How would you describe your religious or ideological identity?
If asked a direct question on religious identity I would say I belong to the Sikh faith. I think I broadly associate myself with the philosophy of the faith, but I don’t consider myself a baptised Sikh or someone who has a very strong faith and practices their belief on a daily basis. For me, it is an inherited faith and I associate myself with the heritage, tradition and the culture. My attraction to the faith is about the cultural elements of it: festivals and so on, and also through marriage, as my wife probably has more of a personal connection to her faith and certainly the community element of it.
Do you think that Great Britain is an equal and tolerant society, particularly in relation to religion and belief systems? How does it compare to other European countries?
I think it is an interesting question. From my personal experience, and I haven’t lived anywhere else, certainly it is one of the most tolerant places in Europe. There are a variety of different and diverse cultural elements in British life. I recognise that things have changed and were very different to 60 years ago when the first migrant communities from the commonwealth settled in the UK in larger numbers… My father when he came over here in the 1960s, he left his home in the Punjab, and when he first arrived his appearance would have been distinctive of a Punjabi Sikh, he wore a turban and kept a beard however, he recognised that at that time living in the UK and in an effort to integrate he cut his hair and he shaved. At that time there was less awareness of other cultures and faiths, and perhaps more ignorance, but now there is much more awareness and understanding of diverse cultures and faiths which make up modern British society. People are more confident of reflecting their cultural identity in their appearance, Sikhs wearing proud turbans, followers of Islam, being more confident in their religious attire, etc. Obviously, since events like 9/11, religious and political tensions have heightened, and we have seen prejudices and religious and political intolerances being voiced andquestions and greater debate surrounding immigration. There is a feeling thatthere are individuals in sections of society which appear to prey on those issues, and fuel misunderstanding of the root of some of those socio-economic issues.
How easy is it for you to live in accordance with Sikhism in this country? Are there any challenges and if there are, are they social, political or legal in nature?
I don’t think there are significant challenges. I believe Sikhs in Britain are able to practise their faith and on the whole are quite content. In my view Sikhs have an openness and tolerance which allows them to be able to assimilate whilst retaining their belief and ideology, this abiltity to successfully integrate and happily co-exist in society outside of the Punjab has lead to Sikhs creating prosperous communities which in turn make valuable contributions to wider society all over the world. In the working environment, major organisations have developed policies to adhere to Employment law around respect for employees from minority groups, including their religious backgrounds. I personally don’t have experience of any significant particular issues or challenges. Perhaps, I would have a different outlook if I were a Sikh wearing a turban… there have been reports in the media of more frequent attacks on Sikhs by individuals who through ignorance confuse the appearance of a Sikh with that of images of extremists and terrorists and reports of a high profile Sikh who was not allowed to board a flight wearing his turban.
Do you think that the HRA has been a good or a bad piece for British society?
On the whole it has been a good thing, in an increasingly globalised corporate world it is more important to ensure individual rights are protected.
What is your opinion about faith schools, State schools with a religious ethos?
My view has always been to get exposure as much as possible to diverse communities and cultures as I feel this helps one grow and develop a balanced outlook. As a Sikh it is about understanding, living and making a positive contribution to society. I think that having a very closed and narrow educational experience is less positive. I don’t see any harm in having broad exposure to different belief and ideologies you can be confident about your own belief, and still have an understanding of others. However, I can understand people’s wishes to practise their faith and bring up their children and expose them to those beliefs and that they may feel this can be best achieved via their child attending a faith school, essentially it is a queation of choice but personally I will not send my children to a faith school.
Should exemptions from discrimination law be granted to religious businesses?
In general, I don’t believe a religious business should be exempt from discrimination law and should operate within the parameters set for (no-religious) business.
Do you think that living in a parliamentary democracy makes it easier or harder for you to live in accordance with your faith? Is there any other form of government which you would consider preferable?
