Where Unity Is Strength
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[Image above: Lady Singh addressing the audience at Billion Women Parliamentary event]

Full talk given by Lady Singh at the launch of Lord Sheikh’s book Emperor of the Five Rivers at The Nehru Centre on the 6 September 2017.

My Lords, Ladies and gentlemen, Good evening. Thank you Lord Sheikh for giving me this opportunity to say a few words on this joyous occasion if the launch of the book Emperor of the Five Rivers. I am delighted and indeed honoured to have this opportunity. In only ten minutes, I will try to do some justice to this superbly written book. Usually we say that no self respecting Sikh will speak less than an hour. Let’s see.

Emperor of the Five Rivers provides a fascinating insight into an important period in Sikh history. It is both a well researched and reference book for the serious scholar and an enjoyable read. The author is to be congratulated for a remarkable addition to Sikh literature.

The book is set against a background of British expansion in India and the savage culture of the times. It provides a fascinating account of Ranjit Singh’s generosity, courage and extraordinary humanity in an age of unabashed greed and cruel regimes.

I found it a well researched book, with helpful references providing vivid examples of Ranjit Singh’s humility and compassion and extraordinary diplomatic skills. It also shows his human weaknesses including a fondness of wine and beautiful women.

Appropriately the story begins with how the teachings of the Sikh Gurus helped shape Ranjit Singh’s character and his attitude to religion and politics. We learn that the young Ranjit was virtually illiterate but possessed a sharp brain and an intense interest in the world about him. He would sit for hours in the gurdwara [a Sikh temple], listening to the stories of the Gurus and the respect they showed to the people of other religions.

The book shows how these teachings had a huge influence on the young Ranjit and the way in which behaved to both his subjects and his defeated enemies, in his sprawling empire which extended beyond the subcontinent to Kabul and Tibet, earning him popular acclaim as the ‘Lion of Punjab’. His inclusive attitude to other religions and nationalities is shown by the fact that he employed several French and European generals in his army and that more than half of his governing cabinet consisted of non- Sikhs.

Even in those early days Sikh Gurus’ teaching of equality of women with men was not forgotten by Ranjit Singh. Among his most famous commanders was his mother in law Maharani Sada Kaur, who was leading her armies at Lahore, Amritsar and other places. She was his advisor and a confidante for many years.

As Lord Sheikh writes, ‘ He handed responsibilities to those best able to discharge them, whatever their religion.’Again on page 47, Far more important aspect of Ranjit’s religious faith was its tolerance. Unlike either Islam or Christianity, Sikhism was not a missionary religion. Sikhs believed utterly in their religion and were only too happy for others to join them, but they did not try to coerce anyone to do so. Nor did they view non-Sikhs with contempt. This attitude underpinned Ranjit Singh’s entire religious outlook. Many calls him a secular ruler, but as pointed out by Lord Sheikh, Ranjit Singh was a Sikh ruler in the true sense whose rule was secular.

The author notes many examples of Ranjit Singh’s humility. He struck a coin for the investiture that paid tribute to Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh, he dispensed with his right to wear his crown or sit on a throne. He continued to preside over the Darbar sitting cross-legged on a modest chair. His modesty was entirely in keeping with the republican nature of Sikhism, and in total contrast to the way in which oriental kings normally presented themselves. Story of a Muslim calligraphist who had spent years transcribing the Qur’an beautifuly by hand was about to leave the Punjab to sell his product as no one would buy it. Ranjit summoned him to an audience, respectfully pressed the piece of work against his head, purchased it giving more than the asking price and later presented it to Fakir Aziz-ud-din.

Ranjit made it an ironclad rule that his armies would not indulge in carnage, burn holy books or destroy places of worship. The civilian population would remain free to carry on with their normal activities and no women were to be molested. When Ranjit rode through Peshawar after wresting it from the Afghans, the holy people of the city prayed openly for his long life.

