The Birmingham and the Black Country Sikh Migration story continues as the project celebrated the touring exhibition’s new location at the University of Wolverhampton

The touring exhibition, which was first launched at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in July this year, will also visit four other locations, including the Nishkam Centre, Dudley Library and Sandwell Community History and Archives.

The project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, details the journeys and contributions made by the Sikh community in Birmingham and the Black Country. It includes more than 30 video interviews conducted with migrants spanning several generations, an educational toolkit for schools, a comprehensive website and legacy-resource that will be deposited in the Library of Birmingham and Sandwell Archives.

Jasbir Uppal, Lecturer and Head of Recruitment and Marketing at the University of Wolverhampton, as well as a Project Steering Group member, opened the launch, welcoming all the guests to the University and introducing the project. He spoke about the ‘rich Sikh heritage in Wolverhampton’, their ‘extraordinary’ journey and the importance of recording the ‘strife, struggles, and their successes.’

An Ardas (prayer) was conducted and led by Giani Shyam Singh, evoking the Lord’s blessings and continued guidance.

Munpreet Kaur, Project Coordinator, spoke about the project’s goals, and the urgency of capturing these stories: ‘Because of the time limit, it is important that we capture first-hand accounts from Sikhs’. Munpreet also called upon the guests to contribute and help towards the project’s success: ‘There is still so much to do, and we request more volunteers to be part of this effort – record your family story, help us find the patterns and the big picture. Help us hold on to the teachings of our elders, like Mr Sewa Singh Mandla [the project’s oldest participant (Mandla v Lee Case) who recently passed away] before they are lost to us forever. I think it’s our duty to connect with our roots and not to forget where we are today is a testament to their work, their sacrifice and their love for us’.

Surjeet Singh Sandhu, a participant who recorded an oral history interview for the project, recalled his childhood in Punjab in the mid-1960s. Now a senior design engineer, he spoke of his amazement at being from ‘a poor family, unknown village’ with no shoes until the age of 12 years old, but yet after arriving in the UK managed to give back substantially to the community in his adult life.

Gurmail Kaur, another contributor to the project, spoke about her participation in the project, and about her story. She spoke of the need for the younger generations to learn from the narratives: ‘they need to look back and appreciate how hard it was for their parents.’ She recounted her memories of arriving in England aged nine, with her mother and siblings. ‘As a child, this is what I remember.’

Surinder Singh, a Project Steering Group member, then gave a vote of thanks. He thanked the Lord for the successes of the project and reminded the audience of the hundreds of hours of volunteer service which had been invested in the project – selfless service being a key aspect of Sikh Dharam (faith).

All guests were then led to the Harrison Learning Centre (where the exhibition is located). Gurmail Kaur’s daughter and Giani Shyam Singh cut the ribbon to formally open the exhibition.

Speaking after the launch, Councillor Harbans Singh Bagri stated that the ‘project is of absolute importance, the Sikh community has also had a strong belief in faith and in the ability to do a good day’s work, and they have always respected the British system, where there is a reward, and where they will be treated as equal human beings.’

Councillor Claire Darke, who is also voluntarily involved with the Wolverhampton Civic Historical Society, stated that the exhibition was a ‘fantastic celebration of the Sikh journey’ and that ‘collecting stories is always fascinating.’

Councillor John Reynolds, stated that ‘it was really uplifting to see the contribution made by Sikhs over the years. The Sikhs contributed massively back then and they are still contributing now.’

The exhibition will move to the Nishkam Centre in Handsworth, Birmingham, in December 2017.

For more information, please information email heritage@ncauk.org

Historic ‘Walk of Hope for Peace and Harmony’ illustrates the strong relationships across Birmingham’s diverse communities

Arrival and discussion at Soho House – the heart of the Industrial Revolution

More than 120 representatives of diverse communities from across Birmingham and beyond came together for a ‘Walk of Hope for Peace and Harmony’ in Handsworth the 26th October 2017. The community came together as a sign of solidarity and recognition that whilst being different we have so much in common.

The event, planned, coordinated and meticulously carried out, respected and honoured all faith traditions and none to ensure a message of unity and peace was demonstrated. Word of the Peace Walk quickly spread through members of the local community, the faith community, social media and others interested in promoting peace. The event was attended by many laypersons, including several active City Council members as well police, faith leaders, school representatives etc. It was inspiring to see people arrive at the starting venue in traditional garments – robes, stoles, prayer shawls and head coverings – all respective of their faith traditions. From Sikh dastars (turbans), Christian vestments, the saffron robes of Buddhist monks to the head coverings of the Muslim kufi and the Jewish kippah—all faiths were represented and unified in their message of peace. Guests from India and mainland Europe, who had made special arrangements to join the walk and participate in the making of history, were amazed at the arrangements and participation.

