Where Unity Is Strength
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(religion is already adequately recorded in the census)

Peers debated the contents of draft Census (England and Wales) Order 2020 in the Lords earlier this week. The flawed Sikh ‘ethnic’ tick box argument was raised following a debate in the Commons last week in which Labour party politicians briefed by the Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) cited questionable statistics.

Our Director, Lord Singh who has been a prominent opponent of the SFUK’s tick box campaign told peers about the misunderstanding of the Mandla case from the 1980’s which SFUK rely upon and for which he was expert witness.

He said, ‘The law then protected ethnicity, but not religion, against discrimination. The Law Lords ruled that as most Sikhs in the UK then were born in Punjab and had Punjabi ethnicity, Sikhs were also entitled to protection. The criteria of birth and origin would not be met today, as most Sikhs are born in the UK, nor is such a convoluted protection necessary. The Equality Act 2010 gives full protection to religion.’

He went on, ‘The politically motivated federation falsely claims mass support, with questionable statistics. The ethnicity argument was discussed at the large gurdwara in Hounslow, in front of ONS officials, and was firmly rejected, yet the federation includes Hounslow among its supporters. Many Sikhs and people of other faiths are appalled at the way in which some politicians, anxious for votes, are willing to trample on the religious sensitivities of others and accept as fact the absurdities of those who shout the loudest. I urge that we look to what the different religious groups actually do for the well-being of their followers and wider society.’

Supporting Lord Singh’s position on the issue, Former Bishop of Oxford and crossbench peer Lord Harries of Pentregarth, said: ‘I believe that ​Sikhism is a great and very distinguished world religion. I do not think there should be any blurring of that fact and I worry that putting this in the ethnic minority category will somehow diminish what Sikhism has to offer as a world religion.’

Once the Order has been approved, Census Regulations will be laid before Parliament. According to the House of Commons Library, ‘the ONS aims to publish an initial set of census reports one year after it has taken place, and to make all outputs available within two years.’

We hope the British Sikh community can now move on from this debate and focus on the uplifting teachings of our global world religion, and all it has to offer today’s fractured society.

It is no secret our relationship with the Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) has been difficult over the years, especially considering our opposition to their ‘ethnic’ tick box campaign. The SFUK has previously described our Director as ‘an 85-year old dinosaur’,[i] brought the Sikh community into disrepute with a ‘karma’ tweet following the death of Sir Jeremy Heywood,[ii] and falsely claimed that a gurdwara which rejected their ‘ethnic’ tick box argument, had written in support of the APPG’s (their) campaign.[iii]

We point to another issue which requires urgent investigation. In response to evidence we submitted to the Scottish government[iv] the APPG on UK Sikhs issued a statement, which was also later published by the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, in which they write:

‘Some MPs may have received a briefing last week titled “Why Sikhs should not have a Sikh ethnic tick box and are not a distinct ethnic group” from the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) headed by cross-bencher Lord Singh. Disappointingly the NSO briefing is biased, misleading and includes matters that are totally irrelevant to the issue at hand.

The NSO and its head have shockingly described MPs on all sides backing the Sikh community in this campaign as “naïve” and “bewildered”. This sort of language is hugely discourteous to hundreds of elected MPs who have had letters from constituents in support of this campaign and in many cases discussed this issue locally at Gurdwaras on many occasions and with individual Sikh constituents.’

The SFUK issued a press release on 19 February 2020, titled: ‘Conservative MPs issue briefing on Sikh ethnic tick box and rebuke biased and misleading note from Network of Sikh Organisations’, (attaching the APPG statement).

Contrary to what is written, we did not use the word ‘bewildered’ so it’s odd that this has been included. However, more significantly still, the introduction to the APPG document appears to have been agreed in principle with three newly elected Conservative MPs.

We wrote to all three MPs, when we first heard about the briefing and the related Indian press coverage which cited them,[v] when the latter was publicised alongside their images on Twitter by the SFUK on 16 February 2020. We indicated they appear to be a signatory to, or at the very least in agreement with the contents of the document whose introduction we have cited above.

We asked them if they were aware of the document and or the related Indian press coverage.

One of the three got back to us and said they were not aware they had signed anything, nor had they read the coverage, which was published in Punjabi in the Daily Ajit publication in any case (and would have required translation) – adding:

‘I’m happy to consult my constituents on this issue rather than take a particular view myself.’

