared information about the progress we’ve made on hate crime. The commitment to build on what already exists for the benefit of the UK Sikh community was regrettably (but unsurprisingly) ignored. The APPG, which primarily involves the Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) and its affiliates like The Sikh Network (and one of the two co-existing Sikh Council UK’s) are ignoring what has previously been achieved, to suggest that they are pioneers in the fight against hate crime.
Their statements not only show a lack of understanding of the nature of hate crime, but more seriously, an appalling ignorance of basic Sikh teachings. Moreover, the definition that they have proposed for ‘consultation’ is not only ambiguous, it absurdly does not include the post 9/11 backlash faced by Sikhs across the West in so called ‘mistaken identity’ or ‘Islamophobic’ attacks.
The reason we are not surprised by the behaviour of the APPG, lies in their limited contact with the wider Sikh community. The Chair of the APPG works closely with Dabinderjit Singh as an advisor. He also happens to be ‘principal advisor’ to the SFUK. The Chair and a member of her family are prominent in a group called The Sikh Network which is also linked to the SFUK. Some ‘team’ members of one of the coexisting Sikh Council UK’s – another group linked to SFUK, and favoured by the APPG also happen to be members of The Sikh Network ‘team’.
There are some question marks about the mathematics being used by the APPG in recent reports on hate crime. We are not too sure how they’ve come to suggest hate crime against Sikhs has increased 70% year on year.[i]
We’ve looked at the Home Office figures being referenced in media reports. They show the number and proportion of religious hate crimes recorded by the police by the perceived targeted religion for, 2019/20 and 2018/19.
For the most recent year the figure for ‘Sikh’ is 202 and for the previous it is 188. That is an increase of 14 incidents from 2018/19. 14/188 multiplied by 100 = 7.4%
We asked Preet Gill how the APPG came to the 70% figure and she responded:
‘Please can you confirm who this email is written by, and signed off by. Please provide name and details.’
Why ignore basic Sikh teachings?
The groups involved are ignoring the basic Sikh teaching of sarbat da bhalla in in seeking to establish a legal definition of hate crime against Sikhs. Sikh teachings require us to look at the wider picture. Rather than looking inward, the NSO has protested the government’s bias approach in this area in solidarity with other faiths who’ve been marginalised, as well as those of no faith. There should be a level playing field for everyone.
Our Director referred to this in the Lords, in a discussion on Islamophobia, when Baroness Warsi was pressing the government to accept a controversial definition of ‘Islamophobia’ that has the potential to stifle discussion of issues like Muslim grooming gangs, Islamic extremism and aspects of history, like Mughal persecution of minorities. This includes the martyrdom of our Gurus. With former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, sitting next to him, and Baroness Warsi in the row in front. Lord Singh said:
My Lords, emotive definitions such as Islamophobia are simply constraints on freedom of speech. A phobia is a fear, and the best way to combat irrational fear or prejudice suffered by all religions and beliefs is through healthy, open discussion. Will the Minister endorse the commitment given last week by Heather Wheeler, Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, to protect all religions and beliefs without fear or favour?
The Minister fully agreed as did the rest of the House in loud appreciative ‘hear hears’.
This timely intervention supported the legitimate free speech concerns raised by several prominent individuals and a number of organisations (including the NSO) resulted in Baroness Warsi’s failure in her attempt to impose a divisive definition on the House. The government rejected it. Now the APPG for British Sikhs and their followers want to ignore the thrust of our Gurus’ teachings and go down the same path. In urging the APPG to be consistent with Sikh teachings and work with others with experience in the field, we are highlighting some of the progress made by the NSO.
It was the NSO who found that crimes against Sikhs and others are being recorded under ‘Islamophobic hate crime’ in London – research appreciated by Christians, Hindus, Atheists and others.
It was the NSO that pushed back against ‘Action Against Hate’ (2016) for marginalising the non-Abrahamic faith communities in favour of Abrahamic faiths.
It was the NSO that influenced (through giving oral and written evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee) policy when the government made a commitment to support Hindus and Sikhs in reporting hate crime.
The NSO pushed back against a controversial ‘Islamophobia’ definition which would have risked censorship of important chapters in Sikh history – like the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur.
It was the NSO that has worked alongside Galop over the summer and collaborated with other organisations, the police and policy makers in #TogetherAgainstHate2020. We could go on.
A Sikh perspective on hate crime
We should be true to our Gurus’ teachings in all we do as Sikhs. This requires us to look beyond concern for ourselves, to sarbat da bhalla, in this case to all who suffer from so-called ‘hate crime’.