It was not only Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs who enjoyed his generous patronage. Among his advisers in the highest ranks of his army , were French, English, Scots, Americans, Hungarians, Russians, Spaniards and Greeks.The Maharaja, illiterate but thirsty for knowledge would spend hours with these ‘firangees’, as they were called, learning about their country and their way of life.

The book gives a fascinating insight into the diplomatic intrigues of the East India Company and the British government; the shadow boxing between the Sikhs and the British, each wary and respectful of the other’s strength. We learn how the astute Ranjit Singh successfully countered British moves to extend their domination and control to the fertile and rich area of Punjab. Each side would maintain outwardly cordial relations with the other indulge in lavish hospitality and the exchange of fine gifts, while at the same time spying on the military strength of the other.

Emperor of the Five Rivers shows, in an easily readable way, how under Ranjit Singh’s enlightened rule, Punjab and the other areas enjoyed peace and prosperity for forty years. This part of the continent had seen only conflict and suffering, and sadly is still experiencing terrible conflict and religious extremism.

The Maharaja is shown as a knowledgeable patron of the arts with a priceless collection of jewellery, shawls and other beautiful works of art. He gave generously to gurdwaras and religious buildings of other faiths, not only in Punjab but other parts of India. He gave endowments and charities to all religions – put gold on Hermandir Sahib, became known as Golden Temple, gold plated temple in Banaras.

In the two Anglo Sikh wars of the 1840s the brave virtually leaderless Khalsa Army was narrowly defeated but not before it had shaken British rule in India to its very core. The author ruefully observes that if its leaders had not made shameful deals with the British, the whole history of the sub continent would have been entirely transformed.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh was one of the most charismatic figures in Sikh history who ruled much of North India including Punjab, present day Pakistan and Kashmir from 1801 until his death in 1839. Think of the romantic image that Richard the Lionheart has in English history: add to it the judgement and wisdom of Solomon and you have some idea of the place that Maharaja Ranjit Singh,Lion of Punjab’, holds in the heart of every Sikh, Hindu and Muslim in Punjab.

Ranjit Singh was powerful enough to have ruled in a totally autocratic way. Instead, he saw himself as the head of a commonwealth and took decisions only after consultation with other Sikh and non-Sikh leaders. It was fine while he lived. He was the hub at the centre, the referee between selfish and often conflicting interests. Ranjit Singh’s own personality was the glue that kept together a vast and sprawling empire. In military terms, Ranjit Singh’s commonwealth was so strong that even the all-powerful English to the South, though keen to establish their influence northwards, hesitated to face him on the battlefield. For some two generations, Punjab enjoyed, for the first time in its entire history, truly secular government.

And then in 1839, Ranjit Singh died and it all fell apart. Internal feuding between warring factions took place. There was treachery and betrayal. The English saw their chance. Two hard fought wars between the largely leaderless Sikhs and the English ensued and,within ten years, nothing was left of Ranjit Singh’s vast empire.

The strength of the Rule under Maharaja Ranjit Singh lay in the power source of Sikh teachings. Ranjit Singh was fired by the ideals of equality, selfless service, humility and concern for the less privileged. When those that followed Ranjit Singh, ignored these ideals, decay was certain.

We have a great lesson to learn from this book. Emperor of the Five Rivers clearly shows us that Sikhs Hindus, Muslims and by today’s extension Christians and Jews can live together in peace and harmony if their rule is even handed, be they elected, selected or hereditary.

A thanks to Lord Sheikh for bringing true history to us, without any bias. When I interviewed him for Sikh Channel and asked him how Ranjit singh was so well versed in all areas of administration, his reply was that Ranjit Singh was ‘a genius’. This one word genius, very appropriately describes the man of his book Emperor of the Five Rivers.

Thank you for giving me an opportunity to speak at the launch of your book and thank you all for listening to me.

Graphic symbols of different religions on white

[Graphic symbols of different religions]

It matters that people learn about religion. The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) has long stressed the importance for us all to have a basic understanding of all the major faiths, which in turn, motivate the behavior and attitudes of significant numbers of people in Britain. In understanding the role of religions in society, we provide ourselves with an informed platform to better engage with others.