This response not only indicates an open mind on the census issue, but makes it clear they are not party to the SFUK/APPG position on the census.

We believe it is difficult in the circumstances, to then imagine the same MP support a briefing which attacks our charity and is egregiously partisan.

We have written to Preet Gill MP the Chair of the APPG, and the SFUK (the APPG secretariat) to ask them to confirm as a matter of urgency if the MPs whose names have been included at the bottom of the briefing published by the Scottish government provided their express authority to do so.

We believe the Sikh community requires an explanation and will be reporting the matter to the Conservative party to investigate further. At the time of writing we are yet to hear back from either Preet Gill MP or the SFUK, but we are willing to publish their response if we receive it.

[Ends]

[i] https://twitter.com/SikhMessenger/status/1234886709529190403

[ii] https://twitter.com/SikhMessenger/status/1234885755580952576

[iii] http://nsouk.co.uk/why-we-need-the-appg-for-british-sikhs-to-be-transparent-with-their-ethnicity-campaign/

[iv] https://www.parliament.scot/S5_European/General%20Documents/20200131_NetworkOfSikhOrgs.pdf

[v] https://twitter.com/SikhFedUK?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On 23 July 2018 the APPG for British Sikhs, which is run by the Sikh Federation UK, announced they had written to 250 gurdwaras asking them if they supported their campaign for a separate Sikh ethnic tick box for the 2021 census. They say they received just over one hundred responses, confirming: ‘in a remarkable show of unity all 112 Gurdwaras, that include the largest Gurdwaras in the UK, have indicated they are in favour of a separate Sikh ethnic tick box.’

The figure of 112 was reported in the Times and has been something referred to in a number of articles in the mainstream media. We now have concerns about whether or not this number is accurate. A tweet by @SikhFedUK on 23 August 2018 (above) suggested Hounslow gurdwara (Alice Way) were one of the 112 that wrote to the APPG for British Sikhs in support of the ethnic tick box.

We asked Hounslow gurdwara if this was the case or not. The Joint General Secretary told us: ‘I was surprised to hear that allegedly, Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha Hounslow had changed its position on Sikhi not being an ethnic group. Having checked with the President and the General Secretary today (both copied on this email), I confirm that we stand with the NSO and have not changed our position. We are of the view Sikhi is a religion made up of diverse ethnicity which cannot be classed as a single ethnic group.’

We have asked the Sikh Federation UK for comment, but they haven’t yet responded.

Interestingly, when Dr Jagbir Jhutti-Johal from the University of Birmingham raised legitimate questions in an article titled ‘Sikh ethnic tick box in the 2021 Census and a question about research and methodology’, she was bombarded with vitriolic tweets, some deliberately tagged into her employers. Given what we now know about Hounslow, should the secretariat to the APPG for British Sikhs not urgently release the list of 112 gurdwaras, briefing supplied and responses received?

Background: Iain Bell Deputy National Statistician for Population and Public Policy at the Office for National Statistics (ONS) had been invited to the gurdwara over the weekend to discuss concerns felt by the committee over attempts to categorise the Sikh community as an ethnic group. This was as a private meeting to be held with a few members of the committee. An invitation had also been extended to Lord Singh of Wimbledon. As he was not a member of the committee, he first obtained clearance from Iain Bell that it would be OK for him to attend.

On the day of the event a number of people from The Sikh Federation (SFUK) turned up uninvited at the gurdwara demanding to be heard. Ian Bell felt he’d already heard the SFUK’s views on a number of occasions, and wanted to hear the views of other parts of the Sikh community. The President of Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha Hounslow generously allowed in individuals from the SFUK to join the meeting.

Iain Bell proceeded in giving a short presentation about the census and its importance. The meeting was then opened for general discussion. In an abuse of hospitality, the SFUK began recording proceedings and taking over the meeting, stating Sikhs were an ethnic group and must be monitored as such. Lord Singh of Wimbledon explained that the House of Lords in 1983 had allowed for Sikhs to be counted as an ethnic group solely for protection under the 1976 Race Relations Act. This this was done because there was then no protection against religious discrimination, but the situation today was different because all religions are protected by legislation. He explained that Sikhism was a world religion, which should not be confined to those of Punjabi ethnicity.

Iain Bell confirmed that there was no substantial under-recording of Sikhs in the response to the question on religion. In response to a question on the possible misuse of data, he also confirmed that that there were rigid checks in place to prevent this.

