Sikh Qaumi Identity

The word qaum means a community held together by certain distinct characteristics. It can also mean a nation with or without a country.

By Gurmukh Singh OBE | OPINION |

Did Guru Nanak Sahib laid the foundation of just another “religion” when he rejected much of what was practised in the name of religion in his time? Or did he start a paradigm shift towards a new way of life completed by Guru Gobind Singh ji: a whole-life system not bound in the straight-jacket of dogma?

These are not questions but some suggestions. Dr J S Grewal, the historiographer, has written something along these line in his introductory chapter to The Sikhs of the Punjab (Cambridge History of India).

The word qaum means a community held together by certain distinct characteristics. It can also mean a nation with or without a country. When we look up the dictionary definition of ethnicity, we are reminded of some of the qaumi characteristics of the Sikhs. The closest word for qaum in English is ethnicity.

SEE ALSO: The need to recognise Sikh ethnicity

The dictionary tells us that ethnicity means: a social group that shares a common distinctive culture, religion, language, or the like. The House of Lords gave a unanimous verdict in 1983 that the Sikhs are an ethnic group because they have a long shared history own cultural tradition they originate from a common geographical region they have common language shared with others, [albeit with own peculiar Sikhi idiom & mohavra] they have common Sikh literature and religion and, they have been an oppressed minority but also had their own kingdom.

The House Lords decided that: A group defined by reference to enough of these characteristics would be capable of including  converts and persons who marry into the group.Provided a person who joins the group feels himself or herself to be a member of it, and is accepted by other members, then he [or she] is a member. The meaning of the word ethnicity has evolved over time as above. However, today, that is the dictionary definition and that is also the UK legal definition.

Sikh ethnicity describes the Sikhs as a qaum. There are over 10,000 religions in the world and religion on its own is too narrow regarding other additional qaumi characteristics.

Recently Justice Anup Singh Choudri, a retired judge from Uganda, wrote in his article, The need to recognise Sikh ethnicityBefore the British annexed the Sikh Empire in 1849, the Sikh ethnicity was glaringly Punjabi. This included Pakistanis, majority of whom are Punjabis in west Punjab, Pakistan. The international boundaries of states change over a period of time due to wars, annexations or political circumstances. For example, over the past 80 years, the Bangladeshi ethnicity was originally Indian before the Indian independence and after that they became Pakistanis and are now Bangladeshis on the secession of the then East Pakistan. The Sikh ethnicity must be looked at in that context and there should be no hesitation in affording a separate category for the Sikhs in line with Pakistanis and Bangladeshis [in the UK]. 

To my mind, Justice Choudri has added a fresh angle to the many arguments and advantages in favour of a Sikh ethnicity tick box in Census 2021 so that they are counted and monitored as ‘Sikh’. Let us show Qaumi Ekta over this issue!


Gurmukh Singh OBE, a retired UK senior civil servant, chairs the Advisory Board of The Sikh Missionary Society UK. Email: The article first appeared at The Panjab Times, UK

* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.



The need to recognise Sikh ethnicity (Asia Samachar, 31 July 2018)

British Sikhs may get ethnicity status in census – Report (Asia Samachar, 29 July 2018)

US issues apology after Canadian minister told to take off turban at airport (Asia Samachar, 11 May 2018)


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