Friday October 20, 2017
Home Indian Diaspora Have British ...

Have British politicians properly represented the Sikhs?


By Bhai Amrik Singh

London: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has recently caused considerable social media interest while addressing students at a university in the US when he joked: “I have more Sikh Ministers than Modi”.

The 44-year old surprised everyone after taking up office last November by including four Sikhs in his Cabinet, including the high profile appointment of Harjit Singh Sajjan as Defense Minister who is also an Amritdhari (initiated Sikh).

Given the comment by Trudeau the comparison has rightly focused on the Modi Cabinet with only one Minister of Sikh origin, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, in the irrelevant post of Minister for Food Processing. However, it also raises the broader question of political representation of Sikhs in the UK linked to the Sikh Manifesto published last year.

In Canada, Sikhs comprise around 2% of the population a similar proportion to India, but due to the concentration of the Canadian Sikh population more than 5% or 17 of the 338 MPs elected last November were of Sikh origin – the highest number of Sikhs ever elected in Canada.

In the UK Sikhs comprise around 1% of the population and whilst Sikhs are not as concentrated as in Canada as it was an indictment of the British political system that it could not deliver a single Sikh MP last May.

We currently have 650 MPs in total in the UK, but this is set to reduce by 50 for 2020 following boundary changes. This will make it even harder for Sikhs to be elected as there appears to be limited appetite for changing behaviour and practices within political parties that can take a considerable time to achieve.

We are not yet seeing sufficient progress to encourage more Sikh men and women, especially visible Sikhs to enter politics at the highest level. Apart from Tom Watson, the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, who has made a public commitment and is in the process of making changes.

The Prime Minister recently announced there are likely to be 40-50 new appointments to the House of Lords in July. Whilst the Conservatives have Sikh representation in the House of Lords the Labour Party who Sikhs have traditionally voted for in larger numbers unsatisfactorily has no Sikhs in either House.

The Labour leader, although reluctant to enter the debate on more Labour Lords as he wants reform, would be advised to use the opportunity to work with the Prime Minister and ensure a number of Sikhs are appointed to the House of Lords.

Those appointed should be role models and send a very positive signal to members of the Sikh community across the UK. For this to be achieved they should be visible Sikhs, well known within the Sikh community and possess the skills, professional background and attributes to be able to make a positive contribution in the House of Lords.

Political parties and activists rather than shoulder the majority of the blame are quick to blame Sikhs themselves for not being politically active in an attempt to hide their own failings that have existed for over three decades.

If political parties are serious that Parliament represents the people it serves the first question they must answer, but are unable to do so, is how many Sikh members do they have in their respective political parties.

Although many politicians across the political spectrum agree public bodies should monitor Sikhs as a separate ethnic group the parties need to set an example by changing their own internal monitoring systems for membership.

The Sikh Network is conducting a large survey of 10,000 Sikhs in the next couple of months that will give the community, regional and national data on the extent to which Sikhs are members of different political parties.

If this shows Sikhs are members of political parties in larger or similar proportions to others, but not progressing to become elected representatives at the local or national level the parties will need to ask themselves serious questions around discrimination and look to remove barriers that clearly appear to exist.

Whereas Canada has a high number of Sikh MPs, Jagmeet Singh, the Deputy Leader of the provincial New Democratic Party in Ontario, in a recent visit to the UK commented when asked a question at a Sikh Network event in London that they may have many Sikh MPs and Ministers, but they are a waste of time if they do not take up Sikh issues alongside other matters.

He continued, Sikhs in the UK, currently without any MPs of their own, have over the years and to their credit secured greater legal rights than any other Sikh community throughout the Diaspora concerning issues like the separate recognition and protection of the Sikh identity.

This is because Sikhs in the UK are better organized and politically active in campaigning and lobbying on Sikh issues. Sikhs across the UK are able to engage with large numbers of MPs who represent them to raise issues of importance.

This was recently best demonstrated by the political campaign to secure the release and return of Parmajeet Singh Pamma from Portugal when the Sikh Federation (UK) assisted by the Sikh Network coordinated a political campaign to reach over 250 MPs.

The question Sikhs need to ask up and down the country is have politicians who were elected last May done enough on the issues they supported in the Sikh Manifesto and other matters that have been raised since they were elected. Two specific and achievable priorities were set by the Sikh Network for the first twelve months.

1. Getting the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to agree to a separate ‘Sikh’ ethnic tick box in the 2021 Census.

The Sikh Federation (UK) and Sikh Network have been active in contributing to the public consultation by ONS and meeting them at senior levels before and after the consultation exercise.

In the next 4-6 weeks Sikh constituents will be asked to remind MPs to write to the ONS to recognize the demand for a separate Sikh ethnic tick box and ensure the 2007 test questionnaire includes the change demanded by the Sikh community and its elected representatives.

