The Guardian – ‘Lack of representation in parliament is concerning’: Sikhs on living in the UK

We asked you to share your experiences of being a British Sikh. Here’s what some of you said

Rachel Obordo and Guardian readers

Almost one in five Sikhs has experienced discrimination in a public place over the last year, according to the UK Sikh Survey 2016.

The Sikh Federation, who published the survey, said British Sikhs have been “invisible to the government since 9/11,” and found that those who wear religious clothing, such as the dastar (head covering), are most likely to experience abuse.

The survey found more than two-thirds of Sikhs were born in Britain and nine out of 10 describe their nationality as British. The overwhelming majority reject being described as Indian or Asian. Sikhs are five times more likely than the average to be a member of a political party, however there are currently no Sikhs in parliament.

We asked readers to share their experiences of being a British Sikh and whether the situation has changed over the years. Here’s what some of them said.

‘How do we find ourselves seeing each other so differently?’

Raj Singh, an educational psychologist working with young people with disability, hoped his children wouldn’t share the same experiences he did. “As a child I got used to people making remarks and even physical attempts at intimidation,” he said.

“I imagined that my children would grow up in a different environment where people would be accepting of differences even if they did not quite understand it all. We became accustomed to some verbal abuse and curiosity, but it did not stop us from enjoying our country.”

After 9/11 Raj felt he had to justify who he was. “My turban and my beard afforded people an invitation to abuse me and my identity,” he said. “By telling people I was innocent and not a Muslim I turned to the very thing I was protesting against – discrimination.”

‘My generation is different from my parents’ – they’re more tolerant’

Kay who is a 20-year-old student living in Birmingham says she hasn’t experienced any racism while growing up. “My experience of life has actually been quite good in the UK compared to my parents when they were my age,” she said. “I have never received any racist abuse in my life, but my parents did when they were growing up in Birmingham.

“The people of my generation are different from my parents’ – they’re more tolerant and care about social justice issues. However Sikhs are still severely under-represented in everything.

There are very few members in parliament and rarely any representation in TV or in the film industry. Not many people know about us as a minority and that needs to change.”

Most concerning for me is our lack of representation in parliament

Twenty-two-year-old Pav Virpal, who moved from London to Manchester to study medicine, was surprised to experience unprovoked comments directed at him.

“An elderly looking white woman yelled at me ‘to go back to my own country’ in the middle of Market Street in Manchester,” he said, “It took me a while to realise this was directed at me by which time I had walked on.

Another time I was asked if I was part of ISIS when I asked if I could share a table with bunch of local punters in a pub in Fallowfield.

“I grew up in Ilford, an area with a large Sikh community and moved to Manchester to study. Throughout my childhood and teenage years I never experienced a single racially motivated event till recently. It took me a while to process the sentiment behind the statements because I don’t identify with the slurs I was subjected to.

“Most concerning for me is our lack of representation in parliament. This is perhaps the biggest failure of our community, despite being consistently lauded by both parties for being an example of integration we do not have any representation of our views.

While it is unfortunate that there are some bigoted people who may mistake us for Muslims and hurl abuse at us, the issue to be tackled here is ignorant hate first not the mis-identification of our religion.”

Most people are just curious to see someone like me

Self-employed Kulvinder Singh from Hounslow says he’s been refused entry to a restaurant because of the way he looks. “I have a large turban and an unshorn beard. In inner city multicultural areas, I have no issues. When I leave my local area to go on holiday he attitude changes in some places – people stare.

“I have been refused entry to a restaurant in Italy, but most of the time in the UK I meet lots of lovely people, who are just curious to see someone like me.

People always make conversation and I think they just want to see what I am about. School kids in rural areas are the worst, as they point and laugh and shout comments. It’s helped me to be strong as a person and be proud of who I am.

I’ve learnt to live with it: ‘Why fit in, when I was born to stand out?’.”

I and many Sikhs are well-integrated and proudly British

Thirty-five-year-old Ay who is a researcher in London hopes his experience continues to be positive. “As a child in the 80s and 90s, although I did suffer from episodic racism whilst attending an all white school, people were generally interested in my cultural background and a quick discussion led to friendship and integration.

Later at an all white FE college, I was treated like everybody else. It felt great and life was good.

“But after 9/11, things changed slightly. Turbans became associated with terrorism and racist taunts changed from ‘Paki’ to ‘Taliban’. The present day is different. There is a growing intolerance towards minorities and it feels like religion in general has become a dirty word.

Questions about my faith sometimes have a hostile undertone. My parents (both pensioners) have suffered from two notable episodes of racism in the last five years.

During one, they were tormented whilst using a self-service till and the other, somebody ran up to my father and knocked his turban to the ground in the middle of a busy street before making off. Both episodes were very upsetting for them.

“I and many Sikhs are well-integrated and proudly British. Historically, many Sikhs joined the British army and fought in the wars. Indian doctors helped build the NHS.

There is some representation of Sikhs in society – such as in cricket; three peers in the House of Lords; and of course, the 100-year-old marathon runner, Fauja Singh. I would still say that as a Sikh my experience remains positive but we live in interesting times. I just hope my experience continues to remain a positive one”


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