Last week our Director Lord Singh asked the government, “What steps they are taking to combat religious extremism and to promote a cohesive society by enhancing religious literacy at all levels of government.”

Minister of State, Baroness Williams of Trafford responded by informing peers the government is countering extremism through Prevent. She said, “We are working closely with faith groups to understand the impact of policies and to improve religious literacy in government. The Home Secretary and the Communities Secretary hosted a round table for representatives of all faiths last November.”

Unsatisfied with the Minister’s response, Lord Singh added: “The Government paper on the hate crime action plan contained no mention of non-Abrahamic faiths. That suggests something about the religious literacy there. Does the Minister agree that democracy implies being attentive to the legitimate concerns of all sections of the community, not those of a single religious or other majority?”

He went on: “Does she further agree that teachings and practices that go against human rights must be robustly challenged, but that we need to know something about what we are challenging before we can do that? Programmes like Prevent cannot be effective without such knowledge. One final point is that I have put the basics of Sikh teachings on one side of A4 at the request of the DFE, and that can be done for other faiths as well. Should that not be essential for religious literacy in government departments?”

The Minister responded thus: “He said that the hate crime action plan did not specifically refer to non-Abrahamic faiths, but the tenets of the action plan cover points on hatred on the basis of religious belief, disability, sexuality and so on. It is therefore implicit within it that, for example, Sikh communities are included.”

She added: “As for the understanding of religious literacy within both government and wider society, both the Home Office and DCLG engage widely and often with faith communities. Shortly after the referendum, I myself met people from different faiths, including Sikhs, in Manchester to discuss religious literacy, the outcome of the referendum and the corresponding hate crime attached to it.”

It is encouraging to hear the Minister often engages with faith communities. However her response didn’t acknowledge the government’s failure in including faiths outside the Abrahamic traditions in Action Against Hate – the government’s four-year hate crime plan. The NSO believes that improving religious literacy in government circles can only enhance policy development, and prevent any future exclusion of minority faiths that aren’t as vocal in their approach to lobbying.

true vision

[True Vision is the Police hate crime portal]

In a recent communication, ahead of Holocaust Memorial, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid announced £375k of new funding to support groups who have “historically faced challenges in reporting and preventing hate crime.”

Part of this funding will be given to the Police hate crime portal True Vision, which will be building a programme to help support Sikhs and Hindus in the reporting of hate crime. The funding also aims to help develop an awareness of hate crime against both groups. The government has acknowledged part of the problem is because of “anti-Muslim hostility.”

This announcement comes following years of campaigning by the NSO in highlighting the government’s biased ‘Abrahamic-centric’ approach. During that time, we have highlighted the issue in the press, had communications with both DCLG and the Home Office, whilst our Director Lord Singh has raised concerns in the House of Lords.

Following the government’s publication of Action Against Hate last July; we made our concerns clear to the Home Secretary. These were supported by leading Hindu and Sikh organisations. We raised the issue at a Faith Communities Forum meeting last September, organised by the Interfaith Network UK.

Pt Satish K Sharma General Secretary of the National Council of Hindu Temples UK said, “we have been in extensive discussions with the Sikh community regarding the manner in which the Dharmic traditions have been quite effectively abandoned in terms of protection and fully support the statements made by Lord Singh in this regard.”

He went on, “recent official statements and gestures indicate that the severity of the situation may be noted but action, funding and genuine engagement will establish whether this is mere lip service or just the latest in a series of sound bites.”

Mr Sharma added: “Unlike other groups, Hindu and Sikh communities have never played the politics of victimhood, focusing more on their contribution to the societies they live in. When they do become victims of hate crimes, requesting recognition and support, requires the development of a whole new social vocabulary.”

Lord Singh said, “the news is certainly a step in the right direction, but there is a long way to go in order to achieve a level playing field for all faiths. Improving religious literacy levels is also important when tackling prejudice fueled by ignorance. It’s good to see the government is willing to listen and learn.”