I have a dictatorship in my house! So, no! We live in a democracy and I don’t see any other system which works better… having freedom and opportunity to express your views and opinions. So, that is the short answer.
Given that we live in a democracy, does your faith mean that you have a personal responsibility to vote?
It is not connected to religion, but a question of personal responsibility. I have a very vague understanding of Sikhism anyway… as well as the religious philosophy Sikhism has an equal, political element. This was clear for my father’s generation, the significance of voting. I don’t know whether that is subconsciously ingrained in me, but I think it is clearly a duty for me as a citizen, it is not as well publicised as it should be but I feel strongly that many young Sikh men left their villages for the first and only time to fight in the British army in a European war in an alien land, culture, in extreme winters and conditions never to return back home to their families to give their lives for the privileges and freedoms we enjoy today.
Do you think that it is problematic that members of the House of Lords are not elected by the citizens?
This is a very traditional country in certain senses and has those long held and some archaic traditions. If you remove the practice of following tradition and you think about diversity and integration, then there should be elections and individuals appointed on merit. I don’t really understand why it wouldn’t work for the Upper House. I think there is a feeling it is an old boys club, people have inherited that position or attained it through political favour or influence and therefore, there is a risk the House of Lords in not reflective of the Society it serves.
Do you think that religious and ideological groups should have a voice in Parliament? What do you think of the presence of bishops of the Church of England in the Upper House? Can they be the voice of all different faiths?
It is very interesting because if there were a more diverse range of faith leaders, perhaps this would provide opportunity for a more balanced voice representative of different faiths. This society is a Christian society and components of modern British society have developed along these lines.. I would hope bishops like any other faith leader would approach that duty with the care and understanding that they are not only representing their own faiths but are representative of all religious and ideological perspectives as a whole..
Is it a good or bad thing that Parliament has the final say in making and changing British law? Should judges have the power to strike down legislation and if so, on what basis?
I am probably a bit ignorant about it, but there are certain areas in which the Government and Parliament, as democratically elected representatives of voters, in the interest of society, have to make those decisions. They are elected to fulfil that duty . The issue I would have with the judiciary holding that power is that they are appointed rather than democratically elected by the voters/society that would be subject to those laws. I think there should be challenges in Parliament, with good procedures, but certainly not those powers for the judiciary.
What duties do people with power owe to the wider society?
Yes, you know, big corporations and certainly people with that power, have greater responsibility to society. It also makes commercial sense actually. I think this is an element that probably draws upon, my understanding of Sikh philosophy in the sense that the philosophy that draws on this emphasis on equality… there is no shame in the recognition that hard work is important, as well as making your own way, but when you get to a comfortable point, you must also give something back to society, the Sikh concept of ‘Seva’ being selfless service to the community is at the core of Sikh belief. So, in a nutshell, yes, there is responsibility towards society. You can’t continue down a path totally ignoring and not considering the impact of your actions, individually or collectively. It would be a self-defeating practice indeed.
Would you say that people who wield political and financial power are sufficiently representative of society in terms of gender, race, etc? If not, is this something concerning and which we should necessarily address?
Well, it isn’t probably a reflection of society. Observations about the incumbent Government, being predominantly male, from upper middle class backgrounds would suggest there is not sufficient representation of a diverse societyThis may be a little controversial but generally people who wield political and financial power are leaders in society and therefore, is it more important to have those leadership traits and qualities rather than ensure that those individuals in power reflect a diverse society, in which case it is more important that there are appropriate mechanisms to challeng and hold those individuals accountable. Compared to other nations, this nation is not politically engaged. In other nations, you see protests, demonstrations… but not in this nation. If you don’t engage you cannot moan about who is representing you.
Have you personally ever felt so strongly about a political issue that you have actively responded to it? What have you actually done?
