In the most recent census in 2011, more than 83,000 Sikhs refused to tick any of the choices in the question on ethnicity, rejecting options such as Indian in order to write “Sikh” in the space for “any other ethnic group”.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is considering the inclusion of Sikhism as an ethnicity on the 2021 form, but has not yet made any decision, reports The Sunday Times (Sikhs may get ethnicity status in census, 22 July 2018).
It had raised concerns over the issue of “public acceptability” and whether the move would have backing across Britain’s 430,000-strong Sikh community, the report said.
The issue has attracted a debate within the Sikh community itself.
In a discussion at Gurmat Learning Zone, an internet-based Sikh discussion group, UK-based Gurmukh Singh noted that many smaller communities will remain lost either under “Other” or get counted with a large group e.g. “Indian” until such time as the powers that be decide that their numbers and needs require separate count and monitoring.
In the UK, he said monitoring is mostly on the basis of widely defined concept of “ethnicity” – as also in the dictionary: a social group that shares a commonand distinctive culture, religion, language, orthe like (Dictionary.com).
Inderjit Singh, the Lord Singh of Wimbledon and a director of Network of Sikh Organisations, have long held a different view.
In a recent discussion in the same discussion group, Lord Singh asked how any religion whose teachings are guidance for people the world over (as the Sikh Gurus clearly intended), can be confined to a single ethnicity?
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The all-party parliamentary group for British Sikhs offered to write to gurdwaras to assist the ONS with its public consultation and sent out letters about five months ago.
The Times has learned that MPs received 112 responses from temples representing more than 100,000 members.
Preet Gill, the first female Sikh MP and chairwoman of the all-party group, said: “Overwhelmingly they have said yes. Not a single gurdwara has opposed it.” It is understood that the ONS is likely to back the move if it received backing from more than 60 per cent of the gurdwaras that responded.
Public health bodies use the ONS list of ethnicities when compiling health data and determining provision of services for different ethnic groups.
Ms Gill said that issues such as alcoholism within Sikh communities had gone unaddressed as information had not been gathered. Bhai Amrik Singh, chairman of the Sikh Federation, said: “The final ONS test was one of public acceptability and our main religious institutions have spoken with one voice with 100 per cent backing for a separate Sikh ethnic tick box. The ONS will now have to recommend a Sikh ethnic tick box in the census white paper later this year.”
Last year, 113 MPs signed a letter to the ONS supporting calls for Sikhism to be included as an ethnicity on the census. The ONS is also considering the need for separate ethnic designations for Jewish, Roma and Somali Britons.
Sikhs have technically been legally recognised as an ethnic group since the House of Lords ruled in 1983 that a Sikh schoolboy suffered discrimination based on his ethnicity. The option was not available as an ethnicity in the 1991, 2001 or 2011 censuses however.