Prior to the recent announcement, the NSO gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee into its inquiry into hate crime and its violent consequences. At the time, we specifically requested support in raising awareness of hate crime portal’s like True Vision. A link to our evidence can be found here.

Guru Manyo Granth

Guru Manyo Granth

While more than 75% of the Dasam Granth is wholly contrary to the teachings of the Gurus, there are some compositions which could well be those of Guru Gobind Singh. In the 1930s and 1940s a committee of prominent scholars looked at these and included them in the Sikh Reyat Maryada in 1945. They are in consonance with the teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib and form part of our daily Nit Nem. The authors of the Dasam Granth have borrowed these teachings and placed them in their Dasam Granth. This does not mean that the Dasam Granth as a whole should be considered to be on a par with the Guru Granth Sahib.

In the opening composition of the Guru Granth Sahib, Guru Nanak emphasies that there is only one Creator who is above all notions of human birth. In contrast, a large part of the Dasam Granth is devoted to the exploits of 24 so-called INCARNATIONS of the Hindu God Vishnu. The Guru Granth Sahib stresses the dignity and complete equality of women, while much of the Dasam Granth is devoted to the denigration of women, often in the crudest of language, which brings us back to my initial posting.

Should Sikhs and Sikh organisations stand idly by when crude attempts are made to give equal credence to the teachings of Dasam Granth and the Guru Granth Sahib, thus distorting Sikh teachings and diluting them with Hindu mythology? The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) has already stated its opposition to this attack on our teachings. Encouragingly Sikhs in Canada, Malaysia, the USA and the Akhand Kirtani Jatha have also voiced their concerns.

I again appeal to other UK Sikh organisations so far silent, such as the Sikh Council, the Sikh Federation (and its offshoot the Sikh Network), City Sikhs, Ramgharia Council, Sikh Education and Welfare Association (SEWA), the Sikh Missionary Society, Nishkaam Sevak Jatha and others in the UK and abroad to stand alongside us and use their clout to condemn this attack on our religion.

Indarjit (Lord Singh of Wimbledon) Director, Network of Sikh Organisations UK

 

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The latest Ministry of Justice (MOJ) statistics show violence against prison officers has reached almost 6,000 incidents per year, up 43% from the previous year. Prisoner-on-prisoner assaults are up 32% from last year to 17,782 incidents. The rise in violence has given rise to calls for a public inquiry by prison governors.

Last week peers discussed the concerning trend. Responding to Lord Patel’s question on how the government is going to address the issue, The Advocate General of Scotland, Lord Keen of Elie said,

“Improving safety and decreasing the level of violence is an urgent priority for this Government. We recently set out our plans for prison safety and reform in a White Paper. We will invest in 2,500 more prison officers across the prison estate. This includes the recruitment by March 2017 of 400 additional prison officers into 10 of our most challenging prisons.”

Lord Singh of Wimbledon, Head of the Sikh Prison Chaplaincy Service said, “Overcrowding is a major contributory factor to violence in prisons, and a major cause of overcrowding is repeat offending. Sikh chaplains are instructed to work with local communities to break the cycle of reoffending by providing work and accommodation for released prisoners.”

He went on,“Does the Minister agree that the National Offender Management Service and the chaplaincy council should encourage chaplains of all faiths to make rehabilitation central to their work? Does he further agree that an element of competition between different faiths to reduce reoffending would be no bad thing?”

The MOJ do not currently breakdown re-offending statistics by faith.

Sikh temple in Britain vandalised with anti-Muslim message

Sikh temple in Britain vandalised with anti-Muslim message

Police to report religious hate crime according to religion: Sikhism will be a category

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) have confirmed that Police forces in England and Wales will be reporting on religious hate crime according to religion, and this will include Sikhism.

Proposals set out by the Prime Minister will be implemented this year on a voluntarily basis from April 2016, however DCLG have confirmed that all Police forces will have to disaggregate their hate crime figures by religious hate crime from April 2017.

