Sikhism in the United Kingdom

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Sikhism is a religion originating in the Punjab region of India and Pakistan, former territories of the British Empire. The religion was recorded as the religion of 420,196 people resident in England at the 2011 Census, along with 2,962 people in Wales,[1] 9,055 in Scotland[2] and 216 in Northern Ireland,[3] making for a total Sikh population of 432,429.[4]

Historical Population
YearPop.±%
1961 16,000—    
1971 72,000+350.0%
1981 144,000+100.0%
1991 206,000+43.1%
2001 340,810+65.4%
2011 432,429+26.9%
Religious Affiliation was not recorded prior to 2001.

History[edit]

Sikhs in London protesting against Indian government in 2012
Sikhs celebrating Vaisakhi in Trafalgar Square

Sikhs and Britain have a long and storied history. Decades before the last Sikh King, Duleep Singh, stepped onto British soil in the middle of the 19th century, there had been Anglo-Sikh contact as far back as the 1800s in the Punjab with his father Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Since then, even though this relationship has changed in nature many times, both communities have left a strong permanent influence on each other. For instance, in such varied parts of British society as food, language, political systems, soldiering and of course cricket, the British-Sikh relationship has given rise to many new facets of modern British and Indian society.[5]

The first permanent Sikh in Britain was Maharaja Duleep Singh (1838-1893), the last Sikh Emperor of the Imperial Sukerchakia Dynasty, from 1844-1849. He arrived in England in the year 1854, having been exiled from his kingdom by the East India Company. His mother, Empress Jind Kaur (1817-1863), arrived in 1860 at Kensington in Victorian London and settled permanently, after being at war with Britain for an extended period of time until the fall of the Sikh Dynasty in 1849. She was given permission by Parliament to settle on English soil.

The First Sikh Settlers started migrating from the Punjab in 1911, when the first Sikh Gurdwara was opened in London. During the start of the First and Second World Wars respectively, there was already an established Sikh presence in many parts of England. In London itself the community was small but this grew very rapidly during the 1950s and 60s and faced much discrimination, mainly due to consternations from the locals over job opportunities.

In 2019, Seema Malhotra MP set up the first debate in Parliament to discuss the positive contribution of the Sikh community over the last 70 years.[6] Research including the British Sikh Report have been used to provide an insight into the British Sikh community.

Demographics[edit]

British Sikhs have been praised as an example of positive cultural integration in the United Kingdom, many having achieved success due to a strong cultural work ethic combined with an emphasis on the importance of the family.[7]

London[edit]

With around 200,000 to 300,000 living in London, the area is home to the largest Sikh community in the UK, the highest demographics being in Southall, Hayes, Hounslow, Ilford, Seven Kings, Goodmayes, Mayfield, East Ham, Erith, and Belvedere. A significant population also resides in Hackney, Isleworth, Wembley, Barking, Feltham, Bexleyheath,Abbey Wood, Plumstead, and Harrow.

Slough[edit]

Slough is the largest community outside of London, with Sikhs making up approximately 11% of the population.

Sandwell[edit]

Sandwell has a large Sikh community at around 9% of the population, the majority living in West Bromwich and Smethwick. Sandwell’s first gurdwara was built in Smethwick, and is the largest outside of London.

Wolverhampton[edit]

Ten percent of the UK’s Sikh population lives in Wolverhampton. The second largest Sikh community outside of London, it is home to 23,000 inhabitants.

Education[edit]

British Sikh Professionals speaking in Parliament

Sixty-five percent of British Sikhs have a graduate level qualification or above. Sikhs in the 20 - 34 age group have the highest level of graduates (55%) within the Sikh community. The highest level of postgraduate qualifications of Master’s degrees (22%) is in the 35 - 49 age group. Eight percent of Sikhs aged 65 and over have a PhD. The split of formal education between women and men is roughly equal, with slightly more women holding a university degree or equivalent (48% of women, 42% of men).[8]

Employment[edit]

Hundreds of Sikh professionals come together regularly in London to be inspired and to share their life journeys.