Lord Singh, emphasised that all Sikh organisations should use their influence to get the fullest possible response to the religious question. He reminded the meeting that at the time of the 2011 census some Sikhs had ill advisedly campaigned against identifying Sikhism by Sikhs as a religion.

In reply to a question Iain Bell of the ONS explained the importance of ethnicity in providing appropriate medical and other services to those from different parts of the world. Members of the Hounslow gurdwara management committee were unanimous in their view that Sikhs were members of a world religion that was not limited by constraints of ethnicity and people could be Sikhs from different ethnic backgrounds. Some of the arguments advanced by SFUK, varying between the questionable and ludicrous are given below:

  • One gentleman stated that he had seen figures that gave the Sikh population in Hounslow as 25% and he felt it should be higher. The gurdwara president who explained that the Sikhs formed no more than 10 per cent of the population of Hounslow corrected him. (We have since corroborated this with official ONS figures.)
  • Another argued that ethnic monitoring was necessary to protect Sikhs against discrimination, but failed to explain where such discrimination was taking place.
  • Another argued that the Sikhs should be given a favoured status because of the contribution Sikhs had made to Britain over the years.

Some of the arguments used by those who felt Sikhs should be recorded as a religion only are given below:

  • Ethnicity is linked to genetic makeup and that trying to tie religion to ethnicity leads to absurdities. A Committee member asked the SFUK, does a person’s ethnicity embody DNA change if he or she converts to Sikhism? This was met with silence from the SFUK representatives.
  • The Sikh Gurus have always taught against dividing people into different groups and races, emphasising we are all members of the same one human race.
  • Guru Nanak travelled the length and breadth of India and to different countries to emphasize the universality of Sikh teachings. People from any part of the world can become Sikhs.
  • No evidence had been produced to show that Sikhs would gain in any material way by being classified as an ethnic group, but even if there were, it would be wrong to try and gain material benefits by compromising Sikh teachings.
  • Lord Singh reminded the meeting that the Mandla case in the early eighties was fought to protect the rights of a Sikh schoolboy to wear Sikh religious symbols. He explained that ethnic monitoring could prevent such protection. He gave the example of a large organisation like the BBC being shown to have the right number of ethnic Sikhs, masking possible discrimination against those that wear Sikh symbols.
  • Lord Singh said there was considerable discrimination against Sikhs in the provision of services by the government and various government bodies. Communities like Jews and Muslims were being given additional resources, not as a result of ethnic monitoring, but because of effective lobbying, (neither community is categorised as an ethnic group by the census). Today, hate crimes against Sikhs are still being recorded under the ‘Islamophobic hate crime’ category by forces like the MET and other agencies. Ethnic monitoring cannot help remove this blatant discrimination.

In response to calls from SFUK members to arrange more meetings, Iain Bell said that he would like to reflect on what he’d heard, and if whether or not an effective case had been made for a Sikh ethnic tick box or not. Members of the gurdwara committee made clear they saw no sense and only confusion in a separate Sikh ethnic tick box. Bell confirmed the ONS had received legal threats from certain sections of the Sikh community if the ‘ethnic Sikh tick box’ wasn’t included in the 2021 census.

The meeting concluded with the President Gurmit Singh Hanzara and all present thanking Iain Bell of the ONS for coming to Hounslow from South Wales on a Saturday, and wishing him by a comfortable journey back home.

Satvinder Singh Joint General Secretary at Hounslow gurdwara said:  ‘Gurdwara, Sri Guru Singh Sabha Hounslow (SGSS) held a successful meeting on 16 December 2017 with the Office of National Statistics (ONS). The object of the meeting was for SGSS Managment to understand the overall situation and provide its view, which was in the main generated via a previous internal meeting.’

He went on: ‘In view of continued progress on the issue of ‘authenticity’, the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) not only kindly accepted our invitation to attend but also helped immensely by providing structure and input to the event. We are most thankful to Lord Indarjit Singh and the NSO for their contribution and assistance.’

Q&A SIKHS AND ETHNICITY

October 26th, 2017 | Posted by Singh in Current Issues - (0 Comments)

Protest in London following Court of Appeal decision in Mandla v Dowell Lee

Q: What is ethnicity and why is it important?

