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Glass ceiling broken, says UK’s first turban-wearing Sikh MP

Dhesi said his election was also about being respected and embraced by his fellow countrymen and women, including within the highest echelons of the establishment.

world Updated: Jul 19, 2017 23:41 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
turban-wearing Sikh MP,Britain’s Parliament,Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi
Labour’s Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi was elected from Slough, where he previously served as mayor.(Twitter)

Delighted to be the first turban-wearing Sikh MP in Britain’s Parliament, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, in his maiden speech in the House of Commons on Tuesday, said that a glass ceiling has been broken, expressing hope that more MPs like him are elected in future.

Labour’s Dhesi was elected from Slough, where he previously served as mayor. There have been Sikh MPs, but the 38-year-old’s election has been hailed as an example of growing participation of minority communities in Britain’s politics.

Participating in a debate on drugs policy, Dhesi, whose family has roots in Jalandhar district, recalled his father working in a car factory and his mother at a local petrol pump: “Little could they have imagined that their son—the son of immigrants—would go on to serve as the town’s MP.”

“Slough is a town of firsts. It elected the UK’s first ever black lady mayor and now, more than three decades later, it has elected the first ever turbaned Sikh to the British Parliament—indeed, I believe, the first ever to be elected to any European Parliament.

“A glass ceiling has truly been broken. I sincerely hope that many more like me will follow in the years and decades to come. The enormity of what has been collectively achieved has not escaped me. The hand of history—the huge excitement, anticipation and sheer expectations—weigh heavily on my shoulders,” he said.

As MPs applauded his speech, the UK-born and raised Dhesi recalled how he was bullied at school for looking different. But, he said, his election was also about being respected and embraced by his fellow countrymen and women, including within the highest echelons of the establishment.

“What could demonstrate greater embrace than being elected to serve and sit on these green benches in this august House in the mother of all Parliaments? When I served as mayor in 2011, integration was my mayoral theme…for those of us who were born and brought up in Britain, are British nationals, we should also be proud to be British,” he said.

However, Dhesi also noted that besides human rights abuses in the world, even acceptability remained a problem — for example, in neighbouring France.

He said it was “extremely disappointing and incredibly ironic” that more than 80,000 turbaned Sikh soldiers died to liberate the very country where their descendants cannot even have their ID photos taken without having to remove their turbans, and cannot even send their children to most state schools without removing their turbans.

“This same warped interpretation of secularism precludes Muslims from wearing their hijabs and niqabs, Jews from wearing their skull caps and Christians from wearing their crosses. Acceptability is still a problem in advanced nations, such as our close ally the United States, where several Sikhs have been shot dead because of mistaken identity—mistaken for being terrorists,” he added.

Calling Slough the Silicon Valley of England, Dhesi said the constituency had a vibrant and diverse community, with “Kashmiris living harmoniously side by side with Punjabis” and those with Irish, Polish and African-Caribbean ancestry.

Besides Dhesi, another landmark in the June 8 poll was the election of Preet Kaur Gill, the first Sikh woman MP, from Edgbaston. Gill, who also has roots in Jalandhar, has also been elected to serve as member of the home affairs select committee chaired by senior Labour leader Yvette Cooper.

First Published: Jul 19, 2017 20:33 IST