The walk started with a communal reception for VIPs and dignitaries at the Shree Geeta Bhavan, in Heathfield Road. The

Shree Geeta Bhavan Team with Sri M, Bhai Sahib Ji and other dignitaries

chief guest, Sri M, whose inspiration and discussions with Birmingham’s faith communities enabled the walk to happen was welcomed. Sri M was accompanied from London with his wife and Lady Mohini Kent Noon. Sri M (from India) was welcomed to the Shree Geeta Bhavan by the General Secretary Dr Arun Sinha and other members of the Temple Board. Other dignitaries and VIPs included Matloob Hussain (Lozells Central Mosque), Bridget von Baron (Netherlands), Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh OBE KSG (Chair of the Nishkam Civic Association), Arvinder Jain, Upashak  Bhatia, Cllr Quinnen, Cllr Hussain, Rabbi Lior Kaminetsky and many others.

Sri M, a spiritual guide, social reformer and educationist – was born into a Muslim family on November 6, 1949 in Kerala. His transformational journey, from a young boy to a living yogi, is a fascinating story symbolized by single-minded discipline and dedication. In 1998, he started his teachings, eventually leading to formation of the

Prayers at Shree Geeta Bhavan to commence the walk

Satsang Foundation. Traveling extensively unto the present day, he has quietly gone about his life’s mission – teaching and guiding people as per his Master’s instructions: ‘Quality, not quantity. Spiritual evolution is individual and cannot be a mass phenomenon.’ Conversant with teachings of most major religions, Sri M says: ‘Go to the core. Theories are of no use.’ His message seeks to transcend the outer-shell of all religions, by exploring their mystical core to nurture the innate goodness in every human being. An example of the power of peace walks was seen in 2015-16 when Sri M led a Walk of Hope lasting some 15 months from Kanyakumari to Kashmir spanning 7,500 kms across 11 states of India for peace, harmony and tolerance.

The walkers, talking and learning from each other walked peacefully portraying an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity, made their way to Lozells Central Mosque. Where a prayer was recited and Sri M and Bhai Sahib Ji were invited to share brief words of wisdom. In the Mosques, Bhai Sahib Ji said, ‘I am touched by the walk – where ever there is prayer and there are faithful people there is peace. We need peace in ourselves, in our families, in the community, locally, nationally and internationally. We are privileged and honoured to be here, there are good vibrations. Prayers that come from the heart touch everyone. Thanks to Sri M for making the walk

Multi-faith group listen to a prayer in the Mosque

possible by bringing people together.’

The multi-faith group then stood outside the New Testament Church of God and Sri M recited the Lord’s Prayer with all present before moving on to the Church of Francis of Assisi and St Mary’s Convent. The beautiful building and architecture was matched by the eloquent and fitting reception from Sr Norin and her colleagues.

Arriving at the Birmingham Buddhist Maha Vihara, the group were met by Ven. Dr Witharandeniye Kassapa (OBE). The reception involved a prayer being recited in the doorway before everyone went inside to light candles of peace.

Sri M addresses all at the Mosque and gives thanks to Matloob Bhai for the welcome

This was then followed by a short walk to Gurdwara Babe Ke where all the guests had another photo opportunity before going in to the Darbar Sahib (main prayer hall). Here obeisance were paid to Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, an edict was received from Guru Ji, a supplication offered for peace,  before a vote of thanks and light refreshments were served in the Langar hall.

The next stop was St. Michael’s Church were guests were received in the courtyard before entering the chapel to recite a prayer. Sri M led the congregation through the Lord’s Prayer.

Bhai Sahib Ji then suggested the walkers should pay respects to the proud fathers of the Industrial Revolution and a quick visit to historic Soho House was made. All were in awe when they realised they were standing in the heart of the Industrial Revolution.

Some of the guests had a wish to view the Nishkam Primary School so Bhai Sahib Ji accompanied them on a brief detour, whilst the larger group made its way to the Gurdwara served by Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha.

At the Gurdwara the group went in to the Darbar Sahib (Prayer hall) to pay obeisance to Guru Granth Sahib Ji before making their way to the roof-top Gumbad Darbar where kirtan (hymns) was being recited. The shabad (hymn) was

Awal Allah noor upaya

Kudrat ke sab bandey

Ek noor te sab jag upjaya

Kaun bhale ko mande

‘First of all, God created light;

Mother Nature created all human beings equal;

from that one Light the entire world came into being;

so how do we differentiate that one is better that the other?’

After the Kirtan the Ardas (supplication) was said and Guru Ji’s blessings implored. The group then all went to partake in

Sr Norin welcomes all at the Chapel at St Mary’s

Langar (a blessed vegetarian meal from the Guru’s Kitchen prepared and served by volunteers). The Gurdwara is blessed with serving all visitors to the Gurdwara with Langar and an average of 25,000 meals a week are served to worshippers visiting the Guru’s abode.

