UK's first turban-wearing lawmaker vows to fight prejudice
Britain's first turban-wearing Sikh lawmaker has vowed to dispel prejudices about his religion that have increased in the wake of terrorist attacks on the West in the past decade.
Indarjit Singh, whose official title on entering the House of Lords will be Baron Singh of Wimbledon, will cut an unusual figure when he takes his seat next month in the chamber amid a sea of snowy-haired white men.
The 78-year-old, well known in Britain because of his regular radio broadcasts and articles in newspapers and whose appointment to parliament's upper house was announced last week, said on Tuesday he hoped to use his position to promote understanding of his faith and fight against prejudice.
In the years since the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States and bombings on London's transport system, both masterminded by Islamist extremists, it was not only Muslims who had seen prejudice against them increase, he said.
Sikhs in Britain, a minority of less than half a million, had received a lot of hate mail after the attacks, said Singh, who was born in Rawalpindi, then in British-ruled India but now in Pakistan, but came to Britain at a young age.
"The reaction has been almost as bad as the initial shock," he said, referring to the aftermath of the 2001 attacks on the US and the London bombings in 2005.
"The mindset it has created is that we are fighting a 'war on terror'. I think that is wrong. What needs to be fought is ignorance," he told AFP.
The married father-of-two added: "There is talk about islamophobia and anti-semitism, the reality is that people react negatively to people seeming different. No-one can seem much more different than Sikhs."
Singh, one of Britain's best known Sikhs, said he hoped his appointment would "increase understanding because prejudice flourishes on ignorance."
He added he wanted to encourage dialogue between faiths.
"It gives us an opportunity to say 'we are a religion that's very committed to working with all people'," he said.
And he also wants to use his position to raise the profile of Sikhs in Britain more generally.
"I hope my appointment does raise the profile of Sikhs and encourage other young Sikhs to come forward and contribute to public life," he said.
Singh said he was confident that he would get a warm welcome from his fellow lords but confessed to being slightly bemused by the "weird ceremony" that would mark his entry into parliament.
"It's antiquated and in some ways charming as well," he said. "It's very, very British."
Unlike the lower House of Commons, lawmakers in the House of Lords are not elected. The majority of the approximately 800 members are appointed due to their expertise in a certain field.
The upper house scrutinises legislation but its powers are much more limited than the lower house.
© 2011 AFP