2. Securing a suitable site in central London for a permanent monument to highlight Sikh sacrifices in the First World War under the slogan ‘Sikhs: Lions of the Great War’.

This was a subject that politicians on all sides accepted before the General Election was an excellent idea as the Sikh community were only requesting a site in central London with the community setting up a Sikh Memorial Trust to pay for the monument through public subscriptions.

To date the responses from Minsters at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Ministry of Defense have been surprisingly unenthusiastic, although the two main candidates for the Mayor for London have been far more positive and things may change after 5 May.

On 17 May the Sikh Federation (UK) supported by the Sikh Network is planning to hold an event in the Attlee suite in Portcullis House between 1-3pm to mark achievements in the first 12 months after the General Election. This will provide an opportunity to judge progress and hold politicians to account on how they have been representing Sikhs since being elected last May.

The author is the Chairman of the Sikh Federation, UK. Source:

Next Story

Recent Trends among the Indian Diaspora and its Increasing Significance

As the Indian diaspora is increasingly organizing itself in the host countries by accumulating the resources, it may have potential impact on the economic, social and political landscape in India.

Indian Diaspora
Indian Diaspora organizing community identity in the host country


What is Indian Diaspora:

The Indian diaspora is a generic term representing the people who migrated from the Indian territories to the other parts of the world. It includes the descendants of these groups. Today, over twenty million Indians which include Non Resident Indians and People of Indian Origin are residing outside the Indian territory as Indian diaspora. According to a UN survey report of 2015, India’s diaspora population is the largest in the world. In 2005, Indians formed the world’s third largest diaspora. The Indians who settled overseas in 1960s for more developed countries such as US, UK, Canada, Australia and Western Europe formulate the category of the New Diaspora.

What are the popular host countries for the Indian Diaspora:

The 2010 estimates of Census data of US, UK and Canada suggest that Indian diaspora constitutes three million people in US, 1.5 million people in the United Kingdom and one million in Canada. Indians are the fourth largest immigrant group in the United States. Also, five million emigrants from India reside in the Gulf region at present.

The History of Indian Diaspora:

A brief overview of the history of Indian diaspora suggests that the first group of Indians immigrated to Eastern Europe in the 1st century AD from Rajasthan during the reign of Kanishka. Yet another evidence of migration was witnessed in 500 AD when a group immigrated to Southeast Asia as the Cholas extended their empire to Indonesia and Malaysia thereby spreading the Indian culture in these states. Thus the early evidences of diaspora were found during ancient times. The medieval period witnessed the spread of Hinduism and Buddhism during the Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms. Mughals took Indians as traders, scholars, artists, musicians and emissaries to the other parts of the country.

Old Diaspora:

The first wave of the Modern Indian Diaspora, also called the Old Diaspora, began in the early 19th century and continued until the end of the British rule. The Dutch and French colonizers followed the suit. Indians were sent in large numbers to become the bonded labourers for sugar and rubber plantation in their colonies.

Indians in Caribbean, Africa and Asia:

By the end of World War 1, there were 1.5 million Indian labourers in the colonies in the Caribbean, Africa and Asia. At present, around 60% of Indian diaspora is constituted of this Old Diaspora.

Impact of Immigration policies on Migration from India:

After the Indian independence, a large number of unskilled and some skilled Punjabi male Sikhs migrated to UK from India due to favorable immigration policies in the United Kingdom. Similarly, 1990s onwards, due to software boom and its rising economy, H-1B was introduced in the US immigration policy that allowed the entry of highly skilled IT specialists, doctors, scientists and engineers in the US. Further, 1970s witnessed oil boom in the Middle East that led to significant growth of Indian diaspora in the Gulf region.

While the low skilled and semi skilled workers are moving to the Gulf region for better economic opportunities, highly skilled labour is moving from India to US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Has Indian Diaspora started impacting the economies and societies:

With the growing rate of international migration since the beginning of millennia, there is a significant impact of diaspora on the economies and societies of the world. In recent years, diaspora is influencing the economic, political and cultural affairs in their homeland. It is so because the influence of the diaspora communities increases as they organize themselves and accumulate resources in their host countries for several years. The mobilized diaspora are now influencing the affairs of the homeland countries. A common form of exchange is the financial remittances provided to the relatives by the diaspora community. Overseas family networks of the political elites in India are shaping the political landscape as well. Culturally, diaspora is influencing the music and literature trends in India as the content is consciously structured to cater to the tastes of the diaspora.

What actions have been taken by the government of India to tap the potential of Indian Diaspora:

The first Pravasi Bhartiya Divas was organized in 2003 by the Government of India to expand and reshape the state of India’s economy by the use of the potential human capital which the Indian diaspora reflects. Clearly, Indian diaspora has a larger role to play in the Indian economy over the coming years as the efforts to mobilize them increase in the homeland.