Over the last year the NSO has raised the plight of Sikh victims of hate crime, who have been incorrectly logged as victims of ‘Islamophobic crime’. Lord Singh of Wimbledon has expressed his concern with Ministers and spoken about them in a number of debates in the House of Lords. In January, following the NSO’s campaigning it was revealed that 28% of victims of ‘Islamophobic hate crime’ recorded by the MET in 2015, were in fact not Muslim at all. They comprised of Sikhs, Hindus, Christians and victims of no recorded faith.

Greg Clark, Secretary of State for DCLG recently wrote to Lord Singh, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations.

He said, “I understand your concerns about Sikhs being the victims of anti-Islamic attacks. In response to increased attacks on mosques and gurdwaras, the Prime Minister announced in October that new funding will be made available for the security of all faith establishments, with more details expected over the coming months.”

He went on, “This builds on existing funding for anti-Semitic attacks on synagogues. In addition to Tell-Mama which measures incidents of anti-Muslim hatred, my department is proud to fund True Vision which allows people of all faiths and backgrounds to report hate crimes.”

Lord Singh of Wimbledon said, “The government has responded positively to the NSO’s campaigning on this issue, and this is an important development not just for Sikhs, but all communities who suffer from religiously motivated hate crime.”

He added, “Greg Clark has shown the government’s commitment to treat all religious based hate crime with parity. This has not been the case in the past. We anticipate some Police forces will optionally report anti-Sikh attacks from this April onward.”

The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) expresses disappointment at the government’s continuing apathy on the subject of Sikh victims of hate crime.

In October the government announced anti-Muslim hate crime would be monitored as a separate category across all police forces, providing parity with the recording of anti-Semitic hate crime.

In contrast Britain’s other minority faiths like Sikhs and Hindus are not separately tracked, although the government has given assurances it will address hate crime against all communities even-handedly.

The NSO has learnt that it is likely that Sikh victims of anti-Muslim hate crime in London are being incorrectly recorded as victims of ‘Islamophobic offences.’

The MET does not break down Islamophobic hate crime by faith group.

The NSO is pressing government officials to monitor Sikh hate crime within a separate category, to provide parity with provisions already in place for Jews and Muslims.

In a debate last week which focused primarily on concerns about violence against Muslims post Paris, Lord Singh of Wimbledon said,

“The Minister will be aware of numerous attacks on Sikhs as a result of mistaken identity. While hate crimes against the Muslim community have been monitored by every police force in the country, not a single penny is being spent on monitoring hate crimes against Sikhs.”

He went on, “the American Government are well aware of this problem which Sikhs suffer from and are taking steps to monitor that hate crime. When will the British Government catch up?”

Members of the Sikh community expressed concerns last month over a potential backlash in the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks.

Sikh man being surrounded and attacked by mobs in 1984

Sikh man being surrounded and attacked by mobs in 1984

The office for the leader of the Labour Party has said Jeremy Corbyn will be taking up the issue of the 1984 Sikh genocide with the Indian premier during his visit to Britain this week.

The development comes following recent correspondence between Lord Singh of Wimbledon, the Director of The Network of Sikh Organisations, and the Labour Leader’s Office.

Lord Singh informed Mr Corbyn’s office that prior to Mr Modi’s landslide victory, he and his party had placed the blame for the killings of Sikhs on the then Congress government. Furthermore, following appointment to office Mr Modi’s Home Minister described the killings as “genocide”.

He wrote: “According to cables from the American Embassy in Delhi at the time, more Sikhs were brutally murdered by government orchestrated violence in the first three days of November 1984 than the total number of those killed in the long terror years of General Pinochet’s rule in Chile.”

He went on, “Sikhs are acutely concerned that a year after his election, Mr Modi has done nothing to bring identified Congress leaders who urged gangs of hooligans, to kill, murder and burn Sikh men, women and children, to justice. They now freely roam the streets gloating of their achievements to the bewilderment of relatives of those murdered, as well as the wider Sikh community.”