The most popular employment sectors for British Sikhs include: Healthcare (10%), IT and Technology (8%), Teaching and Education (9%), Accountancy and Financial Management (7%), indicating that Sikhs tend to favour professional and technical employment sectors over others. Healthcare is a popular sector for all age groups. Teaching and Education is more common in the 35 - 49 and the 50 - 64 age groups than others, whereas accountancy and financial management is more popular with the 20 - 34 age group (9%) compared with 6% respectively for both the 35 - 49 and the 50 - 64 age groups. The top career choices for Sikh women are Healthcare (14%) and Teaching and Education (15%). Healthcare is also a joint second most popular choice for Sikh men along with Accountancy and Financial Management, the most popular sector being IT and Technology (13%).[9]

Wealth[edit]

Home ownership[edit]

Home ownership is very high amongst British Sikhs with 87% of households owning at least a portion of their home. Thirty percent of British Sikh households own their homes outright and only 9% rent their properties. Only 1% of British Sikhs claim Housing Benefit. This represents the highest level of private home ownership rate over any other community in the UK. In addition, half of all British Sikh families (49%) own more than one property in the UK, with a similar number (50%) owning at least one property in India, apparently indicating that property ownersh is used as a top means of building assets for the future. 6% of British Sikhs own property elsewhere in Europe.[10]

Income[edit]

Relative to the national average income at approximately £40,000 before tax (according to the ONS), the British Sikh Report 2014 found that Sikh households tend to be affluent. Two in every three British Sikh households (66%) have pre-tax incomes in excess of £40,000, and over a third (34%) have an income in excess of £80,000, giving a value for the Sikh Pound of 7.63 billion.[11]

Sikhs have the second lowest poverty rate in the UK, with 2% of British Sikhs living in poverty. This is in comparison to 18% of the population as a whole.[12]

About one in three British Sikh families (34%) own a business in the UK.[13]

Charitable giving and volunteering[edit]

Sikhs distributing langar (free food) in London

Performing Seva (selfless service) is a basic tenet of Sikhism, and Sikhs are also expected to share at least 10 per cent their earnings with those less fortunate and for good causes (Dasvandh).

Sixty-four percent of British Sikhs engage in some volunteering work, and 40% give between one and five hours per week on voluntary activities, including Seva at their Gurdwara, whilst more than 2% spend over 25 hours on such activities, spending about on average 200 hours per year on voluntary activities. Ninety-three percent claim to donate some money to charity every month, with 50% donating between £1 and £20 every month, and 7% donating more than £100 per month. It is estimated that Sikhs in Britain donate around £380 per year to charity on average. Taken as a whole, Sikhs in the UK are estimated to donate about £125 million to charity per annum and spend over 65 million hours each year on voluntary activities.[14]

Care of the elderly[edit]

Sikhs prefer to live in extended family households as they grow older - 61% of males and 52% of females. The second highest preference is in their own home (44% males and 41% females) and the third preference is in a retirement village (31% females and 24% males).[15]

Festivals and community events[edit]

Members of the Sikh armed forces celebrating Vaisakhi at Number 10 with the Prime Minister

Some of the bigger festival celebrations within the British Sikh community include Vaisakhi which usually involves colourful street processions throughout the country and Diwali. Southall hosts one of the largest Vaisakhi street processions in Europe.[16] Since 2009, both Vaisakhi and Diwali have been celebrated every year at 10 Downing Street, the residence of the British Prime Minister.[17][18]

Exemptions in British law for Sikhs[edit]

Sikhs are exempt from a few British laws on account of religious reasons. For example, men wearing a Dastar (turban) may ride a motorcycle without a helmet, and are permitted to wear their Kirpan as religious dress rather than offensive weapon in certain situations. In February 2010, Sir Mota Singh, Britain's first Asian judge, criticised the banning of the Kirpan in public places such as schools.[19]A Kirpan is a sacrificial ceremonial knife, historically used to detroath prisoners of war and other executable prisoners, now worn as part of traditional dress.

British converts to Sikhism[edit]

American Sikhs from the Sikhnet Team based in New Mexico visiting the UK and speaking at an event in Parliament with British Sikhs.

