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Sikh Identity on UK Television

February 22, 2017

Gurmukh Singh OBE

   There are over 600,000 British Sikhs but we will never know for sure unless they are counted with certainty as “Sikhs”. They are a large UK minority community but only occasionally covered by the UK’s mainstream media. Yet, sometimes glowing tributes are paid to the Sikhs by politicians visiting gurdwaras and sometimes even in the Parliament. It was nice to read one such tribute in today’s dangerous world when Sikhs are the victims of mistaken identity.

To quote from a recent missive on Gurmat Learning Zone network by Lord Indarjit Singh, “Lord Tebbit said in response to my intervention in the Lords: “In the face of extremism in this Country, there are few places where one can feel safer than in the company of a large number of Sikhs who have always shown their loyalty and understanding of our society.” — Rt Hon Lord Tebbit. House of Lords 27 June 2016.)” Yet, it is always noticeable that BBC TV cameras shy away from Sikh identity or mis-represent it in some negative context.

During my 56 years in the West, women and the blacks have done well in this respect. Some decades ago it was a pleasant surprise to see a black presenter, Trevor McDonald (nor “Sir”), on TV in 1973. Two years later, we saw the first woman, Angela Rippon as BBC TV news presenter in 1975. So, it really a question of seeing men and women of different backgrounds and appearances on TV and holding responsible positions in diverse fields regularly. BBC staff – journalists/cameramen and programme directors should be trained to present ‘different looking’ British communities more regularly in a positive light so that they are “strangers” no more.

From a British Sikh perspective, we first heard of a turban wearing Sikh judge, Mota Singh in 1982;  in early 1986, I was picked up for fairly exposed official position at GATT (now World Trade Organisation) through the European Commission; later a Sikh, Dabinderjit Singh, was posted as a National Audit Office Director; now we have Lord Indarjit Singh and Lord Suri in the House of Lords and there are many more “first Sikhs” in many fields.

Diversity is increasingly accepted globally: India’s Sikh Prime Minister, America’s black President, London’s Muslim Mayor and Canada’s Sikh Defence Minister etc. Women have struggled for equal rights and now hold senior positions and are doing well in most fields. When you switch on the TV and, chances are that it will be a woman presenter, financial or political analyst on the screen.

As for “sabat-surat” Sikh MPs, TV presenters etc, from past experience, we can be confident that when the right Sikh is there at the right time he will be picked up. However, the establishment needs continual reminders about such disparities. Senior politician need to be lobbied with good arguments and presentations. Sikhs and other groups do not seek positive discrimination but a level playing field. The crux of the matter is that to be able to do that, Sikhs should be counted and monitored as “Sikhs” in their own right to secure their rights as loyal British citizens.

 Gurmukh Singh OBE

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  • Published: 175 days ago on February 22, 2017
  • Last Modified: February 22, 2017 @ 5:12 pm
  • Filed Under: News & Views