image caption: Gurmukh Singh

Sikh Identity at State Events Following Death of Queen Elizabeth II:

  • - Sikhs could have been more visible and better represented.

  • - Media and UK establishment bias against Sikh identity over the decades.

The mourning period following the death of Queen Elizabeth II ended on Monday 19 September. The impression gained is that Sikh identity could have been more visible in the queues and better represented at invited functions.

Some years ago, an Australian Sikh contacted me through the Sikh Missionary Society UK. He had been watching the War Remembrance service at the Cenotaph in London on TV and complained that Sikhs were not represented. He was disappointed in view of over 200 years of Anglo-Sikh relations and the role of the Sikhs in the two World Wars. He urged that Sikh British should take up such issues with the government. That sabat-surat Sikhs should be seen prominently at state ceremonies. He felt that UK Sikhs seemed to be lax about promoting Sikh identity despite their numbers.

On rechecking a TV recording of the ceremony, I found that he had missed a Sikh representative who was there, albeit, hardly visible. Perhaps ceremonial Sikhi bana and flowing beard would have announced Sikh presence more prominently to the media. On one occasion, when in Australia, I had been invited to accompany a Sikh group to a state ceremony where Sikh faith was represented by the local Gurdwara Giani Ji with a flowing beard and wearing elegant Sikhi bana. That was the Sikh arrangement with officials to ensure full Sikh visibility at the ceremony.

The point is that younger full identity Sikhs in bana should be regularly invited to such ceremonies to represent the Sikh faith with pride in own culture and dress. Such occasions provide opportunities to announce Sikh identity to the world and to inspire and encourage next generation Sikhs to remain sabat-surat. Full identity Sikhs should not be ignored by the media and the establishment but accepted very much as a part of British plural society and way of life. Next generation identity Sikhs with talent should be sought, trained and incentivized to work in mainstream media. They should be seen regularly at functions and on our TV screens in different roles.

Regrettably, desk-bound civil servants do hardly any research about the Sikhs, their culture and tradition. For example that Sikhs do not have any faith leader except Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Either such facts about Sikh faith are not known or conveniently ignored. Sikh representation requires continual community consultation. Both, the establishment and Sikh leaders themselves should realise that unlike Life Peers, community or faith representation is not for life by the same person.

It would be too simplistic to say that the Sikhs themselves have failed to present a united front when dealing with policy civil servants. Sikhs and other communities are no more united or have one voice than, for example, the industry, commerce and various other sectors of UK life. Much research is done to ensure balanced representation from diverse sectors of UK Plc. (I recall own working experience in international trade and related sectors.) Research by civil servants to locate community grassroots representation is equally important in a multicultural society.

UK Sikh jathebandis too should have regular contact with the Cabinet Office, Buckingham Palace and the mainstream media to ensure effective Sikh religio-cultural representation.

Gurmukh Singh OBE

Principal Civil Servant Retd (UK)