Following Langar, Nishkam Centre Director, Amrick Singh, welcomed everyone to the Nishkam Centre and congratulated all those present for creating and making history. He said people would remember the walk for years to come as a marker of the cohesion and love that was clearly on display as the walkers were welcomed with open arms, hearts and minds in to each other places of worship.

Welcome at Birmingham Buddhist Maha Vihara

The walk was a clear message from all that we are part of this community, we are all united—regardless of faith, race, colour, gender—whatever it may be is all secondary. The first thing is we are all human beings and this whole planet is a blessed sacred space that has been entrusted to us.   Many said they participated in the peace walk because they wanted to show there are more people who are full of love, and those that hate are fewer and farther between. The walk, which was less than 3 miles long, ending at the Nishkam Centre concluded with messages from many of the chief guests including Sri M and Bhai Sahib Ji. These messages enunciated the need for unity, peace, forgiveness, compassion and humility. The need for faith solidarity and the need for a better appreciation and acceptance has never been greater.

Group arrives at Gurdwara Babe Ke

Guests listen intently at St Michael’s Church

Arrival and discussion at Soho House – the heart of the Industrial Revolution

Bhai Sahib Ji take Sri M and guests to Nishkam Primary School

Dignitaries outside the Gumbad Darbar Sahib

All sit immersed in spiritual bliss

All guests were invited to partake in Langar and build even stronger relations

Guests in Nishkam Centre where Bhai Sahib Ji and Sri M addressed them

Notes to Editors:

For more information:

High Commissioner of India to the UK pays respects to Guru Granth Sahib Ji at Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha, Birmingham, as part of the year-long 350th Birth Anniversary Celebrations of Guru Gobind Singh Ji

The High Commissioner of India to the UK, H.E. Yashvardhan Kumar Sinha, pays respects to Guru Granth Sahib Ji at Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha, Birmingham (GNNSJ) as part of the year-long 350th Birth Anniversary Celebrations of Guru Gobind Singh Ji.

Patna-born Mr. Sinha, who was accompanied by his wife, Mrs. Girija Sinha, and the Consul General of India – Birmingham, Dr. Aman Puri, amongst others, met with Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia, Spiritual Leader of GNNSJ and other dignitaries.

The High Commissioner, who is the son of the former Vice-Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen S.K. Sinha, paid tribute to the historic Kar Sewa projects carried out by GNNSJ in India, including the heritage conservation and beautification of the birthplace of Guru Gobind Singh Ji, Takhat Sri Harmandir Ji, Patna Sahib, and added, “It was a great honour and privilege for my wife and I to pray and pay respects here.”

Bhai Sahib Ji added, “The paramount purpose of celebrating Sikh Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s 350th Prakash Ustav is to pay loving tribute to the Saint-Soldier Guru, who not only created the Khalsa fraternity, but also blessed Sikhs with the highest exalted spiritual authority – Guru Granth Sahib Ji.”

The year-long celebrations will culminate on the 25th December, 2017, at the Takhat Sahib in Patna. Dr. Puri is planning a mobile exhibition, in conjunction with GNNSJ, celebrating the life and legacy of the great Guru Ji to launch in Birmingham during November. Dr. Puri had earlier staged a passionate drama production in Birmingham, as part of the 350th Birth Anniversary celebrations, which was supported by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India.

The dignitaries later proceeded to ‘Diwali on the Square,’ a celebration hosted by Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, before proceeding to the Shree Geeta Bhawan Multi-faith Diwali event. Bandi Chhor Divas, the Sikh celebration of Guru Hargobind Ji’s release and liberation of 52 imprisoned Rajas from Gwalior Fort, is also celebrated at this time.

Nishkam family and the City of Birmingham remember elder statesman who has passed away

Mr Sewa Singh Mandla OBE - 4th Jan 1927 – 6th Oct 2017

Mr Sewa Singh Mandla OBE – 4th Jan 1927 – 6th Oct 2017

The community has suffered a major loss as one of the pillars of the Sikh community in the UK, Mr Sewa Singh Mandla OBE, a proud member of the Birmingham Faith Leaders Group, Trustee and Non–executive member of the Nishkam Civic Association and former Chair of many Trusts and Boards, aged 90 passed away on the 6th October 2017.

Sewa Singh Mandla was born on the 4th January 1927 in Nairobi Kenya. As an amritdhari, disciplined Sikh faith practitioner and legal professional, he was the corner stone of the Nishkam Civic Association, as one of its founder members. Having qualified and practiced as a lawyer in Kenya, he was considered a heavyweight in the legal profession. An extrovert who could relate to people of all walks of life irrespective of status, seniority, age, gender, faith tradition, Mr Mandla considered all equally and lovingly with his humble compassionate approach. He was a thorough professional, impeccably dressed and presented, an individual who was both strategic in thought but always had an eye on the detail.

