Examination of Witnesses (Questions 501-519)|
WEDNESDAY 27 NOVEMBER 2002
501. Dr Indarjit Singh, we know you, either
from listening to you or reading your works or from general knowledge
and we are very, very pleased to have you here and thank you for
(Dr Singh) My Lord Chairman, it is a
pleasure to be here.
502. You have sitting beside you one of the
most eminent members of the world Sikh community and I wonder
if you would like to introduce him.
(Dr Singh) This is Joginder Singh Vedanti. He is a
chief priest or Jathedar of the Golden Temple which gives him
the status of perhaps the most senior figure in the Sikh community
in India and perhaps throughout the world.
503. May I say that we have given you a list
of questions which I hope you will answer if you have the time,
but if you, Sir, would like to come in on any of the answers you
are very welcome to do so. We would like to hear from you, we
would like to get you on the transcript.
(Dr Singh) He says he wants to be just an observer.
504. I will leave it to you how you deal with
it but there is a very warm welcome for any interventions. You
have a list of the questions that we have asked and it is fairly
short. We understand all about the decision in Mander so we know
there has been protection already under aggravated racial discrimination
but nevertheless we have given you an indication of what it is
we are talking about. Would you like to address yourselves to
whichever of the questions you think are most important and on
which you can enlighten us most clearly? Do it in whatever order
you think fit.
(Dr Singh) On the question of the blasphemy law, the
Sikh view, we have consulted with others, is that it should be
abolished altogether. To extend it to other communities would
put, from the Sikh point of view, constraints on dialogue as well.
There is something here where the beliefs cannot be challenged
if the law is strictly applied. We feel that we are now in a time
where real discussion and dialogue should lead to understanding
and we should be free to pursue that. There should not be constraints
on that. It is the unnecessary hatred or smearing of religion
that we are concerned about.
505. Would you say that there was any method
or device whereby reasonable controversy, discussion and debate
could be exempted from prosecution?
(Dr Singh) If it could be, but then the things that
we are concerned about is religious hatred, religious discrimination.
So the blasphemy aspect really we feel is now outdated.
506. They are not the same.
(Dr Singh) No.
507. Blasphemy is not the same as incitement
and religious hatred. It is the faith rather than the people.
(Dr Singh) That is right.
508. Supposing you had the faith, can you see
any way in which you could amalgamate the sort of concepts that
we have with sensible temperate discussion and debate?
(Dr Singh) I would like to say we could, but I am
concerned that if you read the Guru Granth Sahib, Guru Nanak carried
out a debate at that time, he pointed out to things that he saw
wrong in the Hindu practices and in the Muslim practices. At the
time, he criticised the caste system. In the atmosphere in the
world today, I think that sort of thing is difficult. It is a
pity that 500 years on we seem to be less tolerant.
509. Yes, I think that is right. All right,
that is your view on blasphemy. Go on to incitement and religious
hatred. We have got a number of points here in our list, would
you like to address any of them of that you think fit? Particularly,
have you got examples of the sort of thing, although it would
fall under racial hatred, that you find totally unacceptable?
(Dr Singh) We do, but it is the sort of aspect of
group hatred or incitement or prejudice against a group. Just
to take an example, there was an article in the Sunday Telegraph
three or four years ago, it was entitled "Madness under a
turban" and it smeared the whole Sikh community. It says
that these people seem to be very decent and ordinary, but in
circumstances they can go crazy and go round killing people. There
was nothing we could do about that article. At other times, in
schools, things have been said. In one school, the Head sent a
boy home who was wearing a turban for the first time and the Head
said "This is grotesque. Like something out of a pantomime".
Just imagine what that did to the self esteem of the boy. So there
are examples like that and I think it is essential that the law
does constrain that sort of debate. There is unnecessary identification
of individuals; "A Sikh was involved in this". It is
not necessary. That is also a problem.
510. Have there been occasions when incitement,
in some shape or form, against your community could have been
prosecuted, in your view, under the 1986 Act as incitement to
racial hatred, but for one reason or another you have been disappointed?
Either there has been an acquittal, a failure to prosecute or
anything like that?
(Dr Singh) The Race Relations Act has not always been
implemented properly. People, for some reasonwe are talking
about the Race Relations Act?
511. I am talking about the Public Order Act
1986 which is incitement to racial hatred which, of course, covers
your community as a result of Land v Ali (?).
(Dr Singh) It does, but in that particular case the
community was covered under ethnicity. Strictly it is not covered
under religion. Religious practices, worship would not be protected.
Other aspects of the religion would not be protected. It was a
fudge at the time because what was said that Sikhs fitted into
this box of ethnicity. I was the person who gave the main evidence
in that case. I was not happy with it. It was a compromise that
we were not happy with. We are not happy with the definition of
Sikhs being an ethnic group. It is a world religion.
512. No, but the fact remains that in criminal
law you have been protected ever since 1986 against incitement
to racial hatred as a Sikh community. What I am asking you is
whether you can give us examples of where this particular approach
to the criminal law failed.
