It is a pleasure to speak to members of the approximately 500,000-member
Canadian Sikh community for many reasons. One is that you are required by your
ten gurus to stand up for those of any religion--or none—under attack or in
personal difficulty. The turbans and kirpans are among the reminders of this
commitment. Your faith's practitioners have suffered much in the past for your
beliefs, including your commitment to dignity and justice for all.
Permit me also to refer here to what Guru Nanak, born in 1469 when women
virtually everywhere had no rights, said: "We are born of women, we are
conceived in the wombs of women, we are engaged and married to women. We make
friendships with women and the lineage continues because of women...we are bound
with the world through women...there is none without her. Only the One True Lord
is without women."
On peace, here is what Guru Granth Sahib said: "Now the Merciful Lord has
issued His Command. Let no one chase after and attack anyone else. Let us all
abide in peace under this Benevolent Rule."
On human equality, Guru Nanak: "Accept all humans as your equals, and let
them be your only sect." The tenth Great Master, Guru Nanak, added, "Recognize
all of mankind as a single caste of humanity."
As an aside, I was interested to learn earlier today that among Canada's
500,000 or so persons of Sikh faith about 200,000 now live in the Toronto
region. There are today more than twenty gurdwaras in this city. Between 30-40
candidates of Sikh faith across the country are running in the current national
election campaign to join the six already in the House of Commons.
All of us across Canada and everywhere need to be reminded that Article one
of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights says: "All human
beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with
reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of
brotherhood." When we look at the political forces shaping the 1900s and still
present today in too many nations, we see inhuman dogmas often placed ahead of
dignity, non-violence and justice for all members of the human family; we are
still far from the ideal of article one.
One estimate of the number of believers from spiritual communities who died
prematurely because of their faiths in the twentieth century is a dismaying 169
million worldwide, including:
70 million Muslims,
35 million Christians,
11 million Hindus,
4 million Buddhists,
2 million Sikhs,
5 million other faiths.
In fact, the twentieth century was the most bloody in all of recorded history
in terms of religious persecution. Most of it was committed by inhuman despots,
including Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot, who despised spirituality of any
kind, primarily because it fosters citizens with values very different from
their own totalitarian mindsets.
Even in rule-of-law and democratic Canada, we earlier this year had the
Bouchard-Taylor Commission on Accommodation of Immigrants recommend that Sikh
members of the Surete du Quebec and prosecutors not be permitted to wear
turbans, despite the fact that the Supreme Court of Canada ruled almost two
decades ago that your community can wear them as RCMP officers. Why are the WSO
and Sikhs across Canada still called upon to undertake costly legal battles with
various municipal jurisdictions to bring their dress codes into line with our
Charter of Rights and the SCC clarification?
Permit me to raise three issues at this timely event which relate to Article
one of the UN Declaration:
I'm sure many of you remember the carnage across India in 1984. Following
Prime Minister Gandhi's tragic assassination, extremists went on a violent
rampage across India. Sikhs were pulled out of busses and brutally murdered,
doused with kerosene then lit on fire, and cut into pieces with machetes. It
simply didn't matter that their victims had nothing to do with Mrs. Gandhi's
murder. All that was needed was to belong to the same faith community as her
assassins. Religious affiliation was deserving of a death sentence without
charge or trial.
Barbara Crossette, the retired New York Times reporter who witnessed the
havoc in India during 1984, in her forward to the report,"Twenty Years of
Impunity: The November 1984 Pogroms of Sikhs in India"
(http://www.ensaaf.org/docs/20years.php) wrote: "This is an age when countries
as diverse as Mexico, Peru, Cambodia and Ethiopia, among others, are digging
into violent eras of their histories to set records straight and nam(ing) those
in power who allowed human rights abuses to occur or, worse, ordered them. In
two decades, there has been no similar movement for a day of reckoning in
Inter-religion and inter-community violence is certainly not confined to
India. Northern Ireland's long and violent experience is well known. It happened
in Los Angeles after a jury declared innocent police officers who were caught on
a video assaulting Rodney King. It happened between Muslims and Hindus in 1947
during the partition of India. It has occurred in Gujarat repeatedly between
Hindus and Muslims. Now it is happening in Orissa and I'll have more to say
about that in a moment.
2-Jaswant Singh Khalra
Jaswant Singh Khalra, the well-known human rights activist in Punjab, was
killed in October 1995 after he exposed numerous secret cremations of citizens
by the Punjabi police. It took ten years before a judge finally convicted six
police officers for their roles in the abduction and murder of Mr. Khalra.
During this period, the police had attempted to intimidate key witnesses by
laying false criminal cases against them, which ranged from bribery, rape and
robbery to establishing a terrorist organization.
I understand that eyewitness testimony implicated the then Director General
of Police, KPS Gill, in Khalra's illegal detention, torture and eventual
killing. The Central Bureau of Investigation has to my understanding yet to act
upon a petition from Mr. Khalra's widow requesting prosecution of Gill. An
article entitled "India's Sikhs: Waiting for Justice" by Barbara Crossette in
World Policy Journal (1 July 04. Vol.21 No.2.
http://www.worldpolicy.org/journal/articles/wpj04-2/Crossette.html) deals with
this ongoing unresolved issue.