The important point from Lord Singh’s contribution was that fear and prejudice, sometimes seen as hatred, arises from ignorance. It is therefore important to work actively to remove widespread ignorance of Sikhism and Sikh teachings. This is important because of the ongoing conflation of Sikh identity with that of images of Islamic extremists – be it Bin Laden, ISIS or the Taliban. If the APPG still want to go down the legally recognised definition route, then it’s frankly absurd not to include the post 9/11 element.
Our Guru’s taught us a distinct and enlightened way of life which we must put to the fore in turning ignorance and prejudice into respect and appreciation. While we should be resolute in reporting and tackling unacceptable hate crime, we have much to do in educating the wider community about who we are. Our Guru given values are a powerful vehicle for turning latent prejudice to appreciation and communal harmony.
Reports indicate the APPG are requesting the government, ‘financially supports the work of the Sikh Network and Sikh Council to track hate crimes against their community with start-up grants and annual funding for the next three to five years.’[ii] We think there may well be a conflict of interest here, given some individuals involved in the organisations for which funding has been requested, have links (including familial) with the APPG chair.
We asked Preet Gill to respond to this point. She said:
‘Please can you confirm who this email is written by, and signed off by. Please provide name and details.’
We will be highlighting our concerns about this with relevant government departments.
Now the SFUK who have used the APPG as a vehicle to promote their partisan agenda have failed in their ill-conceived Sikh ethnic tick box campaign, they will be desperate to regain credibility with the broader Sikh community, and the government in other areas. The APPG for British Sikhs may well choose not to work with us, nor learn from the progress and recognition we’ve achieved on hate crime. If so, this only continues to emphasize a non-inclusive, narrow, and limited way of working. The fact that our Director was elected as treasurer for the APPG simply adds insult to injury.
In the first of the series we interviewed Harbakhsh Grewal about his roles at the UK Punjab Heritage Association (UKPHA) and publisher Kashi House. We ask him about the seminal volume Warrior Saints, by historians Parmjit Singh and Amandeep Singh Madra, and the popular exhibitions hosted by UKPHA at the SOAS Brunei gallery – including The Sikhs and World War 1 in 2014. You can listen to the interview here.
Later in August, as part of the Catch ‘Together Against Hate’ 2020 project we interviewed Billie Boyd a Hate Crime Support worker at the charity Galop. We find out about her role and how she has made a tangible difference for her clients who have suffered discrimination and hatred for being part of the LGBT community. You can listen to the interview here.
As part of the same series – we then had the pleasure of talking to our Director Lord Singh of Wimbledon who told us about his early life in Britain, the challenges with racism at that time, which later included a backlash against Sikhs post 9/11 in so called ‘mistaken identity’ attacks. Lord Singh reveals how he used humour to deal with racism during those early years. You can listen to the interview here.
We then spoke to Suresh Grover, Director of the Monitoring Group in Southall – a veteran anti-racism campaigner who has led campaigns to help the families of Stephen Lawrence, Zahid Mubarek and Victoria Climbie. He talks about ‘Paki bashing’, the history of Southall and the role of the Punjabi community during the tumultuous period following the racist murder of schoolboy Gurinder Singh Chaggar in 1976. Listen to part 1 of the interview here: Listen to Part 2 here.
In our most recent interviews, we talked to our Deputy-Director Hardeep Singh who has co-authored a volume titled Racialization, Islamophobia and Mistaken Identity: The Sikh Experience, and also Chief Supt Raj Singh Kohli who surprised us with the prejudice he has faced over the years – from his early years at school, through to post 9/11. But he didn’t take it lying down – his story is both uplifting and remarkable. We will be uploading the interviews onto both Anchor and YouTube soon.
If anyone has any suggestions on who we should interview and the topics they’d like to hear about, contact us: email@example.com
The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) has produced a hate crime guide to help signpost members of the Sikh community to organisations who can support them, as well as encouraging victims to report incidents to the police. The charity has additionally produced a second guide designed to support organisations supporting Sikh victims.
The guides have been complied as part of a project, Together Against Hate, co-ordinated by the UK’s only specialist LGBT+ anti-violence charity Galop. The project has been funded by The Mayor’s Office for Policing And Crime (MOPAC).
There has been a clear trend in the targeting of Muslims as well as Sikhs in the aftermath of terror attacks as has been evidenced post 9/11 and the London 7/7 bombings. The Sikh identity, in particular the turban and beard of observant men, is often conflated with the appearance of Islamic extremists which has resulted in the targeting of Sikhs and Sikh places of worship (gurdwaras).