(Dr Singh) There are laws peripheral to the practices
of the Sikh community like, for example, the building of Gurudwaras,
where unnecessary objections have been put into the way. They
should be tested; are they necessary objections? We are always
told there is no planning, there is no car parking space, we do
not like the idea of a dome in this locality because we do not
have domes in this locality. That sort of thing is constantly
being done and it is very difficult to prosecute or to defend
or do anything about that under the Race Relations Act.
Chairman: I am going to shut up and let some
of my colleagues ask questions.
Lord Clarke of Hampstead
513. When the article appeared in the Telegraph
that said "Madness under the turban" or whatever the
description was, was any action taken to try to bring the author
(Dr Singh) We did try and take action. We went to
the Press Complaints Commission (The Press Council I think it
was then) and they advised that this would not be successful.
We took legal advice as well. In the end, the best we could do
was my writing a reply to the Editor, which the Editor agreed
to. A lot of damage is done in that way because people's opinions
are misinformed about a community.
514. What prominence did the Editor give to
(Dr Singh) He was rather flippant about it. This was
Charles Moore. He was rather flippant to say that "This was
not really meant to be too serious", but when you say that
the Sikh woman, because we give equality to woman, they say that
they take in part in parties and so on, but the way it was put
is that they are loose in character.
Baroness Richardson of Calow
515. I think we have been told that, in the
absence of proper education about religions and religious practices
in this country, the law is the one thing that restrains people
from actually attacking people on a religious basis. Is there
any ground in that? That the law has a restraining hand and that
although people might not understand the blasphemy law, they think
that they might be restrained by it from attacking another religion?
(Dr Singh) I think law does restrain, but laws cannot
make people behave decently. They can curb the worst effects of
bad behaviour. In that way laws are good, but with the blasphemy
law, it is dated it is written specifically for the Christian
Church and I think it is difficult to tamper with it. I think
it is best gone.
516. The incitement side has not restrained
(Dr Singh) I think the incitement is incitement to
religious to racial hatred. That does not seemed to have constrained
very much because Sikhs suffered particularly after the September
11 incidents and the incitement, because Bin Laden wore a turban
and he had copied the Sikh style for some reason, Sikhs were mistaken
for the Taliban in the ignorance that exists in society in this
country and in the United States. But the abuse and the incitement
was at a level where the police never seemed to take any action.
If someone had been killed, they may have taken action. Smashing
windows and daubing Gurudwara walls, they did not seem to pursue
those things at all.
Bishop of Portsmouth
517. I do not think there is any doubt that
around this table, and certainly speaking for myself, we profoundly
regret the incidents which you describe and I could actually give
instances, though not of that particular kind, of acts against
Christians in this country. I think that one of the difficulties
that we have, as a Committee, and your particular evidence is
of great importance here, is how to define the difference between
acts of racial hatred and acts of religious hatred.
(Dr Singh) The difference comes back to the Mandler
case itself when the head teacher said "Yes, I am discriminating,
but there is nothing wrong with that. That is religious discrimination".
Now, of course, the subsequent House of Lords decision gave a
measure of protection to Sikhs, but Sikhs are Sikhs. We are bound
to be concerned about the whole area of religious discrimination,
not just for Sikhs, because that is what we are taught in our
religion; look to the rights of others. It is totally wrong that
one group should have a measure of protection, I still do not
feel it is total protection, but another religion, like the Muslims,
do not have any. So the law does need to be changed.
518. I am in great sympathy with what you are
saying, believe you me, but it is the definition of the act and
the intention towards religious hatred that is
(Dr Singh) The whole question of racial hatred and
the Race Relations Act, the whole difficulty, is the lack of any
real definition of the word "race" and so people discriminate
and do nasty things for all sorts of reasons. They do not try
and work out is a person a Caucasoid or a Mongoloid or anything
like that. It is the difference that leads to hatred and the prejudice
that goes with that assumed difference. The end way out of that
is through education to show that the essence of different religions
is the same and that religions have something positive to contribute
to society. That is the aim but, in the meantime, we must have
respect for the practices of religion. People must be protected.
Muslims must be protected in their prayers, in their other routines.
That should be there for everyone.
519. May I ask whether you would agreed that
the difficulty that seems to have been experienced in prosecuting
acts of incitement to racial hatred is not one of identifying
the target groups. That is to say, in cases where the incitement
is against Sikhs, to show that the offence has been specifically
directed against the Sikhs, but it is in catching the particular
offender and finding a connection between him and the alleged
offence. You mentioned, for example, attacks on Gurudwaras, the
scrolling of nasty graffiti on the walls of Gurudwaras, which
might incite to hatred of the worshippers in the Gurudwaras. In
those cases, do you think that the police fail to take action
because either they were not on the spot when the offence was
committed or there were not any eye witnesses who could point
to the offender and say that he did scroll these graffiti or he
did commit this act with incitement to particular hatred of the
(Dr Singh) I think both those points are valid that
they could not catch the offender. That is true. More than that,
it is the mentality of this is just a religion, where people write
graffiti everywhere. They would not understand and it needs to
be spelt out that this is really hurting a particular community.
I think that lies with the police.