In 1974, he migrated to the U.K and qualified as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of United Kingdom. He set up his own legal practice in Handsworth Birmingham, becoming the first non-white Solicitor to have practised in the Birmingham Magistrates Court. He provided much needed services to the Black, Minority and Ethnic communities with great success. He worked tirelessly for all sections of Handsworth and Birmingham communities, building bonds, and creating social cohesion. This period also led him to become an active volunteer for the growing Sikh, Hindu, Muslim and Christian places of worship and charitable institutions, providing legal advice and aid on a pro-bono basis.

As a respected, high profile lawyer, a community and inter-faith leader in Birmingham he was appointed Officer of British Empire (OBE) in recognition of his 50 years’ legal, human rights and selfless community voluntary service. A long serving volunteer at the Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ) and a trustee at the Nishkam Civic Association, Mr Mandla has made significant contribution to community and inter-faith development work in the city, nationally and

internationally under the guidance and leadership of Bhai Sahib, Bhai Mohinder Singh OBE KSG. He personally sphere-headed the landmark trip of the Birmingham Faith Leaders Group to Amritsar India as well as arranged an auspicious visit and meeting of Sikhs with the Pope at the Vatican.

In 1983 Mr Mandla made legal history for the Sikh community and the legal profession whereby the decision of the Law Lords made a ground breaking case law for the Sikhs to wear turbans (Mandla vs Lee 1983). The headmaster of a private school in Birmingham, Mr. Lee refused to grant Mr Mandla’s son admission in his school unless he removed his turban, cut his traditional long hair and wore a school cap. Mr Mandla commenced legal proceedings against the headmaster for Racial Discrimination under the Race Relations Act 1976 and also organised a protest march in Hyde Park, London in which 40,000 people of diverse communities took part. A petition, signed by more than 70,000 people against the decision of the lower courts and highlighting the importance of a Turban to a Sikh, was presented to the Prime Minster at 10 Downing Street. The House of Lords decided in favour of Mr Mandla.

Mr Mandla devoted his entire life to work as a volunteer to serve the needs of voluntary and community organisations, bringing about change to improve the quality of life of the disadvantaged members of the Community. His most outstanding contributions was to the work of many organisations including, Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ) where he spent an average of eight hours daily, serving the Gurdrwara, its congregation and the Trust. As a founding trustee of the Nishkam Civic Association (NCA) he was most passionate about its work and vision. He has worked tirelessly for many other boards and bodies including Chairmanship of Council Of Sikh Gurdwaras Birmingham; Birmingham Council of Faith’s, and the Roger Hooker Memorial Trust. He was also Vice Chair and Trustee for Religions for Peace UK Chapter, and Founder Member Birmingham Faith Leaders Group.

Mr Mandla was constantly in the media as a spokesperson for the Sikh community; multiculturalism in UK; the legal profession; the success of immigrant communities; and health and wellbeing issues.

Prof. Upkar Singh Pardesi, Vice Chair of Nishkam Civic Association (NCA, also known as the Nishkam Centre) said, “The Sikh and wider community in Birmingham and the region has lost one of the longest serving lawyers, an active volunteer, and role model for spirituality. Mr Mandla shone and became a legend for his ability to successfully fuse his professional work in law with spirituality to make a difference to the Sikh and wider communities in the UK. Mr Mandla’s perseverance to take the issue of turbans worn by Sikh pupils in schools, is a testament of his dedication to fight for a just cause. He had an extraordinary passion and flair for serving the community in the pursuit of making a difference. His perseverance to follow through projects and tasks was one of his outstanding qualities.”

Mr Mandla is survived by his son, Gurinder and daughter Tina and six grandchildren and our thought and prayers are with them all during this time. His legacy and contribution will remain for years to come and he will be missed by so many.

Funeral service details for Bhai Sewa Singh Mandla Ji

For more information:

Please contact Prof Upkar Singh Pardesi, Vice Chairman, Nishkam Civic Association on 07974150320

Peace Pledge Project Symposium

Interfaith leaders standing together in front of the International Peace Palace, The Hague

Interfaith leaders standing together in front of the International Peace Palace, The Hague

International interfaith luminaries took part in the Peace Pledge Project Symposium, held at various venues in the Netherlands on 11th-14th September 2017.

The three-day symposium included:

  • ‘Virtues of the Heart’ sessions, involving interfaith inspiration, dialogue and sharing educational best practice, held at the Universal Sufi Temple, Katwijk, and the Sufi Centre, The Hague.
  • ’Relate your Heart to your Business’, ‘Water for Life’, and ‘70 Years of diplomatic friendship between The Netherlands and India’ sessions, involving politicians, business and spiritual leaders, held at The International Peace Palace, The Hague.

The event was sponsored by the Universal Sufi Council, led by Dr. Professor Johannes Witteveen, former Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, along with Brigitte van Baren, Director of Inner Sense, Jonathan Granoff, President of the Global Security Institute and Pir Shabda Kahn, Spiritual Director of the Sufi Ruhaniat International.

