Lord Rami Ranger has seen unparalleled success despite serious setbacks in life. He was born two months after the assassination of his father Nanak Singh who was killed for opposing the partition of the country.
Forced to relocate to a refugee camp in Punjab after the death of her husband and the Partition of India, Lord Ranger's mother, Harbans Kaur raised eight children all alone ensuring that they reached the pinnacle of success. Being an educated woman helped her in looking after the children—a fact that has marshalled Lord Ranger towards speaking about women empowerment among the diaspora in the UK.
In an exclusive interview to India Narrative at the House of Lords, Lord Ranger does not shy away from discussing contentious issues. Made a Lord in 2019, he talks about his vision of the 'idea of India', his support for The Kashmir Files, the role of the Sikh gurus during tumultuous medieval times and the issue of Khalistan.
Excerpts from the interview:
The idea of India is debated hotly in the country. Different people describe it differently, guided by their ideologies. What is your idea of India?
Lord Ranger: India is an ancient civilisation. It was known as sone ki chidiya (the golden bird) and this was the reason that invaders were attracted to it. India was far ahead in education, science and technology, astronomy, architecture and learning. The invaders were not as advanced as India was but were barbaric. They came to India to only loot and destroy.
For one thousand years this civilisation has borne the brunt of foreign occupation.
The idea of India is now going to emerge—with unity of the country. For me the idea of India is to spread the Indian values of respect and tolerance. The ancient civilisation of India will flourish and will enrich humanity in a positive manner.
But many say that this very tolerance is missing in India?
Lord Ranger: There are a lot of people in India and the country is a melting pot of cultures, languages, races, religions and diversity. If all the people do not move in the same direction, then there is conflict.
The Indian values are tolerance of faiths, acceptance of gender equality, respect for the young and the old. We also have Goddess besides the Gods. If some communities do not share these values, then there is conflict. On top of this, there are religions that are stagnant while humanity is on the move. If you do not adapt to a changing world, then there is conflict.
Lord Rami Ranger inside the House of Lords (Photo: Rahul Kumar)
There have been many attacks on Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now they have been completely cleansed from Afghanistan. How do you interpret this from your position in the UK?
Lord Ranger: You see, nobody is born intolerant, or a racist or a terrorist. But people become one if they are exposed to extreme ideologies or are likely to misinterpret faith.
I think, for better social coherence, passages that speak of violence and hate should be removed from religious texts and be replaced with messages of peace and harmony. This is something I have been saying repeatedly.
Also, in a modern world, women empowerment is a pre-requisite for a civil and progressive society. Women are the architects of future generations because men might be busy building businesses and in jobs. At many places, the development of children is left to the mothers. What a mother cannot experience herself, she cannot impart unto her children. Also, if a father dies prematurely, he leaves behind a woman unable to deal with an uncaring world and a mother unable to look after her children. All of them suffer as a result.
It is possible that women who do not work will have more children and less family income. The children will miss out on better education, better upbringing and a good standard of living. In my opinion this is a recipe for radicalisation.
Just to give you an example, if my mother was not educated, we would have been in an orphanage because my father was assassinated at the age of 42 for opposing the Partition of India.
You extended support to Vivek Agnihotri and his wife Pallavi Joshi, even hosting them at the House of Lords. What prompted you to back The Kashmir Files, a movie that has evoked strong reactions across the world?
Lord Ranger: I was attracted to Vivek Agnihotri because he highlighted the plight of Kashmiri Hindus, who have been suffering from the times of Guru Tegh Bahadur. They had approached Guru Tegh Bahadur for help saying that Aurangzeb had given them an ultimatum—either convert or die.
Guru Tegh Bahadur told Aurangzeb that the Hindus will convert if you can convert me. Aurangzeb asked Guru Tegh Bahadur to convert but he refused. Aurangzeb executed Guru Tegh Bahadur by beheading him at the spot where Gurdwara Sis Ganj stands in Delhi.
Witnessing injustice, his son Guru Govind Singh formed the brotherhood of Khalsa in 1699 to fight tyranny. Hundreds of years back Guru Govind Singh had said that diversity is to be accepted, respected and, if need be, has to be defended. He defended religious freedom in India and was able to stop the entry of the invaders in India from the Khyber Pass.
So, during the Partition of India, we suffered the same religious hatred which divided communities who lived together in harmony for centuries. The Partition led to the deaths of one million innocents and tens of millions were made refugees in their country of birth.
With all this historical background, The Kashmir Files was enough motivation for me that we should not allow religious hatred to cause more damage to India. I want to support those who expose religious bigotry and hatred.
People should understand that religion can be a force for good. It should help unite humanity and not divide people. Religion that is coupled with violence should not be supported at all.
The Kashmir Files pricked the conscious of India. Hundreds of years later, once again Kashmiri Hindus became refugees in their own land. Nobody took any action. Even the government of the day looked the other way instead of giving justice to the Kashmiri Hindus.
It is important that people should know the truth. The movie has united Indians in the UK.
Lord Rami Ranger, the Chairman of the British Sikh Association asks Khalistanis sitting in the UK, Canada to stop defaming the Sikh faith by constantly abusing Hindus.
Urges them to go fight elections in India to get a reality check instead of spreading hatred via social media. pic.twitter.com/W54ezd9GPC
— Sonam Mahajan (@AsYouNotWish) August 13, 2020
Why does support for Khalistan exist in the Western countries?
Lord Ranger: The demand for Khalistan became strong after the attack on the Golden Temple. That event shook the confidence of the Sikhs that they are safe in India. In my view, the government could have cordoned off the temple, cut off power and food and forced the militants out.
Using the Indian Army on Indians is immoral. This is the reaction we face in the West. People want to show their displeasure so that no other government attacks the sentiments of people who are loyal to the country.
The concept of Khalistan goes against the beliefs of Sikh gurus who did not proclaim a kingdom for themselves. The gurus lived and died for the uplift of India. If you see how the gurus lived and died, they had a pan-India footprint.
Guru Govind Singh was born in Patna. First Sikh general, Banda Bahadur was born in Maharashtra. The five beloved ones, also called Panj Pyare, who established the brotherhood of Khalsa came from every corner of India to demonstrate the unity of the country.
Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded in Delhi not in Punjab. He sacrificed his life for Hindus and Sikhs.
What do you suggest how should India deal with the issue of Khalistan?
Lord Ranger: My suggestion would be to ignore them. Allow these people to say what they want to say. We had the Akali government for so many years. Nobody demanded a separate Sikh state.
The ones who are asking for Khalistan have do not possess a vision, have no common sense and do not have judgement either. Punjab is a landlocked region and has no sea link. How will they fly in and out of Khalistan if India does not grant them air space.
If they think that Pakistan will extend help, then they are wrong. Pakistan will only flood the region with drugs and weapons. It will use Punjab as a market for terrorism.
Pakistan is supporting the case for Khalistan only in the hope that the Sikhs will help it get Kashmir, otherwise they do not bother about the Sikhs. The Khalistanis should realise that the Sikhs have already been attacked and thrown out of Punjab earlier during the Partition of India.
If Punjab is safe, it is because India is pouring in tremendous resources for its safety and security. Khalistan may not be able to do that or withstand the might of Pakistan’s designs.