A: Ethnicity refers to shared hereditary characteristics like environment, culture, religion, diet etc. Some of these factors are reflected in our DNA and the degree to which people from different cultures in different parts of the world are affected by certain diseases and ailments. For example, people from the West Indies are more prone to sickle cell anaemia. People from Punjab are more likely to suffer from heart and liver disease than people in the West.

Identifying ethnicity is particularly helpful in the planning of medical services to meet the needs of immigrants from different parts of the world.

Q: What is the link between ethnicity and religion?

A: Religion is considered relevant to ethnicity because those sharing a religion in a particular part of the world, often share a common diet and lifestyle.

Q: What was the Mandla Case and why is it sometimes mentioned in Sikh discussions on ethnicity.

A: The Mandla Case was fought in 1982. It concerned a Sikh schoolboy Gurinder Singh Mandla who was being denied entry to a school wearing a turban on the grounds that it was against the school rules. The Head agreed that it was religious discrimination but not against the law. At the time there was no law against religious discrimination.

Q: The 1976 Race Relations Act protected people against discrimination on the grounds of race, nationality and ethnic origin, but not against discrimination on the grounds of religion.

A: The then Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) wanted to try to prove that Sikhs were a race. In a meeting in my house with representatives of Bindman and Partners (solicitors for the CRE), the Barrister Harjit Singh and myself, I advised against the use of race as the concept of different races was against Sikh teachings, which emphasise we are all members of one human race. Instead we agreed to go for the less rigid concept ethnicity, on the grounds that most Sikhs in the UK at the time came were born in the Punjab, spoke Punjabi as their first language, shared Punjabi culture and common diet.

The case went up to the House of Lords where the Judges ruled that for the purpose of protection against discrimination, we could be considered an ethnic group.

Q: Does this mean that Sikhs are a distinct ethnic Group?

A:  No. It simply means that Sikhs from any part of the world, including converts of any ethnicity, are entitled to protection against discrimination while in the UK as if they were a distinct ethnic group. We still retain the ethnicity with which we were born. Our DNA and susceptibility or relative immunity to some diseases cannot be changed by legislation.

Q: Are there any advantages in writing ‘Sikh’ in the ethnic tick box?

A: It is claimed that monitoring will result in improved opportunities in employment and in the provision of services to the Sikh community. In reality, ethnic monitoring can only provide a broad snapshot of relative disadvantage. There is no evidence of any community actually benefitting from ethnic monitoring. On the other hand there is clear evidence of Jews and Muslims using political lobbying to enhance their position.

Q: Are there any disadvantages in writing ‘Sikh’ in the ethnic tick box.

A: Yes. Firstly, If a large employer, like the BBC were monitored to see if they were employing an acceptable quota of Sikhs, it might be shown that they were employing an acceptable number of ‘supposed ethnic Sikhs’. It would not reveal any discrimination against visible identity Sikhs. It should be remembered that the Mandla Case was fought to protect Sikh identity. Practicing Sikhs and non-practicing Sikhs would be seen as one and the same.

Q: Shouldn’t non-practicing Sikhs be protected by law.

A: Of course. As Sikhs we should be committed to protecting all people against discrimination, religious or otherwise. However, in reality, Sikhs without a visible identity, suffer no more discrimination than say, Hindus and Muslims. We should not compromise the Gurus’s teachings to give additional protection to those not committed to Sikh teachings.

Q: Why do you feel strongly against Sikhs calling themselves an ethnic group.

A: In the 60s I saw a Daily Telegraph crossword with a clue-4 letters; a Punjabi Hindu, The answer the next day was ‘Sikh’. In schools nothing was known about Sikh teachings and we were described as martial race or tribe. Hindu leaders insisted that Sikhs were simply a sub-set of Hindus.

Some of us worked hard to show that the uplifting teachings of our Gurus constituted a distinct religion that in its tolerance and respect for different beliefs had much to offer today’s world. Through broadcasts and the media, in interfaith meetings and in lectures across the world, including the Vatican, and in discussions on the school curriculum, we managed to get Sikhism recognised as one of the six major religions of the world.

Sikhs in the UK, Canada and many parts of the world are competing successfully without ethnic monitoring. It is sad to see some people, for questionable motives trying to reduce us to some sort of ethnic tribe to be monitored and counted like some sort of endangered species.

Sikhs should focus on trying to ensure that all Sikhs enter ‘Sikh’ in the religious tick box with pride in our Guru given identity.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon

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