First mooted and abandoned over a decade ago, the plan to raise a Sikh regiment in the British army was revived before the 2015 election, considered by the chief of army staff, and has again been dropped, official sources told Hindustan Times.
The demand for a Sikh regiment to honour the contribution of Sikh soldiers in the two world wars was raised by some organisations at the recent Vaisakhi celebrations in London, but defence secretary Michael Fallon is “a little wary” of military units based on religion.
A ministry of defence spokesperson said, “The army is considering a range of options to better recognise the historical contribution of Sikh soldiers, whilst ensuring that we continue to adhere to current anti-discrimination legislation.”
In 2007, the proposal was abandoned after the Commission for Racial Equality argued that a separate Sikh regiment would be divisive and amount to ‘segregation’. But it was revived by former armed forces minister Mark Francois in February 2015.
During a debate in the House of Commons on diversity in Britain’s armed forces, Francois said several MPs had raised the issue, and added: “We have passed the proposal on to the Chief of the General Staff, who is now considering the issue, and we are awaiting the CGS’s (chief of general staff) comments. The idea might well have merit”.
Sikh groups were surprised at the proposal’s pre-election revival, but had welcomed it. There are nearly 160 Sikhs in Britain’s armed forces. A British Armed Forces Sikh Association was formed in 2014.
The spokesperson added: “We have an extensive programme of engagement activity with the Sikh community, including an annual Saragarhi Day celebration. Much of this engagement activity is conducted in conjunction with the British Armed Forces Sikh Association, a thriving network for our serving Sikh personnel.”
“We are developing ways to better engage with and recruit more successfully from the Sikh community.”
Rami Ranger, president of the British Sikh Association, said last week: “We have been advocating for years to resurrect a Sikh regiment within the British army to keep alive the bravery of those who defended the Empire with their lives.”