In 2015 a Sikh dentist was almost beheaded in a revenge attack for the murder of Lee Rigby, and the following year a case in which Sikh women were referred to in derogatory terms resulted in a conviction. In 2018 a Sikh environmentalist almost had his turban forcibly removed when visiting an MP in parliament, and in May 2020 a hate crime against a gurdwara in Derby appears to have been motivated by a geopolitical grievance in relation to the troubled region of Kashmir.
NSO Deputy-Director Hardeep Singh said:
Hate crime against Sikhs often goes unreported and victims do not always feel they need to inform the police of such incidents. Some will not know you can simply report hate crime online, rather than go to a police station to file a report, which can be time consuming.
We hope the guides provide clear, relevant, and timely advice to members of the community. They need to know they are not alone and there are people out there who can help. We also believe it’s important they report incidents to the authorities, which can be done anonymously if need be.
Mel Stray, Galop, Hate Crime Policy and Campaigns Manager said:
These new hate crime guides are a vital resource for the Sikh community and organisations working with Sikh victims of hate crime. We are delighted that the Network of Sikh Organisations has come together with nine other organisations as part of the Together Against Hate project, to stand up alongside each other against hate targeting our communities.
– Ends –
Notes to Editors:The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) is a registered charity no.1064544 that links more than 130 UK gurdwaras and other UK Sikh organisations in active cooperation to enhance the image and understanding of Sikhism in the UK.
There are two hate crime guides (i) Guide for Sikh victims (ii) Guide for organisations supporting Sikh victims – you can download them below
Peers debated the contents of draft Census (England and Wales) Order 2020 in the Lords earlier this week. The flawed Sikh ‘ethnic’ tick box argument was raised following a debate in the Commons last week in which Labour party politicians briefed by the Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) cited questionable statistics.
Our Director, Lord Singh who has been a prominent opponent of the SFUK’s tick box campaign told peers about the misunderstanding of the Mandla case from the 1980’s which SFUK rely upon and for which he was expert witness.
He said, ‘The law then protected ethnicity, but not religion, against discrimination. The Law Lords ruled that as most Sikhs in the UK then were born in Punjab and had Punjabi ethnicity, Sikhs were also entitled to protection. The criteria of birth and origin would not be met today, as most Sikhs are born in the UK, nor is such a convoluted protection necessary. The Equality Act 2010 gives full protection to religion.’
He went on, ‘The politically motivated federation falsely claims mass support, with questionable statistics. The ethnicity argument was discussed at the large gurdwara in Hounslow, in front of ONS officials, and was firmly rejected, yet the federation includes Hounslow among its supporters. Many Sikhs and people of other faiths are appalled at the way in which some politicians, anxious for votes, are willing to trample on the religious sensitivities of others and accept as fact the absurdities of those who shout the loudest. I urge that we look to what the different religious groups actually do for the well-being of their followers and wider society.’
Supporting Lord Singh’s position on the issue, Former Bishop of Oxford and crossbench peer Lord Harries of Pentregarth, said: ‘I believe that Sikhism is a great and very distinguished world religion. I do not think there should be any blurring of that fact and I worry that putting this in the ethnic minority category will somehow diminish what Sikhism has to offer as a world religion.’
Once the Order has been approved, Census Regulations will be laid before Parliament. According to the House of Commons Library, ‘the ONS aims to publish an initial set of census reports one year after it has taken place, and to make all outputs available within two years.’
We hope the British Sikh community can now move on from this debate and focus on the uplifting teachings of our global world religion, and all it has to offer today’s fractured society.
It is no secret our relationship with the Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) has been difficult over the years, especially considering our opposition to their ‘ethnic’ tick box campaign. The SFUK has previously described our Director as ‘an 85-year old dinosaur’,[i] brought the Sikh community into disrepute with a ‘karma’ tweet following the death of Sir Jeremy Heywood,[ii] and falsely claimed that a gurdwara which rejected their ‘ethnic’ tick box argument, had written in support of the APPG’s (their) campaign.[iii]
We point to another issue which requires urgent investigation. In response to evidence we submitted to the Scottish government[iv] the APPG on UK Sikhs issued a statement, which was also later published by the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, in which they write:
‘Some MPs may have received a briefing last week titled “Why Sikhs should not have a Sikh ethnic tick box and are not a distinct ethnic group” from the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) headed by cross-bencher Lord Singh. Disappointingly the NSO briefing is biased, misleading and includes matters that are totally irrelevant to the issue at hand.
