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Many Sikhs in UK don’t want to be identified as ‘Indian’

Last year, over 100 members of UK parliament, including Indian-origin ones, signed letter to statistics authority to include Sikh as a separate ethnic category in time for 2021 census

india Updated: Jul 24, 2018 15:57 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Punjabis abroad,Sikhs abroad,Punjab in Britainm
(Representational photo)

A campaign group has said that the Sikh community in the United Kingdom is on the verge of having a separate ethnic identification in the country’s 2021 census after thousands rejected ‘Indian’ and chose ‘other’ as an identifier in UK’s last population count in 2011.

A series of representations and initiatives have been made by local Sikh groups in recent years to have a separate ‘Sikh’ identity box in the census forms. But the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which is responsible for the census, told Hindustan Times on Monday that no decision has been taken yet.

Population counts by ethnicity are crucial for various political, social, cultural and economic purposes, including distribution of government funds. Over 80,000 British Sikhs reportedly used ‘other’ in the 2011 census to identify their ethnicity, and mentioned ‘Sikh’ on the forms, instead of ticking the box that said ‘Indian’.

Campaign group Sikh Federation (UK) said 112 gurdwaras, with a membership of over 1 lakh people from across the UK, have told the ONS that they are in favour of the separate Sikh box which, it claimed, means “the ONS will certainly recommend to the cabinet office that a Sikh ethnic tick box must be included in the Census White Paper-2018”.

When contacted, a spokesperson for the ONS said: “No decision has been made on the content of the 2021 census. Our recommendations for the 2021 census will be included in a government White Paper later this year”.

After receiving requests for 55 new ethnic identifiers for the 2021 census, ONS reduced the number being considered to four: Jewish, Roman, Sikh and Somali. A final decision, to be made later this year, has the potential of adding to the fractious relations between some sections of overseas Sikhs and India.

In September 2017, over 100 MPs, including Preet Kaur Gill (Labour), chair of the all-party parliamentary party for British Sikhs, supported the demand for a separate identifier for Sikhs in the 2021 census.

Bhai Amrik Singh of the Sikh Federation (UK) said: “The ONS cannot overlook the huge protest by over 83,000 Sikhs in the Census 2011 who rejected all existing options and wrote Sikh…We have the support of at least 250 MPs from across the political spectrum for our demand.”

He added that the ONS had taken legal advice and “knew it could not ignore the legal recognition of Sikhs” as an ethnic group. “The final ONS test was one of public acceptability and our main religious institutions have spoken with one voice with 100% backing for a separate Sikh ethnic tick box,” he added.

“I welcome the step. We in India are also demanding constitutional amendment and seeking separate identity for Sikhs,” said Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) president Gobind Singh Longowal.

Sikh historian Prithipal Singh Kapur said: “It’s a good beginning. From the days of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, British considered Sikhs as a separate identity. But diplomatically, England is with the Indian government as far as Sikhs living in India are concerned.”

First Published: Jul 24, 2018 15:53 IST