Lord Singh requested Mr Corbyn to ask Mr Modi to help bring closure to the remaining grieving families by setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which indicts those responsible for inciting murderous mobs. He said this would allow others to learn lessons, for what David Cameron described last year as “the worst stain on the history of post partition India.”

Mr Corbyn’s office confirmed he would be taking up the issue with Mr Modi when they meet later this week.

One of the first Sikh Prisoners in British jails was Shahid Udham Singh, a friend of my parents. Udham Singh was hanged in Pentonville prison in 1940 for shooting Sir Michael O’Dwyer at a meeting in Caxton Hall, London. O’ Dwyer was Governor of Punjab at the time of the infamous Jallianwala Bagh massacre. He was regularly visited in prison by my father Dr Diwan Singh who would travel up from Birmingham.

In the 60s and 70s the hippy movement was in full swing and long hair became fashionable. Restrictions on long hair in prisons led to a problem for the Church of England (CoE) Chaplaincy, with some inmates claiming that they were Sikhs and should be exempt from the requirement to keep their hair short.

Although the law stated that it was a wholly Church of England Chaplaincy, there was some provisions for other Christian denominations and for Jews.   With some people now calling themselves Sikhs, the Chaplain General realised that he needed guidance on other faiths. He invited myself and a Muslim from the Regent’s Park Mosque to join us at the quarterly Chaplaincy Council meetings. (A few years later we were joined by a Hindu and a Buddhist).

The meetings were conducted around a long table and we were made to sit at one end while the agenda was being discussed at the other end. If we raised any issue or concern, the Chaplain General would look at us in a hostile way. Fortunately we both had thick skins!

By the middle of the 80s, the number of Sikhs in prison had increased significantly from a handful to nearly 300 (now more nearly 800) mainly due to political agitation connected with the attack on the Golden Temple and the mass killing of Sikhs throughout India in 1984.

I felt every Sikh in prison should receive regular visits and support. I persuaded a few friends around the country to act as contact points or Regional Managers and it was their duty to find granthis or other retired people to visit prisons in their area. Much later, and with great difficulty, I got agreement from the Chaplaincy Council for the Sikh Chaplains to be paid for travelling and attendance time.

There were many battles with the Chaplaincy Council over bringing in Krah Prashad and occasional langar for Sikh Services, and over the right of Sikhs to wear karas and a turban, and for Sikh Ministers to wear a kirpan. Eventually it was agreed that a kirpan of up to six inches in length, could be worn by the Sikh minister providing it was concealed from view.

Respect for other faiths improved considerably with the appointment of a new Chaplain General, William Noblett in the 90s. He had lived in India and had a great regard for Sikhs. On our first meeting he greeted me with Sat Siri Akal and a big smile. William was determined to change the Anglican Chaplaincy to a Multi Faith Chaplaincy.

For the first time we were invited to the Annual Chaplaincy Conference with the designation of Faith Advisors. Additionally, we were allowed a Sikh Training Day. We also began having Sikh Chaplaincy meetings at our own expense. The Home Office gave each Other Faith Chaplaincy a small annual grant, currently £17,000 (less than the cost of a part-time secretary) to manage spiritual and pastoral care for every Sikh in every prison and young offenders institution in the whole of England and Wales. The grant helps pay a small part of the office and administrative expenses, with the Director, Deputy Director and Regional Managers all working without payment. Sikhs are now ahead of other chaplaincies in also extending chaplaincy services to Scotland, with the help of resources from the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO).

Much has been achieved with the recognition of special provision for religious festivals. We have also compiled Prison Service Instructions (PSIs) giving an outline of the Sikh faith and faith requirements. Another area of progress is that we now have three full-time and one part-time salaried Sikh chaplains.