The main theme woven throughout the sessions emphasised spreading the message of Loving Kindness and Compassion through the whole of humanity, as expressed in the “PEACE PLEDGE” (attached below), in addition to connecting the water experts of the Netherlands with the need for water purification in India.

Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh, Chairman of GNNSJ, commented, “to create peace in the

Imam Umer A. Ilyasi, Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh, Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, Prof. Johannes Witteveen and Brigitte van Baren collectively lighting the peace flame at the Peace Flame Monument, International Peace Palace, The Hague.

Imam Umer A. Ilyasi, Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh, Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, Prof. Johannes Witteveen and Brigitte van Baren collectively lighting the peace flame at the Peace Flame Monument, International Peace Palace, The Hague.

world around us, we must all nurture peace within ourselves. We do this through the practice of divine virtues, including loving-kindness and compassion, which empower us to earnestly control our human vices. In this light, this Peace Pledge is to be highly commended.”

Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, co-founder of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance, said, “the growing water crisis and countless drying water bodies across the globe is a concern for every individual and every nation, hence it is wonderful that this dialogue and call for collective action is taking place from the International Peace Palace, because without safe and sufficient water there can be no peace. Hence, it is time for us to join together across faiths to work as one for clean water, sanitation and hygiene for all, so that every child is allowed the opportunity not just to survive but to truly thrive.”

Interfaith leaders joining hands together at the Universal Sufi Temple, Katwijk.

Interfaith leaders joining hands together at the Universal Sufi Temple, Katwijk.

The Symposium was infused with divinely inspired music throughout. Such music plays a pivotal role in the Sufi faith, as well as other faiths, with the central inspiration being the Tawhid, the Islamic concept of the oneness of God, as expressed in the prayer “La ilaha illallah”, meaning “there is no God but God”.

UN Secretary General and Religious Leaders Unite to Launch Plan of Action to Prevent and Counter Incitement to Violence

Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres meets with religous leaders.

The first ever plan of action designed to prevent incitement to violence that could lead to atrocity violence was launched on 14 July 2017, at a meeting held today in the ECOSOC chambers at United Nations Headquarters in New York.

The plan of action was developed by the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect, with the support of KAICIID, the World Council of Churches and the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers.

The event was inaugurated by Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres; Under Secretary-General and Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng; and Secretary-General of KAICIID, Faisal Bin Muaammar. Amongst a number of religious leaders of individual communities from around the world, Bhai Sahib, Bhai Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia, Chairman and Religious Leader of Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha UK, provided a Sikh perspective on the panel discussing the role of religious leaders in preventing incitement to violence.

Bhai Sahib Ji commented, ““This Plan of Action and the process by which it has been developed is highly commended.

Mr Adama Dieng the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide meets with Bhai Sahib.

The misuse of religion to provoke violence is a symptom of diseased minds. To eliminate this disease at the source, we must lovingly liberate our minds through empowering ourselves with the values of compassion, truthfulness, selfless contentment, humility and love. Only peace within oneself can lead to peace around us.”

Implementation of the Plan of Action will contribute to the prevention of atrocity crimes, especially in areas affected by religious and sectarian tensions and violence and enhance the respect, protection and promotion of human rights, including the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of religion or belief and peaceful assembly.

At the launch meeting, religious leaders, the United Nations, Member States, and civil society began discussing strategies for the implementation of the Plan of Action and the coordination between religious leaders and implementing agencies.  Important next steps include the dissemination of the Action Plan among Member States, relevant UN agencies and other stakeholders.

ENDS

For further information, contact and full resolution photographs: info@gnnsj.org

UK Sikh Community Joins Millions in Global Prayer to End Famine

On Sunday 21st May 2017, Religions for Peace (RfP), joined with 70 organizations around the world, including the Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha, to support the Global Day of Prayer to End Famine, an initiative co-led by the World Council of Churches. People of all faiths joined together in places of worship across the globe, to collectively pray for peace for all, and for the end of suffering from famine.

The initiative, headed by Rev Olav Tveit (Co-President of Religions for Peace), aims to address what the UN has defined as the worst humanitarian crisis since 1945. The global day of prayer flooded social media and international news sources, raising awareness of the enormity of the famine problem, as well as attracting messages of support from both people experiencing the crisis, and those working to end it.

Among the various religious communities showing their commitment to fostering a world without famine was the Sikh community, with a 24 million worldwide population. The Sikh daily prayer is for ‘Sarbat da Bhalla,’ the well-being of all.

Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh (International Trustee and Co-President of Religions for Peace, Chairman of the UK-based Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha) led the Sikh response to the interfaith call to prayer, and joined over 500 community members in reciting a sacred text, the Prayer for Peace and Well-Being, written by the Fifth Sikh Guru, Arjan Dev Ji, in the seventeenth century.

