On the front of The Sikh Manifesto is a ‘wordcloud’. Although I can’t see it stated, it seems likely that the cloud is formed from words and phrases coming from the consultation which identified the ten points in the Manifesto.
I received my copy when I attended the Midlands launch at the gurdwara in Smethwick, Birmingham today. The launch included short speeches to introduce each of the points, and then comments from representatives of the main parties. There were maybe a total of a dozen MPs or candidates, from all parties, attending – and probably 100 or so people all together – the lecture theatre in the gurdwara was full.
The Manifesto seeks to encourage action within parliament, political parties and among Sikhs. Sikhs are a relatively young community in Britain, increasing from only 2000 seventy years ago to over 700,000 now, with notable migrations from India and East Africa during the late 1900s. While Sikhs are well- integrated into many aspects of British society they are under-represented in Parliament and to a lesser extent on local councils. I think this reflects the societal trend of fewer people engaging in politics: new arrivals seem even less likely to adopt marginal activities than indigenous populations.
If Sikhs can be inspired to get more involved in politics (especially Sikh women, who were seriously under-represented at this launch) then we need to see if this can be applied to the rest of society as well. We should not think of ‘politicians’ as different to other people, they are only different in that they have chosen to get involved in society in this way.
Several of the priorities in the Manifesto call on the British Government to support actions elsewhere to explain or correct injustices – the 1984 genocide in Amritsar, self-determination, turban-wearing in France. And there were calls for clear exemptions to be made for the wearing of Sikh turbans and the 5Ks.
These specific Sikh issues remind me of what a privilege it is to live in such a tolerant and inclusive society as the UK is today, but we mustn’t be complacent. Pastor Martin Niemoller is reported to have pointed out in 1945 we should all look out for everyone.
If we want society to be tolerant of us, we need to ensure it remains tolerant of others too. If we were to ask other communities to identify where they felt excluded or penalised, then I’m sure that other issues would be forthcoming.
Sometimes inclusivity may be achieved differently. Two of the points included a desire to identify Sikhs separately in the 2021 census and a call for more Sikh schools. Is the answer more separate categories, or more choice within categories? I seem to remember writing ‘Quaker’ onto my census form to identify myself better.
And I’d like every school to be an inclusive school, giving our children the opportunity to mix with others of all races and religions (or none). Historically we have many more Christian-sponsored schools than from other faiths, but the ethos is set as much by the governors and staff as by a label. Perhaps removing labels is part of the answer here?
The final issue was a worry experienced across all communities; keeping our children, especially teenage girls, safe from sexual ‘grooming’ by predatory men. It is great that we are talking about this, but more action is needed too. It is up to everyone to be aware and spot the signs – and know who to tell. Then the police can arrest the perpetrators and victims can get help. We need to make sure people – including parents, other girls, family and friends – have the confidence and knowledge to recognise and report this activity and so help keep all our children safe.
Returning to the Manifesto cover, many of the phrases would probably be endorsed by lots of groups; ‘no discrimination’, ‘everyone is equal’, ‘honest’, ‘compassionate’… However two resonated particularly with me as a Quaker; ‘See God in All’ and ‘Respects all Paths’. The equivalent Quaker phrases would be ‘Recognise that of God in everyone’ and ‘Seek the Light from wherever it may come’.
With this in mind, I spent 10 minutes or so sitting quietly in the calm of the prayer hall before catching my train back to Derby.