For God's Sake, Can't My Children Be Taught Their Own Religion? A Furious Mother on How Her Children Have Been Bombarded with Teaching about Islam, Sikhism and Hinduism but Nothing about Their Own Culture

Article excerpt

Byline: JILL PARKIN

WHAT a horrifying story: a young Sikh woman in an arranged marriage, turned into a slave by her mother-in-law, who forced her to wash the lavatory with her hands, permitted her only one phone call a week, and wouldn't even give her a key to their shared home.

And where did this shameful subjugation take place? In some remote Indian village, perhaps? No, in Ilford, Essex.

Yesterday, as Dalbir Kaur Bhakar was ordered to pay her 26-year- old daughter-in-law [pounds sterling]35,000 for the misery and humiliation she had inflicted on her, details of the case were laid bare for all to see.

But what I want to know is, will the story make the school curriculum? That may seem a strange question. But let me explain.

I have three children aged between ten and 14.

Throughout their school careers their religious education lessons have relentlessly focused on Islam, Sikhism and Hinduism.

They come home with letters announcing yet another school trip to a temple or a mosque, with homework on the five pillars of Islam, Hindu rites of passage and the Sikh holy scripture.

For the first few years I thought this was all very enlightened: we can all benefit from learning more about other cultures.

But now, as the true nature of this religious education has become apparent, I find myself increasingly angry and resentful.

For the information my children are being given about these cultures is partial in the extreme.

Modern education is supposed to concentrate on teaching children to argue, to discern, to investigate. Religious studies should be a great forum for all that, but it doesn't happen.

What happens is uncritical force-feeding of the rituals, sacred symbols, icons, and texts of Islam, Sikhism and Hinduism, with the heavy message that they should all be respected unquestioningly.

Certainly, these are great religions, but there are parts of the cultures that go with them that deserve our contempt, not respect.

Genital mutilation and forced marriages might not be ideal fodder for primary school children, yet it is wrong for educationalists to ignore the fact that some religions have practices which are inhuman and, in our country, illegal.

Around the same time my 14-year-old daughter was learning about the importance of modesty in Islam and Sikhism, our newspapers were full of the story of Samaira Nazir, a 25-year-old young woman who was knifed to death by her brother and cousin.

Her crime? Falling in love with the wrong young man.

Of course, the 18 stab wounds that Samaira endured did not make it into my daughter's classroom debates: the girls were too busy learning about kachera - the Sikh shorts worn to symbolise pure living.

Yet police estimate that 12 young women a year are murdered in just such so-called honour killings in Britain alone.

And for every killing there are a thousand women living in fear for their lives. Suicide rates among young Asian women are three to four times the average, showing the pressure many are under.

Yet the Government - the same Government that runs our schools - last month rejected the idea of legislation to outlaw forced marriage, because it would be seen as applying only to certain minorities.

The result? These atrocities are going on today in our country, and all we are doing about it in schools is paying lip service to the cultures that carry them out.

This blinkered concentration on Islam, Sikhism and Hinduism has had another major effect on our children's education. In my own daughters' case, it has meant the virtual omission of the Judaeo-Christian tradition that has been the basis of British culture for centuries. …