I think probably… if I have to think I haven’t actually done it. The extent of my political protest is limited to spoiling a ballot paper! I have had conversations with my MP on the doorstep, about parking issues and stuff like that. Not at political level. I observe things more than taking part in protests. I am trying to think, but I can’t remember anything about which I had such a strong view that I felt the need to address. I suppose being a parent things will change, but those are issues from my parenting point of view. Issues such as school selection, child care… but I wish I could present you with a list of romantic political statements!
In your experience so far, in dealing with public authorities (e.g. local councils, schools, etc), have they shown a reasonable awareness of your religious needs? Have you already been given what you needed?
I have never been in a situation which impacted me from a spiritual point of view. More the practical or the bureaucratic point of view, but it was just an administrative issue, but nothing I felt it had an impact on me at that level.
Has your Sikhism been ever relevant in your dealings with public authorities such as hospitals, schools, etc?
Not really… the only area…. Well, I think hospitals are pretty good now. Schools are good too, they try their best… Well, we have had an issue with my son, which, from my point of view, is not about only Sikhism. My son’s school ask all parents to complete forms regarding dietery requirements in terms of what foods the child may or may not be permitted to consume at school and my wife from a religious point does not want our children to consume beef and this was the only criteria stipulated. We were made aware of one particular lunchtime in school where there was an instance where my son, appeared to have been denied a meal choice which contained pork which he is permitted to consume and the only apparent reason for this appears to be because he was confused with a child who shares a similar sounding name to my son who is Muslim and therefore, understandably may not consume meals containing pork . That is the only instance in which I thought… is this a race issue? Is it because the names are similar or is it because the names are not European or English names That made me question things with the school, would the same situation arise if there were two fair haired boys called James and one was vegetarian would the same issue have occurred, is this another case of the old “they all look similar”? That was the only time I questioned it – was this an issue which is related to religion and my child’s appearance and was this issue taken seriously by the school?
I have come across different understandings of what Sikhism entails. Some non Asian people have a good understanding of what Sikhs are…on other occasions I have come across situations of a lack of understanding and ignorance. There are lots of religions from the Indian subcontinent, and the people from these numerous different faiths from this part of the world naturally share a similar appearance… so, people make assumptions… that is probably innocent ignorance or not making an effort to understand… I have found myself explaining things a bit more to people who may have confused or not have an understanding about my race and cultural background and I have noticed… I suppose this is only consideration since everyone has become more fearful from the images of terrorism who generally have brown skin and dark hair, so I have become more aware of appearance… Sikhs have been attacked in the USA because of their appearance and due to ignorance which associates a Sikhs appearance with images portraying ISIS terrorists with beards and turbans. At the time, just after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and 7/7 getting the train I felt uncomfortable when people looked at me, I had a touch of paranoia . So, although I have never experienced anything directly, it is clear that it has changed me in subtle ways, and when I think of this in terms of freedoms you think that in the European Championship in Paris… lots of my friends back home are Asian… we were thinking a while ago of going to Paris to watch the tournament. Since the type of attack that occurred in the stadium, that has changed our views and we decided not to go. That has impacted me in terms of freedoms. Indirectly, we fear of being attacked and we also fear of being treated differently, just because of the way you look.
Do you think that Sikhs are proportionately and appropriately represented in public life, in terms of MPs, members of local authorities, the judiciary?
Well, I think like everything… there could be more. It does not keep me awake at night, I must admit! It is almost like a novelty when you see a Sikh in an organisation… or if there is a politician who represents you, etc. I think Sikhs tend to get involved in local political life you get a few Sikh local mayors. Whether there is proportionate representation in Parliament… in terms of practising Sikhs, I don’t think there are many. All these issues about diversity, women in Cabinet, etc. It is still very much white middle aged male dominated .
Is it important for you always to act within the law of the land or there are occasions which would justify breaking the law?
Yes, traffic offences! Of course, there are instances in which you could envisage breaking the law… in situations of personal safety, family safety and so on. Generally not, however. The laws have developed to help society and individuals and they are based on morals, right and wrong, etc. So, they should be upheld certainly in a stable democracy for society to be able to function I can understand in other parts of the world where there may be unstable or unjust regimes and where groups may feel unjustly persecuted there could be justification for breaking a law which is unjust.