The prayer was held at the Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha Gurdwara, based on Soho Road, Handsworth, Birmingham. The powerful prayer lasted over 90 minutes, and was recited by the entire congregation, who stood with joined hands in prayer, to implore the Almighty to forgive humanity for its sins, and to bring relief to those suffering from the pain of famine. The prayer was followed by ‘Kirtan’, the singing of sacred hymns.

 

World Interfaith Harmony Week 2017 Event on Forgiving and Reconciling in a Contemporary World: A call to action

Group photo of some of the attendees at the end of the event

The event opened with a prayer invoking God’s mercy and blessings. ‘The Power of Forgiveness and Reconciliation in our Contemporary World’ was the title of the forum on peace held on 4th February 2017 by the Charter for Forgiveness and Reconciliation. The event was attended by a diverse audience with people from many different faith groups and parts of the world.

Bhai Sahib, Bhai (Dr) Mohinder Singh addresses the audience.

Bhai Sahib, Bhai (Dr) Mohinder Singh addresses the audience.

The event supported by Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ) and hosted by the Nishkam Civic Association, took place during World Interfaith Harmony Week (UN resolution of 2010). The Charter has been supported and developed by a number of organisations including the Fetzer Institute, Guerrand-Hermès Foundation for Peace, and Religions for Peace.

Dr Josef Boehle, Director of the Charter for Forgiveness and Reconciliation, spoke first, reading out part of the Statement of Vision and Purpose, which states that “the activity of forgiving is vital if healing and reconciliation is to take place, as part of our collective efforts to seek restorative justice and sustainable peace.”

“Fostering and practicing forgiveness has the power to transform deep-seated responses

Tariq Jahan raises the emotional level by sharing a heart moving experience

Tariq Jahan raises the emotional level by sharing a heart moving experience

to memories and legacies of injustice, conflict and war. It can liberate people from being imprisoned in their pasts and long ingrained mental and emotional conditions created by such legacies.”

Bhai Sahib, Bhai (Dr) Mohinder Singh OBE KSG, Chairman of the Nishkam Civic Association and Co-Convenor of the Charter, spoke of forgiveness as originating from the Divine, and said a prayer, which spoke of seeking God’s help. He went on to speak about how forgiveness is essential in a   fractured world, and that “the whole of humanity is one family” who are all “interconnected and interdependent”. The root cause of conflict was also touched upon: “everything starts in the human mind. Humanity needs to start address the human mind very seriously”

John Witcombe, Dean of Coventry Cathedral

John Witcombe, Dean of Coventry Cathedral

Tariq Jahan, who suffered a personal tragedy when his son was killed during riots in 2011, gave a touching speech about his feelings and questions over forgiveness: ‘Do I forgive? How much do I really forgive? Then I think, how much does God forgive? He forgives all of us, on a daily basis. We all make mistakes.” Following the event, Tariq Jahan stated that “events like this soothe the heart”, and added that “we need to include the youth into these processes. As it is the younger generation who are the future and also need to learn about forgiveness.”

The bombing of Coventry Cathedral in 1940 led to an astonishing example of forgiveness

Ciaran Norris Director of Rising shared a perspective from Coventry & Global input

Ciaran Norris Director of Rising shared a perspective from Coventry & Global input

and reconciliation. The Dean of Coventry Cathedral, John Witcombe, was among the speakers, and reflected on the values of “honesty, hope and healing” which were integral to the rebuilding of the Cathedral following the bombing, and how the ruins represented a “physical embodiment of what happens in a world where we cannot work together.”

Ciaran Norris, Director of Rising Global Peace Forum, which is based in Coventry, spoke about having the capacity to forgive in a society where “things we have taken for certain are no longer certain”, and where facts are often distorted and the truth becomes difficult to find.

Rana Nazir, Founder British Kashmiri Women's Council

Rana Nazir, Founder British Kashmiri Women’s Council

Rana Nazir, founder of the British Kashmiri Women’s Council, reflecting on the long history of suffering and violent conflicts in the world and in Kashmir, highlighted the urgency that we “need to make our world a peaceful sanctuary for everyone.  Reconciliation is forgiveness in action – forgiveness and reconciliation can lead to a stronger bond than previously existed.”

Jorge Ravagli Cardona, a PhD Student from the University of Birmingham, provided an overview of the history of the decades-long conflict in Colombia and the recent peace agreement reached there between the government and the FARC. Looking forward he emphasized that “the messages themselves of dialogue for conflict-resolution and of forgiveness have to transcend the

Prof Pal Ahluwalia, Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Portsmouth

Prof Pal Ahluwalia, Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Portsmouth

political realm directly involved in the negotiation and reach the people, in order to transform the vicious circle of hate, insensitivity and exclusion.”

Mr Bill Ozanne conveyed greetings from the Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, Bernard Longley, and recalled parts of an address Pope Francis gave at the Interreligious Audience on 3rd November 2016 during the Jubilee Year of Mercy of the Roman-Catholic Church.

