Society U.K. (Regd)
Featherstone Road. Southall, Middx, U.K. UB2 5AA
+44 020 8574 1902
+44 020 8574 1912
Charity No: 262404
Council UK & Sikh Issues
Sikh Council UK &
Due to the longstanding need felt by British Sikhs, the setting up
of the Sikh Council UK has been widely welcomed. The Council has
gained rapid recognition in government circles and is settling down
to address the most important challenges we face today.
This is perhaps the right time to remind ourselves what the main
issues and challenges are.
Internal divisions centred around personalities have been a major
setback for Sikh unity and progress of Sikh issues. Effective
communication at local and national levels in English has been the
other difficulty. Without balanced presentation of Sikh problems to
the government and departments in the language of the British
establishment, Sikh jathebandis are unable to influence government
In the past, some ambitious individuals have used the language
difficulty to pursue own agendas. The influence they have on Sikh
affairs has been far in excess of their knowledge of Sikh tradition
or actual support at grassroots level. For example, the French Sikh
turban case could have been handled much more openly and effectively
from the start. However, personal ambition rather than knowledge of
Sikh religious significance of dastaar, took over. In an attempt to
seek exemption from French restrictions, by some clever argument,
Sikh dastaar was presented as a “cultural” item instead of an
essential religious requirement. Regrettably, as in other such
cases, history is being re-written to gloss over such errors. In
this case, other organisations were blamed for Sikh failure.
Despite some achievements, UK and European acceptance of Sikh
identity has been incremental, and grudgingly conceded after much
lobbying, demonstrations and legal battles. Due to lack of
co-ordinated professional team-working at frontline level, progress
made on the most important issues has been limited.
At individual level Sikhs are prosperous. Next generations are doing
well in education and professions. However, despite being a sizeable
community, Sikh identity is hardly seen in public life, politics and
the Parliament. There is much ignorance about who Sikhs are. Future
Sikh generations need to be proud of the “Sikh” part of their “Sikh
British” identity to grow up as responsible citizens fully aware of
own heritage and culture. Sense of belonging to a community is an
important aspect of personal development and identity.
That sense of pride and belonging also depends on the acceptance of
the community’s identity within the larger British plural society.
That is one important goal for the Sikh Council UK.
Past achievements: Setting the record straight
Those who claim that they have been able to get results only through
personal contacts are out of touch with ground realities. Despite
exaggerated claims of individual contribution, success in the Mandla
case, for example, was due to united support by the Sangat. The case
reached the House of Lords and is regarded as a milestone
To set the record straight, I am content to quote S. Sewa Singh
Mandla. In response to a query to clarify how the case was won, he
wrote on 17 May 2010:
“A couple of years ago the Sikh Police Association
London at their AGM wanted to celebrate 25th anniversary of
Mandla v Lee case and had invited me to give a talk on the case
and make a presentation, which I did. In my talk I said that
having lost the case in the lower courts I realized that this
case will affect the entire Sikh Community and as such I wanted
to involve the Community in the case. With this in mind I went
to Sant Baba Puran Singh Ji the Founder of Nishkam Sewak Jatha
Birmingham (GNNSJ) and sought His Blessing and assistance.
It was GNNSJ who prepared information packs about
Sikhism and the importance of the Turban to the Sikhs and send
them out to all Members of Parliament and other important people
to increase awareness and support. GNNSJ got support from all
communities for this cause. It was GNNSJ which took a lead in
the campaign and organized a mass rally at e Hyde Park in London
. I showed the clip of the BBC Television interview with Sant
Baba Puran Singh Ji, Bhai Sahib Norang Singh ji (the then
Chairman of GNNSJ), Mr. Mavi of (CRE) and my self and I finally
said that the case in the House of Lords was won purely with the
Blessings of Sant Baba Puran Singh Ji. Now that is the truth. I
know that it was GNNSJ who mobilised the entire community and in
fact hired 70 coaches and send them to the Gurudwaras and other
organisations who wanted to attend the rally at the Hyde Park.”
(S. Sewa Singh Mandla’s e-mail of 17 May 2010)
Yet, this collective historic achievement is being re-written with a
bias towards individual contribution to the ultimate success.
The opportunity to build on a milestone victory for Sikh unity and
identity, has been lost
The historical fact is that past achievements were due to united
effort by Sikh Sangats. There are important lessons to be learnt.