The NSO and its head have shockingly described MPs on all sides backing the Sikh community in this campaign as “naïve” and “bewildered”. This sort of language is hugely discourteous to hundreds of elected MPs who have had letters from constituents in support of this campaign and in many cases discussed this issue locally at Gurdwaras on many occasions and with individual Sikh constituents.’
The SFUK issued a press release on 19 February 2020, titled: ‘Conservative MPs issue briefing on Sikh ethnic tick box and rebuke biased and misleading note from Network of Sikh Organisations’, (attaching the APPG statement).
Contrary to what is written, we did not use the word ‘bewildered’ so it’s odd that this has been included. However, more significantly still, the introduction to the APPG document appears to have been agreed in principle with three newly elected Conservative MPs.
We wrote to all three MPs, when we first heard about the briefing and the related Indian press coverage which cited them,[v] when the latter was publicised alongside their images on Twitter by the SFUK on 16 February 2020. We indicated they appear to be a signatory to, or at the very least in agreement with the contents of the document whose introduction we have cited above.
We asked them if they were aware of the document and or the related Indian press coverage.
One of the three got back to us and said they were not aware they had signed anything, nor had they read the coverage, which was published in Punjabi in the Daily Ajit publication in any case (and would have required translation) – adding:
‘I’m happy to consult my constituents on this issue rather than take a particular view myself.’
This response not only indicates an open mind on the census issue, but makes it clear they are not party to the SFUK/APPG position on the census.
We believe it is difficult in the circumstances, to then imagine the same MP support a briefing which attacks our charity and is egregiously partisan.
We have written to Preet Gill MP the Chair of the APPG, and the SFUK (the APPG secretariat) to ask them to confirm as a matter of urgency if the MPs whose names have been included at the bottom of the briefing published by the Scottish government provided their express authority to do so.
We believe the Sikh community requires an explanation and will be reporting the matter to the Conservative party to investigate further. At the time of writing we are yet to hear back from either Preet Gill MP or the SFUK, but we are willing to publish their response if we receive it.
Sikh prison chaplains at the residential training event at the Prison Service College
Our charity is proud to be run the Sikh Prison Chaplaincy Service and we provide both spiritual and pastoral care for all Sikhs in prison in the United Kingdom.
One of the areas in which we’d like to see more emphasis is in prison chaplaincy initiatives to help reduce reoffending rates. It’s a no brainer that if we can keep Sikhs who’ve been in prison, out of prison – that can only be for the betterment of the community, and wider society at large. Of course, once ex-offenders are out, there must also be opportunity to encourage them back into work, motivate them to contribute positively to their community and reengage with broader society as responsible citizens. Indeed, we believe gurdwaras, not just the National Probation Service or multiagency management have an important role to play in this regard.
In a House of Lords debate on prisons and radicalisation, our Director Lord Singh of Wimbledon highlighted the importance of reducing reoffending and our desire to reduce this for Sikhs.
He said: ‘I declare my interest as director of the Sikh Prison Chaplaincy Service. Does the Minister agree that chaplains must be at the forefront of any move to tackle radicalisation in prisons? To do this, they have to place dated social and political norms embedded in religious texts in the context of today’s times.’
He went on: ‘Will the Minister agree to meet me to discuss Sikh chaplaincy initiatives to do this and reduce reoffending rates, and how this experience might possibly be used to the benefit of other faiths?’
The NSO believes that a measure of the success of a positive, effective and engaged prison chaplaincy service must surely be a reduction in reoffending rates.
We will be following up to discuss this with the government and believe this aim should extend to prison chaplaincy services for all faiths and none.
Sikh man being surrounded and attacked by mobs in 1984
During the 1930s and 1940s, Pandit Nehru, first Prime Minister of post-partition India learnt from bitter personal experience of the ease with which a repressive government can label someone an extremist and throw him into gaol. He was quick to learn the lesson from his British mentors and, within months of becoming Prime Minister in 1947, he in turn incarcerated the more prominent of his political opponents – including the veteran Sikh leader Master Tara Singh. The latter had dared to remind him of his promise to the Sikh people 12 months earlier, that he saw nothing wrong with an area being set aside in the north of free India “where Sikhs could also experience the glow of freedom.”
“The situation is different now,” was Pandit Nehru’s comment when reminded of this promise. The Sikh leader was branded “an extremist” and duly gaoled for demanding a measure of autonomy for Punjab that was in fact considerably less than that enjoyed by individual states in the US.