Next Story

Diwali Preparations Grow in US, from Disney to Times Square

Diyas adorn every corner of the house on the celebration day of Diwali. pixabay

The holiday of Diwali in the US is starting to light up mainstream America. Diwali, a festival of lights celebrated by Indians all over the world, has long been observed in immigrant communities around the U.S.

But now public celebrations of the holiday are starting to pop up in places ranging from Disneyland and Times Square to parks and museums.

The Times Square event is the brainchild of Neeta Bhasin, who says that while many Indian immigrants have found great success in the U.S., “still people don’t know much about India. I felt it’s about time that we should take India to mainstream America and showcase India’s rich culture, heritage, arts and diversity to the world. And I couldn’t find a better place than the center of the universe: Times Square.”

Places in America where Diwali Celebrations will take place.

Bhasin, who came to the United States from India 40 years ago, is president of ASB Communications, the marketing firm behind Diwali at Times Square. The event, now in its fourth year, has drawn tens of thousands of people in the past. It’s scheduled for Oct. 7, from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m., with dance performances, Bollywood singers, a bazaar of food, saris and other goods, and a lighting ceremony.

While Diwali celebrations are held throughout the fall, the holiday’s actual date is Oct. 19. Also called Deepavali, it’s an autumn harvest festival held just before the Hindu new year. Celebrations include lighting oil lamp called diyas and candles to symbolize “a victory of knowledge over ignorance, light over darkness, good over evil,” said Bhasin.

The Diwali celebration at Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim, California, includes performances of traditional Indian dances and a Bollywood dance party for guests. It’s part of a festival of holidays at the theme park reflecting cultural traditions from around the world. The Disney festival begins Nov. 10 and runs through Jan. 7.

San Antonio, Texas, has one of the nation’s largest city-sponsored celebrations of Diwali, drawing more than 15,000 people each year. The 2017 event, scheduled for Nov. 4 at La Villita, a historic arts village, will be its ninth annual Diwali celebration with Indian dance, entertainment, food, crafts, fireworks and the release of lighted candles into the San Antonio River along the city’s River Walk.

New York City’s Rubin Museum will mark Diwali with an overnight Ragas Live Festival featuring more than 50 Indian classical musicians performing amid the museum’s collection of sacred Himalayan art. The event begins Oct. 21 at 10 a.m. and continues all day and night through Oct. 22 at 10 a.m. Chai and mango lassis will be served, visitors will have access to all the galleries and pop-up events like meditation and sunrise prayer will be offered. Special tickets will be sold for the opportunity to sleep beneath the artwork.

Other places hosting Diwali celebrations include Cary, North Carolina, in Regency Park, Oct. 14; Flushing Town Hall, Queens, New York, Oct. 29; the Seattle Center, Oct. 21; the Dulles Expo center in Chantilly, Virginia, Oct. 7-8; and Memorial Park in Cupertino, California, Sept. 30. In Columbus, Ohio, the Ohio History Center is hosting a photo exhibit about the city’s fast-growing population of immigrants from Nepal, Bhutan and India, with a Diwali event Oct. 8.

Bhasin said Diwali’s message is particularly timely now. “It is extremely important to be together and showcase to the world, not only Indians, but the entire immigrant community, to be together with Americans and to show the world we are one, we are all the same human beings,” she said.(VOA)

Next Story

Build on Indian Diaspora to Bolster Relation: US Diplomat

Indian Diaspora
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hugs President Donald Trump as Modi departs the White House, June 26, 2017. VOA

Kolkata, Sep 23, 2017: American diplomat Jeffrey Sexton on Friday batted for building on the Indian diaspora in the US to bolster relations, noting it is becoming more and more active in promoting cross cultural ties.

“The biggest connection that we have now is the size of the Indian diaspora in the US. All of the Indians who have connections with the US now… relatives, friends studying in the US and if we just keep building on this wonderful positive connection between the two countries, it adds such an important dimension to our relationship,” Sexton, Acting Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy in New Delhi, said on the sidelines of the inauguration of the Badamtola Ashar Sangha Durga puja and the Great Kolkata Autumn Heritage Festival.

Also Read: Indian Travellers Emerging as Key Market for America: Brand USA 

The pandal (marquee) represents a slice of America in Kolkata.

“The diaspora is becoming more and more active in the US in promoting these kind of connections (cross-cultural connections)… it is becoming more politically involved in the US… you see many of our politicians … United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley… the high profile just highlights once again the diversity of the US as a country and its connections to South Asia and India…,” Sexton told IANS.

The U.S. Embassy and consulates in India are celebrating the US-India Cultural Connections and #USIndiaDosti this month through several engagements.