Ambitious activists with language and communication skills,
otherwise dedicated to Panthic work, tend to take personal credit
far in excess of their actual contribution. Their proximity with
departmental officials gives them own following in the community.
That is not in the community’s long term interest. Individuals
with language skills should serve jathebandis; it is not for
jathebandis to serve their personal aspirations.
Issues for the Sikh Council UK
The establishment of the Sikh Council UK gives us an opportunity to
review the most important issues which concern us as a distinct
religio-social community; the extent to which progress has been made
and the challenges which we continue to face. These would be matters
which need to be taken up by the Sikh Council and affiliated
organisations, with the UK and European governments, agencies and
authorities. Most other issues can be dealt with by Sikh
organisations and Panthic jathebandis with experience in specific
areas. Anglo-Sikh heritage, Khalsa Aid and legal representation of
Sikh issues e.g. by United Sikhs, are important activities which
promote Sikh identity, but need not be dealt with in the context of
matters discussed under the umbrella of Sikh Council UK.
With regard to Sikh expectations from the British establishment
(mainly the legislative/legal and administrative system), we would
have expected full recognition of Sikhs as a distinct community in
the British multicultural society after over 50 years of Sikh
immigration. We are the largest single distinct minority
(religio-ethnic) group in the United Kingdom, but we were not even
recognized as such until 1983 (see below). Even today, that
recognition has been less than forthcoming in areas such as
monitoring of Sikhs as a distinct community with own
religio-social identity, Sikh human rights, including religious
rights and freedoms, and equal opportunities in various fields
such as employment, education and representation at various levels
of local and national government.
The media, which is also a part of British establishment, plays an
important role in educating the public and changing set attitudes
towards immigrant communities. In case of the Sikhs, it has, in
fact, played quite the opposite role in creating confusion and
distrust about Sikh identity. That despite the fact that the Sikhs
are a hard working and law-abiding community least dependent on
The ignorance which security agencies continue to show about Sikh
identity in the UK and Europe is quite remarkable despite over 200
years of Anglo-Sikh relations.
Question of Sikh monitoring
Sikhs qualify under “ethnic”, “religious” or any other
classification to be counted as a distinct community. Those
who restrict Sikh counting to “religion” only, or prefer to wait for
some possible future system which describes them more correctly, do
not understand Sikh temporal-spiritual (miri-piri) tradition, or are
just living in some unreal world while the community continues to
The Race Relations Act 1976 was meant to give equal rights to all
ethnic minorities. However, the Sikhs were not protected by the Act,
because they were not considered to be an ethnic group. It took
seven years for the Sikhs to be given protection under the Race
Relations law in 1983. In that year the House of Lords (in the case
of Mandla v. Lee), ruled that the Sikhs qualified as an “ethnic”
minority, albeit, by redefining “ethnicity” to some extent.
That did not please some individuals and the opportunity to be
monitored under the current system as an ethnic minority was lost.
The unfortunate Sikh experience is that sometimes, personally held
views are passed on as representative views of the UK Sikhs. One
example in the context of the “ethnic” monitoring debate is that
Sikhs are only a “religion” and not an ethnic community as defined
by the House of Lords in the Mandla case. That is not a generally
held view about Sikhi, which is a twin track spiritual-temporal way
of life (the “miri-piri” approach).
The “ethnic” aspect is derived from an inseparable combination of
many factors, which not only include an independent religious
ideology but also, as one “people”, common heritage, history,
language and culture. All those who become Sikhs, regardless of
their previous background, automatically share these traits
according to the Law Lords. Sikhi is a way of life which is now
protected under the Race Relations legislation. Never mind what
one’s personal views may be, that is the law of this land and
Sikhs legally qualify for monitoring under any system based on
“ethnicity” or “religion” or any other distinct theo-social
community definition. Yet, there are some leading Sikh “lights”
who continue to insist that we should continue to suffer
disadvantages by not being counted and monitored unless it is on
the basis of “religion” only.
UK Sikhs hope that a change in the monitoring system in future would
give them the right to be monitored as a distinct community. Sikh
Council UK can ensure that the collective views of the Sikhs are
Government consultation preferences
Government departments prefer to consult Sikhs and, presumably,
other communities, through established personal contacts only.
Officials are usually reluctant to come to terms with changing
circumstances and to meet new faces.