Mr Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, with all the cynicism and double-talk of dictatorial governments posing as democracies, has been quick to improve on both the language and methods of repression. First in the “emergency”, when all pretence of democracy was dropped, and, more recently, again under the guise of democracy, a cruel feline viciousness has been unleashed on the people of India.
The “emergency” saw the “disappearance” of hundreds of political opponents, the forced sterilisation of the poor, and the destruction of their hovels in the name of progress. In the last two years thousands of “terrorists” and “political agitators” have been shot in Kashmir, Assam and Maharashtra. Now it is the turn of Punjab and the Sikhs. The massacre in Amritsar of perhaps as many as 2,000 mostly unarmed and innocent Sikh men, women, and children – “terrorists” – easily outdoes in barbarity and outrage the 1919 shooting at Jallianwala Bagh where 379 people were killed by General Dyer.
The killings by General Dyer, were in an open park, the slaughter at the Golden Temple was in the holiest of holy Sikh shrines. Indira Gandhi’s justification was that it was a base for Sikh terrorists. Let us look at the facts. The one requirement for terrorism is secrecy. One would not advertise and plan terrorism from, say, the concourse of Waterloo Station. Similarly, the Golden Temple with its famous four doors to emphasise its welcome to pilgrims and visitors from all four corners of the globe, irrespective of race, religion or national origins, had, to say the least, serious limitations that would, religious considerations apart, have precluded its use by any group intent on serious terrorism.
A secret telephone number is a useful asset for organising terrorism. The phones into the Golden Temple were known to, and tapped by the police. Inside, right up to the time of the government attack, pilgrims and visitors, including the foreign press, were free to go into any part of the Temple complex. Outside, a heavy police presence had existed for more than a year around each entrance to the Golden Temple. It is true that, as government threats to enter and desecrate the Temple increased over the months, parallel attempts to build up defences to deter such a sacrilegious attack also increased. The “fortifying” of the Golden Temple was nothing but a response to increasing evidence that Mrs Gandhi was determined to solve the “Sikh question” by striking at the very heart of Sikhism.
Indira Gandhi is right when she says that terrorism must be rooted out. But who are the terrorists? Those perpetrating organised violence, or those that oppose it? It is not generally known outside Punjab that, over the past two years, thousands of Sikh homes in the Punjab villages have been raided by police and paramilitary forces. Young Sikhs have been dragged away for questioning, never to be seen again. The sight of murdered Sikhs floating in rivers and waterways has become a common occurrence. The current issue of the journal of Amnesty International cites several harrowing examples of police brutality and torture. More recently eyewitnesses’ accounts to the Amritsar massacre talk of women and children being shot in cold blood, and Sikh prisoners being tied with their own turbans and then shot in the head. Who then are the terrorists?
The myth of a “terrorist base” borrowed from the vocabulary of more subtle colonial powers, is not the only way in which Mrs Gandhi has allowed truth to be stood on its head. Lack of space forbids a more detailed analysis but the reader trying to find truth in Mrs Gandhi’s press releases might well find the following glossary helpful.
Sikh extremist: One who believes he should be allowed to practice his religion unmolested and that Sikhs and other Punjabis should not be treated less favourably than their brothers and sisters in other Indian states.
Sikh fundamentalist: a Sikh who believes in the fundamentals of the Sikh religion, namely belief in one God, earning by one’s own efforts, helping the less fortunate, religious tolerance, equality of women and universal human brotherhood.
Sikh fanatic: Alternative for Sikh fundamentalist. I. G. Factor: A “multiplier” of 10. Used by Indira Gandhi and Indian government watchers, and based on experience in Kashmir, Assam and elsewhere, to convert press release figures to something approaching reality. For example, the initial Indian government figure of 250 deaths in the Golden Temple converts to 2,500. Eyewitness reports fear that this may be an understatement.
Minimum use of force: “We went in with prayers on our lips” says an Indian General. It is now being reported that the Army was given instructions not to take any prisoners. The coldblooded slaughter of men, women and children.
No alternative: The use of any or all the following clichés to justify excessive use of force-discovery of stockpile of sophisticated weapons; arsenals; bomb factory; involvement of a foreign power, CIA, etc. In the interests of national security: In the interests of Indira Gandhi and family.
Democracy: The inalienable right of a majority to crush minorities. Rule by Indira Gandhi and family, for Indira Gandhi and family.
Indarjit Singh is the editor of the Sikh Messenger, and a member of the religious advisory committee of the United Nations Association.