Progress has not however been uniform. The Prison Chaplaincy is only advisory and is not a part of the management structure of the Prison Service. When a Sikh Minister at one prison was summarily dismissed, I was told I could not be given the reason because I was not a paid employee! I upset the new Chaplain General by appealing to the Head of the Prison Service who finally condescended to tell me that the Minister’s kirpan had fall loose and he was seen picking it up from the floor. He, like all other Sikh Chaplains at the time and most still now, was a ‘Sessional Chaplain’ paid only for the hours he worked with no employment rights of appeal.

There have also been some self-created problems. There was a court appearance with a Sikh prisoner threatening to go on a hunger strike for special facilities. I attended court to assist him and saw him being slipped a packet of cigarettes by a friend. There are warnings not to bring in food from outside. Despite this, a well-meaning chaplain inadvertently brought in drugs laced samosas. Another Sikh Chaplain was caught smuggling drugs in his turban.

Dietary Problems

We have worked to ensure that the Sikh Chaplaincy PSI contains accurate information on Sikh dietary requirements in accordance with the teachings of the Gurus and the Sikh Reyat Maryada. The PSI, in line with the Sikh Reyat Maryada, explains that Sikhs do not eat halal but other than this the eating of meat or vegetarianism is an individual choice. The PSI also explains that many Sikhs will not eat beef and a fewer number will not eat pork.

Pressure from the significantly more numerous Muslim inmates has led to the frequent serving of halal meals. Patient negotiation with the Head of Prison Catering with veiled threats of resorting to Equalities legislation has resulted in an acceptance that if halal meat is provided, there must also be a non-halal meat option; something sadly still not yet achieved in schools and public services catering.

Whereas langar used to be brought in from gurdwaras, the official prison line now is that it must be prepared in-house to meet health and safety requirements for which they are ultimately responsible. They have agreed that this can be done by the Sikh prisoners or under the supervision of Sikhs. Some prisons however, still raise no objection to langar being brought in from outside. Some Sikhs are vegans and we work with prison catering to accommodate their needs.

More recently, a member of a Sikh sect says that he will not eat food cooked or served by those outside his sect, including the sharing of krah prashad. He also insists that he can only eat food cooked and eaten in an iron vessel. Unfortunately some outside members of his sect claim that this amounts to religious discrimination, misquoting Gurbani and the Reyat Maryada to justify an exclusiveness that goes against the whole thrust of Sikh teachings on equality. We have managed to help this individual by securing an iron bowl and spoon and a supply of cereals and he is happy with this. While we will continue to help, we are not prepared to bend Sikh teachings as some would like. One Sikh website has suggested that ‘Lord Singh has refused to support an Amritdhari Gursikh in practicing Sikh teachings.’ The same website declined to publish a reply and an offer to discuss the issue on any Sikh TV channel.

Other Challenges

There are still many other challenges. The main language now spoken by Sikh prisoners is English, with many Sikhs (mostly non-practising) being sent to prison for drink and drugs offences and crimes of passion. Some Sikh chaplains still have a poor command of English, and there is a need for more focussed recruitment. Some Managing Chaplains who are all non-Sikhs, to save money, try to pressurise Sikh Ministers to forgo their statutory weekly visit and come in fortnightly or once a month. We believe this is unfair to Sikh prisoners and are working to stop this. We are also pressing for Sikh chaplains to be accorded the same hours for religious teaching and prison duties as is given to those of the Christian and Muslim faiths.

Conclusion

I am concerned at the growing number of educated young Sikhs who seem to believe that they are doing their bit by looking for faults in the work being done by others trying to live our Gurus’ teachings. My message is emulate, and hopefully surpass their work, for the benefit of our community.

In conclusion, I would like to express my grateful thanks to the Sikh Chaplaincy team, particularly to Honorary Deputy Director Inder Singh Chawla, Gagandeep Singh Recruitment and Training Manager, and all the Regional managers and chaplains for their unstinted and selfless support in this important seva to vulnerable members of our community. Thanks to their enthusiastic efforts, and that of all Sikh chaplains, hundreds of Sikhs have now turned their lives around and are making a valued contribution to society.

Lord Singh, Director Network of Sikh Organisations


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