Professor Pal Ahluwalia, Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Portsmouth, stated that “forgiveness and compassion are powerful instruments”, and underlined the importance for both individuals and the whole world to “rise above malice”.

Attendees discuss Forgiveness & Reconciliation in group workshops

Attendees discuss Forgiveness & Reconciliation in group workshops

The forum featured video clips of His Holiness Pope Francis, HM Queen Elizabeth II, and as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, sent his apologies for the event, his New Year 2017 message talking about forgiveness and reconciliation was shared with all the attendees. This was followed by other religious leaders from different faiths speaking on the subject of love, forgiveness and reconciliation. Pope Francis, in his speech at Clementine Hall on 3rd November 2016, said “forgiveness is surely the greatest gift we can give to others because it is the most costly. Yet at the same time, it is what makes us most like God.”

Speaking about the forum, Dr Josef Boehle stated “The Peace Forum on Forgiveness and Reconciliation takes place today as part of World Interfaith Harmony week in Birmingham. The vision of the Charter is to make a contribution to processes of forgiveness and reconciliation not only between individuals, communities and states, but also between faith traditions.”

Bhai Sahib, also speaking on the forum and the nature of forgiveness, stated that “the highest and the best form of human generosity and benevolence is forgiveness”. He then summarised and closed the event a prayer of thanks.

The event was clearly a landmark development in the journey towards sharing, inviting input and inspiring collaboration from like-minded people in support of the Charter for Forgiveness and Reconciliation. The participants left the event full of praise having been part of World Interfaith Harmony Week 2017 event at the Nishkam Centre.

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

For more information:

Sikh migration project launch: How will you tell your story?

Guests at the launch of ‘My Story-Our Journey’ at the Nishkam Centre

Guests at the launch of ‘My Story-Our Journey’ at the Nishkam Centre

“We are all refugees and migrants on this planet”, said Bhai Sahib Bhai Mohinder Singh (OBE KSG, Chairman of Nishkam Civic Association), during the launch of the Sikh Migration research project at the Nishkam Centre on 25th January 2017 to an audience keen to participate in the project. “Where did I come from? “Where are your roots? What is my destination?”

The questions posed describe the essence of the project ‘My Story- Our Journey’, launched by the Nishkam Civic Association. The Sikh migration project, secured a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), aims to capture the retrospective journey of the Sikh population in Birmingham and the Black Country, from the first generation to the current day, through collecting oral histories from those who have experienced and grown up with the migrant journey.

The launch was attended by the project’s steering committee members, which included Councillor Preet K Gill (Sandwell) Suwinder Bains, Partnership and Community Engagement Manager (Birmingham City Council), Jasbir Singh Uppal (University of Wolverhampton), Manjeet

Guests arriving, networking and sharing stories

Guests arriving, networking and sharing stories

Kaur (Media and Heritage Volunteer) and Surinder Singh, Electoral officer (Sandwell) who said “As a person who has a strong connection with working in both Birmingham and the Black Country it was wonderful to see so many people showing a passionate interest and also a willingness to work together on this unique project. With this passion and energy I am sure ‘My Story – Our Journey’ will create a lasting legacy for the contribution of the Sikh Community in our region and  we look forward to seeing and hearing some wonderful and amazing stories”

The diverse audience also included author Jatinder Kaur, who is currently promoting her recent biography of her father, Bhai Sahib Rajinder Singh Ji, titled ‘Chalda Vaheer Jatha: A Spiritual Journey’.

Jatinder briefly spoke about her father’s journey to the UK, settling in Dudley, and the motives behind the transition. She wrote the biography with the help of her father’s diary, which was his ‘voice and guidance’ in writing the book. In her journey in capturing his story, she conducted face-to-face interviews with each person he had met on his international travels in promoting Sikh values, and discovered first-hand the feelings behind the stories of persecution and challenged identity.

Jatinder Kaur: Author of 'Chalda Vaheer Jatha: A Spiritual Journey'.

Jatinder Kaur: Author of ‘Chalda Vaheer Jatha: A Spiritual Journey’.

Rachel Chui (HLF, Committee Member for the West Midlands) was also among the speakers. After hearing the detailed account of the aims and timescales of the project, she spoke about her thoughts on the research: “Heritage is about the intangible – you can’t touch stories. People from all walks of life can contribute to the various histories and shared experiences.” Rachel poignantly added that we have “more in common than our differences.”

Ajit Singh, Contracts Manager (Nishkam Centre) and Inderdeep Kaur Shambi, Project Lead, gave a detailed account of how the project started, and the proposed deliverables.

The project aims to record and collate 30 oral histories, ranging from first generation migrants to the present, and whilst doing so, recruit and train a large number of volunteers with a variety of skills. Photographs will also be collected, which will be used in the touring exhibitions at a number of high profile locations, including the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, University of Wolverhampton among many others.

