Sikh Federation is always looking for a campaigning
issue. The latest, is the inclusion of Sikhs as a
distinct ethnic group in the next census.
Predictably, Federation supporters, like Gurmukh
Singh (Sewa UK), cite the Law Lords Ruling in the
Mandla Case to justify an assertion that Sikhs are a
distinct ethnic group. We are not, and to say we are
shows a lack of understanding of the Law Lords’
findings, the meaning of ‘ethnicity’, and worse,
ignorance of the teachings of the Sikh Gurus.
The initial meeting to
fight the Mandla case, with Seva Singh Mandla and
the barrister Harjit Singh, took place in my house.
Harjit Singh explained that the then Commission for
Racial Equality wanted to protect the right of
Gurinder Mandla to wear a turban in school. They
wanted me to help them prove that Sikhs were a
distinct race. I explained that to call Sikhs a
race, would be going against Sikh teachings.
Our Gurus taught that
all humans are of the same one race, and that man
made divisions based on caste or race are divisive
and false. I advised that protection under the
category of ethnicity would be a better option.
Ethnicity simply recognises the reality that people
living in particular parts of the world can share
common characteristics such as language, culture,
and religion and a generally common diet, as well as
a common propensity to certain diseases and
comparative resistance to others. My argument was
accepted and I then helped set out the case for
protection of Sikhs on the grounds, that most Sikhs
then in the UK were born in Punjab, had a common
culture, wore the symbols of a distinct faith as
well as sharing similar genetic characteristics.
I was asked to be the
expert Sikh witness in the case and spent a day and
a half being rigorously cross-examined in court. In
the end, the case went all the way to the House of
Lords where we eventually won. To understand the
limited significance of the ruling, it is helpful to
think of a dirty big box marked ‘ethnicity’. The Law
Lords ruled that SOLELY for the purpose of
protection under the 1976 race relations act, Sikhs
could fit into that box, Nothing more, nothing less.
It is dishonest to say
the Law Lords stated Sikhs were an ethnic group per
se. The Law Lords, who I met at the time, were a
clever lot, but it was not in their gift to alter
geography and nature, or the social environment in
which a community has its roots. Nor can the
much-boasted signatures of 100 MPs make any
Harjinder Singh who
now lives abroad, is a good practicing Sikh. If he
lived in this country, he would be protected under
the 1976 Race relations Act. As far as propensity,
or comparative immunity to disease and illness goes,
he remains an ethnic European. Most Sikhs in the UK
are in the true meaning of ethnicity, ethnic
Punjabis, and as such, have a greater propensity to
diabetes and heart and liver disease. The Law Lords
cannot change a person’s DNA.
Nor can they alter the
Gurus’ teachings. This is what those obsessed with
ethnic monitoring are effectively trying to do by
extrapolating the Law Lords clearly limited ruling,
to arrogantly pronounce the falsehood that Sikhs
everywhere belong to a distinct ethnic group. Living
in Europe, Harjinder Singh is a Sikh with European
ethnicity. Ethnicity is not a matter of personal
monitoring either practical or necessary?
The Sikh Federation
maintain that having an option to write Sikh in the
ethnic category will somehow give Sikhs a greater
share of goods and services. Really? There is no
evidence of ethnic monitoring being used to benefit
any distinct community in the UK. Muslims and Jews,
on the other hand, do well enough without it. As a
former Labour Minister put it, 'it’s the wheel that
squeaks that gets the oil.’
Negative effect on
Even if ethnic
monitoring of Sikhs were a practical proposition,
some Sikhs would probably declare their ethnicity as
Indian, resulting in under-counting.
More seriously, in
employment, ethnic monitoring would worsen the
position of practicing Sikhs. Much of existing
discrimination against Sikhs is on the basis of
visible appearance. Monitoring of ‘ethnic Sikhs’
could mask and give legitimacy to discrimination
towards turban wearing Sikhs. For example, a large
organisation like the BBC might pass the ethnic
quota test with few if any practising Sikhs. The
irony is that the Mandla case was fought to protect
our right to wear the symbols of our faith.
Some Sikhs naively
believe that calling ourselves an ethnic group
(which we are not) will strengthen the case for
Khalistan, an emotionally attractive homeland for
Sikhs. Forgetting the political impediments, there
are two reasons why talk of Khalistan is nothing
more than a campaigning slogan:
Absence of a contiguous area, in Punjab
where Sikhs will always be in a majority.
A religious State, on the lines of Israel
or Pakistan, where Sikhs have more rights than those
of other faiths, would be totally against the clear
teachings of our Gurus.
Talking of Khalistan
is an understandable way of vocalising our anger
over the genocide in 1984; it is an excellent
rallying call for generating unthinking emotional
following and funding by groups like the Sikh
Federation, but as a practicable or desirable
proposition, it is a complete nonstarter.