Do your beliefs require you to speak out against injustices affecting third parties, particularly the weak and the vulnerable?
I think Sikhs believe that. This is where the development of recognising injustices comes from. Obviously, I don’t practise Sikhism and I have never been tested to a degree of situations where I would have to respond. However, I think that if I were tested, I would act fairly.
Would you say that in your view the RL is applied equally to everyone in British society or there are some groups, not necessarily in religious lines, who receive either preferential or comparatively prejudicial treatment in terms of the justice system and schooling, for example?
I think on the whole it is applied equally across society. Again, you read about the refugee crisis, Europe… the whole discussion around this, and this has developed in a sort of fear of immigration and citizenship qualifications, etc… there may be a harsher approach to people coming to this country as a result. They will be treated differently from people born here. Well, I think that is the impression you get.
How do you feel about the general trend in the last 15 years or so, generally since 9/11 the State and the police increasing their powers over citizens in terms of surveillance, etc? Has that been a sad necessity or has it gone too far in terms of jeopardising our freedoms?
It is probably a sad necessity. Again, it is difficult to gage, because I am sure there are situations which have been prevented as a result of these measures, which we haven’t heard about. It is… it is a kind of balance with technology… it penetrates our lives generally and it is more of a concern how these big corporates, such as Google, have all this information about us, but I don’t think… I suppose because I feel I operate within the law of the land and I live a fairly uncomplicated simple existence, and I don’t have strong political views, I don’t have any fears as such. There is unquestionable fear in society and people accept that these measures are necessary.
Is there anything that you would like to add?
An area I would be interested to read your observations would be how this subject matter applies to and responses from the Sporting arena. I know you have spoken to Sports people already as part of your work and I think that is where you see all the extremes, where equality and tolerance have not really penetrated to the extent of society outside of the sporting world… that is where religious and ethnic backgrounds are not really proportionate. This is apparent in areas such as coaching… and I look forward to reading the views and opinions of individuals in sporting life on some of these topics.
It is interesting that it seems to vary amongst different sports, doesn’t it? Cricket, for example…
Yes, I get what you mean… the sort of colonial old sports…
You don’t see many black cricket players, which is odd, particularly bearing in mind how popular is in the West Indies…
Whether this is an ethnicity issue… or it is a public school sport… Yes, it is probably stereotypical… you align groups to backgrounds in terms of sports. I read books, written ten or fifteen years ago, about the huge love of football in asian communities and the authors speculated when they would get prominent Asians in football, when that first high profile breakthrough would occur and sadly this has not happened yet.
Yes, and what about women’s football?
Yes, but maybe that is because of the dominance of the male game rather than any diversity issue. There was a prominent referee of Asian background a few years ago… but when you see Asians in the field of sports now, they are usually on the medical staff or part of the commercial team. In terms of coaching and playing, it is far less recognised. Sport still follows various stereotypes.
With regard to my kids, my son and daughter… I would hope that they can explore an area of interest and not feel deterred or even barred from that, just because there is not a role model, a representation in that field. We saw black football players breakthrough in the 70s, Asians have been here, as part of British society and fans of professional football and participants in the amateur game for a long time. It is maybe a question within the culture … as an Asian you follow a particular route and sports perhaps are still deemed less prestigious or less important and not a serious pursuit.
Gurd is a husband and a proud father of a 6yr old boy and a 3yr old girl from the West Midlands and works in Financial Services for a ‘Big 4’ professional services firm. A middle child, one of five siblings of Punjabi Sikh parents, the first school Gurd attended was a Catholic infant school. Gurd grew up in the ‘black country’ city of Wolverhampton where his mother was a housewife and father was a foundry worker. Gurd maintains his links with his home city by following his local team Wolverhampton Wanderers.