A website will also be developed, to include all the collated research in an accessible and user-friendly format. The project will leave a visible legacy after its completion, in the form of a publication and all contributions will be archived at the Library of Birmingham and Sandwell Archives and an education toolkit will be developed for local schools, encouraging young students to learn about oral history, stories and migration in fun and engaging ways.

The launch received positive feedback from those who attended, Ravinderjit Kaur Briah, a lecturer at De Montfort University, said the project

Listening attentively on how ‘My Story – Our Journey’ will be encapsulated

Listening attentively on how ‘My Story – Our Journey’ will be encapsulated

was an “inspiration”, and this had been a “long time coming and well overdue”. She added that the project would “provide a springboard for so many other projects, and will leave a lasting legacy.”

The ‘My Story-Our Journey’ project has already received coverage from BBC Midlands Today and is capturing the attention of not only the Sikh community, but also all those intrigued by remembering and sharing stories which would otherwise be left untold and

uncaptured.  Satnam Rana (Midlands Today) discussed with the team possible future input and her own very personal stories.

In order to create a full tapestry of Sikh migration in Birmingham and The Black Country the project is looking to interview and collaborate with a diverse range of Sikh voices as well as collate personal photographs that depict moments in time.

The project is also keen to capture experiences of non-Sikh people who have had experiences or opportunities of working or living with Sikhs.

If you would like to share your story or volunteer to help with the project, please get in touch with Inderdeep Kaur at inderdeep.kaur@ncauk.org or visit http://nishkamcentre.org/arts-culture-heritage/birmingham-black-country-sikh-migration-story/volunteer-project/

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Birmingham & Black Country Sikh Migration Story project up and running thanks to Heritage Lottery Fund

big-lottery

The Nishkam Civic Association has been granted £80,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to develop and deliver a project on ‘The Birmingham & Black Country Sikh Migration Story’. The project will capture the retrospective journey of the Sikh population in Birmingham and the Black Country, from the first generation to the current day.

The research will explore the sociological, political and economic perspectives to gain a rounded, contextual understanding of the migration. The project will not only focus on the history of the collective migration drivers, but also on individual narratives, to truly understand the change and impact on each migrant life. The famous Mandla vs Lee case will be explored, as an example of how the migrants worked with, and mostly resolved, the inevitable clash of cultures and ideals.

Vanessa Harbar, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund West Midlands, said: “We’re delighted that HLF support will enable the Nishkam Civic Association to capture the rich heritage of Sikh migration in Birmingham and the Black Country. The research will help members of the Sikh community, as well as the wider community, to explore and appreciate the economic, cultural and social contribution of their forebears. Thank you to the National Lottery Players who have made this possible.”

The project which has taken nearly two years to develop will involve collaborations with a number of organisations, including Birmingham Museum Trust, University of Wolverhampton, Library of Birmingham, Sandwell Archives Services, Nishkam School Trust, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Sandwell MBC and many more.

Volunteers for the project will engage with first, second and third generation Sikhs to capture their individual stories of migration, and historical research will be carried out to contextualise the Sikh migration experience. A touring exhibition will also be curated for display in the main gallery of the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery for a number of months, after which it will be displayed in other prominent locations over the West Midlands.

Toolkits will be developed for local schools to accompany their learning, and a publication will also be produced, capturing the research and outputs of the project. A microsite will be will be used to collate the research, share the oral history ‘stories’ and photographs, videos and other findings. Archives will eventually be deposited at the Library of Birmingham and at Sandwell Archive Services, so the history of how the Sikhs came to Birmingham and the Black Country can be accessed by all now and in the future.

Sewa Singh Mandla (Trustee, Nishkam Civic Association) stated: ‘We greatly appreciate the contribution made towards the project by HLF, as it will mean the history of the Sikhs migrating to Birmingham and the Black Country will not go undocumented. The research will give us a deeper insight into how lives were (and are) impacted by this change, and will allow us to reflect on the great endurance and strength demonstrated by the Sikh migrants.’

For more information about the project, please contact Ajit Ubhi, Nishkam Civic Association.

 

ENDS

Notes to editors

About Nishkam Civic Association

The Nishkam Civic Association (NCA) was established in 2003, a relatively new and unique organisation charged with the task of developing a dynamic Sikh faith inspired civic agenda. It is one of the Five Centres for Excellence founded by Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ), a Sikh faith-based organisation dedicated to nishkam sewa (active, selfless volunteering) to serve the common good. For more information, visit http://www.nishkamcentre.org/about-us/

About the Heritage Lottery Fund

Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) aims to make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities across the UK and help build a resilient heritage economy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. HLF has supported almost 36,000 projects with more than £5.9bn across the UK.

http://www.hlf.org.uk

For further information, images and interviews, please contact

Ajit Ubhi at Nishkam Civic Association on ajit.singh@ncauk.org.uk