The government of Dr Manmohan Singh in New Delhi today refers to the presence
of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to assert that human rights
violations are being prevented and addressed. It claims that its national human
rights bodies have real autonomy and powers of investigation. Concerns have been
expressed that partisan political considerations affect operations, although in
fairness the same charge is made in other democracies about such commissions.
All of us praise India's economic and political progress under Dr. Singh as
Prime Minister of India –and hope things get even better, especially for the
poor, but many friends and admirers of India remain disturbed by the fact that
the perpetrators of mass killing and disappearances are still free.
Violent crimes by individuals are normally addressed by their own national
governments. What happens if governments themselves turn against their own
citizens? The answer is to continue to raise public awareness internationally as
you are doing.
Permit me to quote on Orissa an unnamed citizen of India now living abroad:
"The current violence and attacks on the Christians...in the eastern state of
Orissa shame us all. At least, 50 people have died in the pogrom against the
minority community. Tens of thousands of Christians have fled their homes to
take shelter in the jungles or relief camps set up by the government. In a
chilling reminder of the genocide in Gujarat when Muslims were burnt alive by
the marauding mobs, the... men set a (Christian)-run orphanage on fire with
women and children inside.
"The extremist . organisations ... have been concerned by the massive
proselytizing by Christian missionaries in the tribal areas of Orissa. The
missionaries have been doing some excellent social work, running schools,
clinics and orphanages in interior Orissa where even government officials avoid
"Religious violence is hardly new to Orissa. In 1999, an Australian
missionary Graham Steins who had been working in the state for three decades
treating lepers in remote tribal areas, was burnt alive with his two sons as
they slept in their jeep. The children had been visiting their father from
Australia. And the self same demons have come back to haunt Orissa today
unleashing a reign of terror across the region where Emperor Ashoka gave up
violence to promote Buddha's message of peace.
"And all that the state government and the federal government in Delhi have
done so far is pass the buck to each other. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has
rightly called the attacks a "national shame," just as PM Vajpayee had done in
the case of Gujarat in 2002 where his own party was in power and his protégé
presided over the carnage.
"But is that enough? Is it not the responsibility of governments to protect
their people, especially the vulnerable among them? The Orissa government finds
itself helpless in dealing with the murderers and arsonists... The government in
Delhi is busy settling political scores with the Orissa government. Instead of
taking action to stop the carnage, the federal government has suggested a probe
by the CBI - India's answer to FBI - into attacks. No wonder the Christian
community is infuriated and in protest it has shut the vast network of thousands
of schools it runs across the length and breadth of India…"
Can anyone disagree? Those of us who want India to assume a major leadership
role in the world as the largest rule-of-law democracy are especially concerned
by what continues in Orissa.
Building Understanding Among Faith Communities
For centuries, religious leaders have been challenged to find a common ground
for people of different faiths and cultures to live together in harmony. There
is a common denominator for all peoples of different faiths and cultures; we all
believe in one God --the creator of heaven and Earth.
There are practices that help build an enabling environment for all faiths:
When conflict arises, establishing dialogue is key. Through it, solutions
begin to appear.
We need to listen to others because the times require it more than ever.
Daily, the world grows smaller, leaving understanding the only place where peace
can find a home. Understanding brings respect; and respect prepares the way for
Your ninth sikh guru, Teg Bahadhur, noted that the different religions are
like flowers in a garden. He added that if one places flowers together in a
bouquet the result is even more beautiful.
Thomas Merton once noted, "God speaks to us in three places: in Scripture, in
our deepest selves, and in the voice of the stranger."
Said Jesus: "Do unto others as you would that they should do unto you"
Said the Buddha: "He who would like to reach the utmost height must be eager
Understanding other faiths helps us to minimize differences. Educating one
another helps any community to deal with ignorance and its twin misunderstanding
3. Love and Compassion:
Compassion brings inner strength. Once developed, it usually opens an inner
door, through which we can communicate with fellow human beings.
Compassion creates a positive atmosphere. Where there is compassion, there is
a pleasant atmosphere.
Permit me to share some good news from our national capital. We have formed
an all-party and multi-faith Working Group on Religious-Cultural Harmony. There
have been a number of successful meetings and your faith community is
well-represented. Later, some of us hope to initiate a religious-cultural
solidarity week hopefully to be held yearly in every constituency across the
country. It is a modest and timely beginning.
Finally, a quote from a speech by His Highness the Aga Khan given in India:
"In the troubled times in which we live, it is important to remember, and
honour, a vision of a pluralistic society. Tolerance, openness and understanding
towards other people's cultures, social structures, values and faiths are now
essential to the very survival of an interdependent world. Pluralism is no
longer simply an asset or a prerequisite for progress and development; it is
vital to our existence. Never perhaps more so than at the present time, must we
renew with vigour our creative engagement in revitalizing shared heritage
through collaborative ventures such as the project we are inaugurating today."