It is for Sikh organisations to present a united view when
consulted by the government, departments and agencies.
Communication experts should serve organisations to present that
After the terrorist attack in America on 11th September, 2001, we
also suffered due to mistaken identity, and misleading terrorist
profiling of Sikhs by security agencies. Sikhs were attacked but the
police did not keep figures because Sikhs are not monitored under
the current system for collating statistics, despite the fact that
in law (by virtue of the Mandla case 1983) Sikhs qualified under
religious as well as ethnic categories.
Government consultation with the Sikhs has remained ineffective.
Except for one recent selection in the Lords, visible Sikh identity
is missing in the House of Commons. As a consequence, the Sikhs are
hardly able to make any prior contribution to the process of law
making to ensure that their religious identity and rights as a
distinct community, are safeguarded. There is much frustration in
the community. Either Sikhs have not been consulted before policy
decisions about future legislation, or there have been
misunderstandings that have led to a lack of protection of Sikh
religious rights. Sometimes, the Government says that it has
consulted Sikh “leaders”. We are left wondering who these Sikh
representatives are, who advise the government departments.
Immediately after 11th September, 2001, without consultation, Sikhs
were told not to wear the “kirpan. A Home Office Minister wrote to
the Sikhs that he had been advised that Sikhs could carry small
wooden or plastic “kirpans”. For practising Sikhs that was a cruel
joke! Sikhs do not know to this day who gave that advice.
Before final summing up, there are some unique features of the Sikh
way of life which should be noted. Compared with orthodox Semitic
and eastern religious ideologies, the end purpose of Sikhi is to
serve creation (as the image of the Creator) here and now. No other
reward is expected or sought in some hereafter existence. This
direct “here and now” activism - miri aspect of Sikhi -
which has claimed countless martyrdoms, is inherent in “Raj
Karega Khalsa”, “Degh, Tegh, Fateh” and “halemi raj”
ideals. These are not exclusive but inclusive concepts for the
wellbeing of all humanity.
Sikhi is more than a traditional “religion” due to its stress on
action based life for the good of all.
Over 700,000 British Sikhs make up the largest religious and
“ethnic” UK minority. In the last national census, Sikhs were given
an optional “Religion” box to tick. However, religion is NOT used
for monitoring any discrimination so that policy changes can be made
to ensure a more level playing field in future. Monitoring of Sikhs
under any current system is the first priority for the Sikh Council
UK and affiliated organisations. Most other issues relate to this
main goal which remains to be achieved.
Challenges to Sikh identity (ideological and visible) must be faced
through better education of non-Sikhs including UK and European
governments, authorities and security agencies. The French Dastaar
issue, airport Dastaar searches, ban on wearing visible Sikh
Kakaars, the Kirpaan and the Kara are the main challenges.
Fair share of visible Sikh representation in British public life is
the third priority. Again this issue is relevant to the question of
Sikh monitoring in different fields. Sikhs are not getting their
fair share of senior appointments, awards and honours for community
work. (It may be that mainstream Sikh organisations are slow to send
Sikhs lack regular contacts with the mainstream national media. They
should be in the news more often, projecting a positive image. Sikhs
need effective media management at local and national levels. Only
youngish, well educated and presentable Sikhs can do this. Older
“jathedar” types must understand this and nominate and promote
youngish Sikhs for such roles.
Sikh human rights area in the Indian context is a controversial but
important issue. It continues to divide UK Sikhs but it must be
faced, albeit, with presentational caution to ensure that British
Sikhs are seen to be raising just concerns on humanitarian grounds.
Like all UK citizens they have every right to do that through the
Sikh Council UK and through the British government.
As mentioned at the outset, Sikh heritage including Anglo-Sikh
heritage aspect, and global Sikhi seva in the field, are important
for promoting Sikh identity but would be best left to voluntary
organisations. Interpretation of Gurbani in the context of 21st
Century issues is an ongoing need. Research by panels of UK Sikh
scholars on some of these issues can be supported by organisations
like the Sikh Missionary Society UK.
Ongoing discussion of priority issues and challenges which concern
British Sikhs and the Sikh Council UK, is a learning process.
Unhealthy official cronyism has been a divisive and damaging factor
in British Sikh affairs. It is hoped that any criticism does not
detract from the dedication and positive contribution of some
Diaspora Sikhs look up to British Sikhs to lead.
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