MPs were shocked today to learn of the sudden death of Dr Ashok Kumar MP. I didn't really know him, and consequently was surprised - pleasantly surprised - to see this email from the BHA paying tribute to his brave work on humanist issues.
BHA mourns Dr Ashok Kumar MP (1956-2010), politician and distinguished supporter of Humanism
The British Humanist Association (BHA) has expressed its sorrow at the death of its Distinguished Supporter, Dr Ashok Kumar MP. Ashok Kumar was a great supporter of the BHA, a committed and active member of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, and a self-described life-long “liberal humanist”.
Andrew Copson, BHA Chief Executive, said, ‘Ashok was a long-standing supporter of Humanism and often went out of his way to get involved in and further humanist issues in Parliament. Ashok was especially interested in education, and was opposed to the divisive and discriminatory “faith schools” system, preferring inclusive schools and objective religious education, not religious instruction. In fact, Ashok spoke of the dangers of segregation and religious indoctrination consistently over the last decade, and in almost every Education Bill.’
‘Ashok also took the lead in Parliament in campaigning for a national holiday on the anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, in honour of one of the fathers of modern science and one of Britain's greatest scientific minds. The loss of Ashok’s commitment, good humour and humanist outlook will felt by many in and outside of Parliament.’
Speaking in a House of Commons debate called in 2006 by his fellow humanist MP, Dr Evan Harris MP, he commented on the failure of Alan Johnson to ensure that faith schools would take pupils of other backgrounds:
‘I am against segregation, and I think that in his great spirited way the Secretary of State was trying to break down barriers and avoid future segregation. For that he was slapped down by the whole religious lobby. I find that very sad, because the Secretary of State was thinking, as we say in new Labour, for the long term—not tomorrow or the day after but perhaps 15 or 20 years' time. We do not want groups of people in society who believe that one religion is superior to another—a generation in which some believe that the only way is jihad and others believe it is Khalistan, and in which there are also Hindu fundamentalists. By the way, I am of Hindu and Sikh descent, and I am very happy to be so, although I am a non-believer. I was raised in both of those beliefs and went to a state school. I had no problem with learning about all faiths.’