image caption: Gurmukh Singh

Workplace Discrimination Against Sikhs

  • Yorkshire County Cricket Club case is also a reminder that the UK Establishment is blind to institutional racism against Sikhs

A journalist wrote: Yorkshire cricket is in disgrace but the fight to tackle workplace racism is nationwide. Indeed, workplace racism exposed by Azeem Rafiq, a 30-year-old former professional cricketer, is deep-rooted and nationwide. British Sikhs too have suffered over the decades.

Since 1960, I have been a keen observer of the workplace as well as institutional racism against Sikhs at different levels. Yet, it is a mistake to say that discrimination is against identity Sikhs only. Targeted communities can be clean shaven and even of white complexion like the Jews and some European communities. Discrimination is against different cultures and life styles, not just colour, dress or looks. That is not to say that full identity Sikhs do not suffer more discrimination than clean shaven Sikhs. They do but so do all Sikhs as a community with common culture and language.

There can be different reasons for social and institutional racism. For example, the institutional racism shown by the Office for National Statistics against the Sikhs by refusing to recognize them as a distinct global community is probably based on reasons to do with politics, external pressures and trade with India. In fact, quite amazingly, trade with India was given by someone as one of the reasons why a SIKH tick box should not be allocated to the Sikhs in Census 2021. Regrettably, this longer-term damage to Sikh interests was self-inflicted by some Sikhs themselves. But then there are many other examples in Sikh history, when short-sighted Sikhs placed in positions of influence, have scored own community goals and done lasting damage to Panthic organisation and political influence. As a result, next generations have suffered. Some have even move away from the community in disappointment.

It is known that the word SIKH is not included in government reports about discrimination because Sikhs are not regarded as a distinct socio-political entity but just a religion. Thus, for example, most Sikhs from India are misled to tick Indian tick box thereby making nonsense of the reasons for ethnic count and monitoring to secure a level playing field for all British communities.

As the Yorkshire Cricket Club investigation has shown, workplace prejudice is deep rooted. It is much more than banter, meaning playful friendly exchange of teasing remarks amongst friends. Those who make racist comments exhibit deeply held belief that other cultures are inferior to the majority white British. That is my personal experience and observation over 34 years working from factory floor to European forums. Some who confessed that they were racists, became friends and would then justify their racism by saying: But you are different. You are OK! Otherwise, they continue with their conscious bias against other cultures. However, some white bosses with subconscious bias can do even more damage in subtle ways and the Yorkshire Cricket Club case has brought this out in most remarkable ways.

Damage will continue to be done if the UK establishment refuses to understand and address the underlying reasons for them and us attitudes. British Sikhs have suffered long and silently as law abiding citizens. However, open institutional racism, especially in the government and in political party offices, must not be allowed to go unchallenged.

Gurmukh Singh OBE

Principal Civil Servant Retd