Discrimination[edit]

In an online survey of 650 Sikhs in the UK, three-quarters of them said they had experienced racism. In spite of this, 95% said they are proud of being born or living in Britain. 43% of the women surveyed said they had experienced discrimination on the basis of gender, and 71% of those had also experienced it within their extended family.[20]

Influential British Sikh organisations[edit]

The Gurdwara remains the focal point of the Sikh community. There are also now a variety of notable organisations which have been setup by Sikhs to support the community:

Controversies[edit]

Census data[edit]

In 2018, some Sikh organisations requested the ONS to include an ethnic tick box for Sikhs, creating an ongoing dispute between various Sikh organisations. The ONS rejected the request.[21] The ONS rejected the demand in their published paper.[22]

Inter-faith marriages[edit]

Holding an Anand Karaj wedding ceremony between a Sikh and a non-Sikh has become a contentious issue. In 2016, armed police arrested scores of protesters at Gurdwara Sahib in Leamington Spa, which The Telegraph claims "has a history of tensions over mixed marriages".[23] Sikh Youth UK, who were behind the protest, blamed "a rogue Gurdwara committee creating discord".[24]

One Sikh journalist called the issue a "deepening schism"[25] while another deplored the protesters' use of masks, and the way their actions allowed the kirpan (ceremonial dagger) to be seen as a bladed weapon rather than traditional dress, thus giving "the racists and the bigots justifications for their ignorant hatred".[26] An investigation on BBC Asian Network found that these disruptions over interfaith marriage had been going on for years.[27]

Extremism[edit]

  • In 2018, there were various violent incident at Gurdwaras involving Sikhs being attacked for supporting different views.[28][29]
  • In 2018, five Sikh homes were raided by Anti-terror police.[30] The reason for the arrests was questioned by MP Preet Gill.[31]
  • In 2017, a Scottish Sikh named Jagtar Singh Johal was arrested in India for terrorism offences whilst wedding shopping.[32] As of yet he has been held without charge.[33]
  • In 2016,an interracial couple was terrorised for having a Sikh wedding by gangs of men.[34]
  • In 2015, BBC presenter Bobby Friction was pressed by the Sikh Federation to apologise for using the offensive term 'Sikh Taliban' on air.[35][36]
  • In 2015, a Sikh Lives Matter demonstration turned violent with at least one police officer injured.[37]
  • In 2014, a religious leader of a Sikh sect was attacked by an axe-wielding man.[38] The attacker Harjit Singh Toor was jailed for 17 years.[39]
  • In 2012, the Indian general who led the raid on Sikhism's holiest shrine was attacked whilst walking with his wife in London by four men.[40] The attackers were jailed in 2013.[41]
  • In 2011, a 21-year-old millionaire Sikh executive was murdered in revenge for allegedly seducing a woman.[42] The student who lured him to her apartment and who was jailed for GBH was later released.[43]
  • In 2004 a play by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti sparked controversy and its performances were cancelled after violent protests. The play included a scene set in a gurdwara involving rape, physical abuse and murder. Sikhs protested its opening night at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre.[44]

Alleged grooming of Sikh girls by Muslim men[edit]

A BBC Inside Out (London) programme televised in September 2013 interviewed several young Sikh women who were allegedly groomed and sexually abused by Muslim men, with one alleged ex-groomer even admitting that they specifically targeted Sikh girls. Bhai Mohan Singh, working for the Sikh Awareness Society (SAS), told the BBC he was investigating 19 cases where Sikh girls were allegedly being groomed by older Muslim men,[45] of which one ended with a successful conviction.[46][47]

In August 2013 four Muslims and two Hindus were convicted at Leicester Crown Court of paying a "vulnerable and damaged" 16-year-old Sikh girl for sex,[48] the investigation having been opened due to evidence Bhai Mohan Singh had presented to the police.[47]

However, a report published the previous year by Faith Matters (which runs the TELL MAMA anti-Muslim violence helpline and works closely with the Jewish Community Security Trust[49]) claimed that the Sikh Awareness Society included radical anti-Muslim elements among its members;[50][51] Faith Matters furthermore alleged it was a matter of "common consensus" that the radical Sikhs said to have had secret meetings with the English Defence League were members of the SAS.[50][51] The SAS denied allegations and distanced themselves from the organization,[50][51] a spokesperson telling Hope not Hate: "We would have nothing to do with any racist or fascist group, certainly one that uses religion to divide people…I know nothing about this and no, we are not in any kind of talks and discussion with them".[52] The Nihal Show on the BBC Asian Network discussed the issue and debated the merits of the grooming claims in September 2013.[53]

