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Sikh News Muslim And Sikh Soldiers In The British Army Say Religion Is Not An Issue

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Sikh News Muslim And Sikh Soldiers In The British Army Say Religion Is Not An Issue

Aman Singh

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Muslim and Sikh Soldiers in the British Army Say Religion is Not an Issue

Photo: Sikh soldiers, Signaller Simranjit 'Sim' Singh, 21 Signal Regiment (right), and Lance Corporal Sarvjit Singh, 3 Regiment Army Air Corps. [Picture: WO2 Richard Dawson RLC]

By Deepak Lal


Muslim and Sikh training recruits have claimed that their religion is not an issue when it comes to joining the army. They do however find it difficult at times when it comes to explaining their beliefs and physical appearance for example wearing a turban. Latest figures from the Ministry of Defence show that of the 106,460 soldiers in the army, 9.5% represent minority communities. This has shown an increase of 1.5% over the last three years.
Muslim and Sikh soldiers say their faith doesn’t affect their training as they are allowed to pray and observe Ramadan at Vimy Barracks in Catterick. 19 year old British Muslim, Private Akhtar Hussain who is training at the barracks is pleased with the treatment he receives and says he is even provided Halal food not only inside the barracks, but also in his ration packs, which he uses when out training.


The support and positive attitude received towards British Asians is positive according to Pte Hussain, which may surprise much of the public. Pte Hussain says his friends and family are very supportive of his decision to join the army, whereas some may consider his decision to be controversial as he could be sent to Iraq or Afghanistan: “Obviously coming from my background, it plays on my mind. I may end up in this situation but I don’t think religion comes into it, it’s more about terrorism,” he told the BBC Asian Network. “It’s been a dream that I have worked so hard for. I am the eldest son in my family and my parents say what more could they ask for. Me being in the British Army they are so proud. All my friends are also pleased with my joining up and say how mature I have become in such a short space of time.”


Sikh soldiers are also being welcomed into the army and have been successful. With approximately 750,000 Sikhs in the UK (the second highest after India), and with over 1.5million representing the British Army in both world wars, Sikhs do have a strong history of joining the British Army.
In August 2009, Signaller Simranjit Singh and Lance Corporal Sarvjit Singh made history by becoming the first Sikh Service personnel to guard the Queen at the Tower of London. Although it is tradition for the guards to wear scarlet tunics and bearskin caps, Signaller Singh was exempt from this as he wears a turban, but did have the Royal Signal corps badge on his turban.


According to the Sikh way of living (Rehat Maryada), turbans, long hair and beards are compulsory. The families of both soldiers were very proud of the pair, and Lance Corporal Sarvjit Singh went onto say: “My experience being a Sikh on the Queen’s Guard is beyond words. It is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity. I feel privileged to have this honour, he proudly told the MOD.
 

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Coincidentally I received this mail on the same day:

An interesting piece from a serving Army Officer (unknown). Sent by Vissa
Rammohan in the PAN-IIT discussion group
.


As a serving army officer, I never stop marvelling
at the gullibility of our countrymen to be provoked with alacrity into
virulence in the name of religion. I have never heard the word 'secular'
during all my service -- and yet, the simple things that are done simply in
the army make it appear like an island of sanity in a sea of hatred.
In the army, each officer identifies with the
religion of his troops. In regiments where the soldiers are from more than
one religion, the officers -- and indeed all jawans attend the weekly
religious prayers of all the faiths. How many times have I trooped out of
the battalion mandir and, having worn my shoes, entered the battalion
church next door? A few years ago it all became simpler -- mandirs,
masjids, gurudwars and churches began to share premises all over the army.
It saved us the walk.
Perhaps it is so because the army genuinely
believes in two central 'truths' -- oneness of god and victory in
operations. Both are so sacred we cannot nitpick and question the basics.
In fact, sometimes the army mixes up the two! On a
visit to the holy cave at Amarnath a few years ago I saw a plaque mounted
on the side of the hill by a battalion that had once guarded the annual
Yatra. It sai d, 'Best wishes
from -....- battalion. Deployed for Operation Amarnath.
On another instance, I remember a commanding
officer ordered the battalion maulaviji to conduct the proceedings of
Janamashtmi prayers because the panditji had to proceed on leave on
compassionate grounds. No eyebrows were raised. It was the most rousing and
best-prepared sermon on Lord Krishna I have ever had the pleasure of
listening to.
On the Line of Control, a company of Khemkhani
Muslim soldiers replaced a Dogra battalion. Over the next few days, the
post was shelled heavily by Pakistanis, and there were a few non-fatal
casualties.
One day, the junior commissioned officer of the
company, Subedar Sarwar Khan walked up to the company commander Major
Sharma and sai d, "Sahib,
ever since the Dogras left, the mandir has been shut. Why don't you open it
once every evening and do aarti? Why are we displeasing the gods?"
Major Sharma shamefacedly confessed he did not
know all the words of the aarti. Subedar Sarwar went away and that night,
huddled over the radio set under a weak lantern light, painstakingly took
down the words of the aarti from the post of another battalion!
How many of us know that along the entire border
with Pakistan ,
our troops abstain from alcohol and non-vegetarian food on all Thursdays?
The reason: It is called the Peer day -- essentially a day of religious
significance for the Muslims.
In 1984, after Operation Bluestar there was
anguish in the Sikh community over the desecration of the holiest of their
shrines. Some of this anger and hurt was visible in the army too.
I remember the first Sikh festival days after the
event -- the number of army personnel of every religious denomination that
thronged the regimental gurudwara of the nearest Sikh battalion was the
largest I had seen. I distinctly remember each officer and soldier who put
his forehead to the ground to pay obeisance appeared to linger just a wee
bit longer than usual. Was I imagining this? I do not think so. There was
that empathy and caring implicit in the quality of the gesture that
appeared to say, "You are hurt and we all understand.."
We were deployed on the Line of Control those
days. Soon after the news of disaffection among a small section of Sikh
troops was broadcast on the BBC, Pakistani troops deployed opposite the
Sikh battalion yelled across to express their 'solidarity' with the Sikhs.
The Sikh havildar shouted back that the Pakistanis
had better not harbour any wrong notions. "If you dare move towards
this post, we will mow you down."
Finally, a real -- and true -- gem....
Two boys of a Sikh regiment battalion were
overheard discussing this a day before Christmas.
"Why are we having a holiday tomorrow?"
asked Sepoy Singh.
"It is Christmas," replied the wiser
Naik Singh.
"But what is Christmas?"
"Christmas," replied Naik Singh, with
his eyes half shut in reverence and hands in a spontaneous prayer-clasp,
"is the guruparb of the Christians."
 

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