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Sikhs Census Issue Sparks Debate

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When prominent Sikh community members like Lord Indrajit Singh and Dr Rami Ranger are opposing the idea citing more divisions in the community, the Sikh Federation (UK) is supporting the demand to classify Sikhs as as a separate ethnic group in the 2021 census….reports Asian Lite News

The Sikh community Britain begins a debate over the demand to classify Sikhs as a separate ethnic group in the 2021 census. More than 100 British MPs have asked the UK Statistics Authority to include Sikh as a separate ethnic box for the 2021 census to give the community a fair access to all public services in the country. The MPs include Indian-origin lawmakers Virendra Sharma, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, Preet Kaur Gill, Seema Malhotra and Keith Vaz.

When prominent Sikh community members like Lord Indrajit Singh and Dr Rami Ranger are opposing the idea citing more divisions in the community, the Sikh Federation (UK) is supporting the demand.

The Sikh Federation in a statement said the Office for National Statistics (ONS) conducted stakeholder consultation in 2016 and this showed there was a clear demand for a Sikh ethnic tick box not only from the Sikh community, but those working in the education, health, local government and business sectors. In the stakeholder consultation no one raised any objections to the inclusion of a Sikh ethnic tick box.

“It was pointed out that in the Census 2011 ONS know that amazingly nearly 7,000 Sikhs when answering the ethnic question wrote in Sikh even though they did not indicate they were Sikh in response to the optional religious question.  A clear indicator that the religion question in 2011 underestimated the Sikh population,” said Preet Kaur Gill, MP from Birmingham Edgbaston.

Dr Rami Ranger, Stephen Pound MP, Lord Singh at an event in London

“Our Gurus taught that all humans are of the same one race and that man-made divisions based on caste or race are divisive and false,” said Lord Singh of Wimbledon. Lord Singh, one of the most prominent Sikh parliamentarians in the UK come down heavily on the move to cluster the Sikh community as a separate segment in the census.

Lord Singh said the move will undermine the efforts of the Sikh community to engage with other communities effectively.

“It will also affect the employment opportunities of the younger generation,” Lord Singh said in a statement.

 Dr Rami Ranger, Chairman of Sun Mark Group Lt and one of the most successful entrepreneurs from the community, said the demand is totally wrong.

“Hindus, Christians and Sikhs have an identical DNA. Changing religion does not change race,” he told Asian Lite.

“Simple logic and an understanding on the requirements of the Sikh faith should tell ONS that tens of thousands of Sikhs would not have answered the optional religious question alongside the 20 million who did not answer the question or specified no religion.  However, they would have been forced to select an existing ethnic group in the absence of a Sikh ethnic tick box,” Preet Kaur Gill, MP, added.

“I am shocked ONS came along to MPs and admitted they have done very little work to establish how many Sikhs may not have answered the religious question in 2011.  My own personal view is if around 1 in 20 or 1 in 30 of Sikhs who did not specify their religion took the effort to right in Sikh as their ethnic group the number of Sikhs may be underestimated by as much as 200,000.”

“Adding a Sikh ethnic tick box in the next census is a no-brainer given the demand from all concerned including MPs,” Preet said.

Preet Kaura Gill, Labour MP from Edgbaston

“I was troubled to learn in the meeting that Sikh organisations had convinced the Commission for Race Equality in 2002 to change its publication ‘CRE Ethnic Monitoring, A guide for public authorities, July 2002’, to give Sikhs as an example for ethnic group monitoring following the Census 2001.  But this has been repeatedly and consistently undermined and contradicted by ONS guidance to public bodies to only monitor ethnic groups in the census.”

“ONS were told in the meeting this amounts to discrimination against Sikhs under the Equality Act 2010. The monitoring guidance ONS issued in 2011 given the number of Sikhs who chose the write in option and the Treasury Solicitor’s response to the Sikh Federation (UK) judicial review claim in 2010 leaves the ONS exposed to legal action.  The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) will want to take note and follow this up.”

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for British Sikhs, alongside the Sikh Federation UK, are leading calls for the change. The authority oversees the Office of National Statistics (ONS) had revealed it was undertaking research on adding Sikh and Kashmiri as separate ethnic tick boxes in the 2021 census earlier this year.

Sikhs are a legally recognised ethnic group under the UK’s Race Relations Act, 1976, and campaigners for the change believe this gives them a right to be able to identify themselves separately from current census options, such as Indian or British Indian.

The APPG highlighted that in 2011 the ONS introduced two new ethnic group categories one for ‘Gypsy or Irish Traveller’ and the other ‘Arab’ although the numbers in these two groups were found to be only around 58,000 and 240,000 respectively.

The APPG grilled ONS on its test of the Sikh ethnic tick box and asked why a similar test was not carried out for the ‘Gypsy or Irish Traveller’ and ‘Arab’ categories last time before these new categories were recommended to Parliament.  It was clear from the meeting this additional hurdle was deliberately introduced for Sikhs to maintain the status quo of using the religious question as a proxy that ONS know is inadequate.