Allegations of forced conversions of Sikh girls to Islam[edit]

In 2007, a Sikh girl's family claimed that she had been forcibly converted to Islam, and after being attacked by an armed gang, they received a police guard.[54] In response to these news stories, an open letter to Sir Ian Blair signed by ten academics argued that claims that Hindu and Sikh girls were being forcefully converted were "part of an arsenal of myths propagated by right-wing Hindu supremacist organisations in India".[55] The Muslim Council of Britain issued a press release pointing out there was a lack of evidence of any forced conversions and suggested it was an underhand attempt to smear the British Muslim population.[56]

An academic paper by Katy Sian published in the journal South Asian Popular Culture in 2011 explored the question of how "forced conversion narratives" arose around the Sikh diaspora in the United Kingdom. [57] Sian, who reports that claims of conversion through courtship on campuses are widespread in the UK, says that rather than relying on actual evidence they primarily rest on the word of "a friend of a friend" or on personal anecdote. According to Sian, the narrative is similar to accusations of "white slavery" lodged against the Jewish community and foreigners to the UK and the US, with the former having ties to anti-semitism that mirror the Islamophobia betrayed by the modern narrative. Sian expanded on these views in 2013's Mistaken Identities, Forced Conversions, and Postcolonial Formations.[58]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  52. ^ Hope Not Hate magazine, July–August 2012, p.27 (cited by Faith Matters on page 29 Archived 2012-10-21 at the Wayback Machine of their report on the EDL )
  53. ^ "Nihal". 02/09/2013. BBC Asian Network. Archived from the original on 1 February 2019. Retrieved 5 September 2013.
  54. ^ Cowan, Mark (Jun 6, 2007). "Police guard girl 'forced to become Muslim'". Birmingham Mail. Archived from the original on 4 October 2013. Retrieved 19 August 2013.
  55. ^ Hundal, Sunny (13 March 2007). "Where is the Hindu Forum's evidence?". Pickled Politics. Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 26 October 2013.
    :Dear Ian Blair, :As academics teaching at British universities, we are disturbed by your recent announcement reported in the Daily Mail (22 February), Metro (23 February) and elsewhere, that the police and universities are working together to target extremist Muslims who force vulnerable teenage Hindu and Sikh girls to convert to Islam. Your statements appear to have been made on the basis of claims by the Hindu Forum of Britain who have not presented any evidence that such forced conversions are taking place. In fact the notion of forced conversions of young Hindu women to Islam is part of an arsenal of myths propagated by right-wing Hindu supremacist organisations in India and used to incite violence against minorities. For example, inflammatory leaflets referring to such conversions were in circulation before the massacres of the Muslim minority in Gujarat exactly five years ago which left approximately 2,000 dead and over 200,000 displaced :In our view, it is highly irresponsible to treat such allegations at face value or as representative of the views of Hindus in general. While we would condemn any type of pressure on young women to conform to religious beliefs or practices (whether of their own community or another) we can only see statements such as yours as contributing to the further stigmatising of the Muslim community as a whole and as a pretext for further assaults on civil liberties in Britain.
  56. ^ "MCB Calls For Evidence Of Alleged 'Forced Conversions'". Archived from the original on 2013-01-23. Retrieved 2013-10-26.
  57. ^ Sian, Katy P. (6 July 2011). "'Forced' conversions in the British Sikh diaspora". South Asian Popular Culture. 9 (2): 115–130. doi:10.1080/14746681003798060.
  58. ^ Katy P. Sian (4 April 2013). Unsettling Sikh and Muslim Conflict: Mistaken Identities, Forced Conversions, and Postcolonial Formations. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 55–71. ISBN 978-0-7391-7874-4. Archived from the original on 12 October 2013. Retrieved 15 June 2013.

Further reading[edit]

  • Sikhs in Britain: the making of a community (Zed, 2006) by Prof. Gurharpal Singh and Dr. Darshan Singh Tatla.

External links[edit]