The concept of Sikh ethnicity can only be captured if we learn how advent of Guru Nanak gave rise to the principles of Sikhism in the 15th century. This is aptly explained by Bhai Gurdas in Vaar 1 Pauri 45:
ਮਾਰਿਆ ਸਿਕਾ ਜਗਤ੍ਰਿ ਵਿਚਿ ਨਾਨਕ ਨਿਰਮਲ ਪੰਥ ਚਲਾਇਆ।
“Maria Sikka Jagat Vich, Nanak Nirmal Panth Chalaya”
‘Nanak endorsed his seal of Naam and a new way of life emerged.
This new way of life was a third way of life distinct from the Semitic way of life practiced by Jews, Muslims and Christians and distinct from the polytheistic eastern religions like Hindus.
Each path before Nanak believed in salvation after death. Nanak’s third path introduced the concept of salvation before death and therefore one should die while living. Such an individual is called ‘Jivan Mukhat’ in Sikhism.
‘To reach your true home after death, you must consider death while still alive’ (page 21 Adi Guru Granth).
‘Nanak Ke Ghar Keval Naam’ – Guru Arjan
‘In the house of Nanak, subscribe to the word(shabad) only’.
This made Sikhs a fiercely monotheistic and mystic faith on this planet.
Sikhism became a religion for the love of God and humanity, and gave every individual the opportunity for their spiritual development irrespective of colour, creed or ethnicity and to experience direct union with the unseen.
The nirmal panth, the new way of life or civilisation, as a new world order, had spanned 239 years of inculcation from Guru Nanak to the time of Guru Gobind Singh, at which point it became Khalsa Panth, the modus operandi of nirmal panth.
From this new way of life emerged the Sikh ethnicity peculiar to them.
In the age of Kalyug, the age of vice, falsehood, inequality, slavery, greed, and injustice, the Khalsa panth precisely reversed these ills and pursued their political ambitions as demonstrated by the establishment of Khalsa Raj or Sikh empire.
No one has to be born into Sikh ethnicity. It is open to any race, creed or other ethnic group or background, whether you are Chinese, black, white, or Asian. Tara Chand Malhotra was initiated into Sikhi from Hinduism and became leader of the Sikhs as Master Tara Singh. He was succeeded by a Muslim Fateh Mohammed, who became Fateh Singh. The first five initiates into Khalsa Order came from different castes and creeds. Four of them were from India and one was from Pakistan.
The Sikh Ardas, or prayer of supplication is very inclusive. It does not discriminate between the Sikhs and those not born into Sikhi and seeks the good of all mankind.
The apex court in the UK was quite explicit in their reasons in ruling that Sikhs were an ethnic group which was in accordance with concepts of Nirmal Panth. The Ruling stated that to constitute an “ethnic group it had to regard itself, and be regarded by others as a distinct community by virtue of certain characteristics, two of which were essential.
‘Firstly, it had to have a long-shared history, of which the group was conscious as distinguishing it from other groups, and the memory of which it kept alive’.
‘Secondly, it had to have a cultural tradition of its own, including family and social customs and manners, often but not necessarily associated with religious observance.’
The principles of Sikh ethnicity as derived from Nirmal Panth are unique compared with other socio/cultural groups whether it is spiritual, political, social, cultural ,economic or historic.
The law of the land is incontrovertible that Sikhs are an ‘ethnic group’. It can only be altered by an Act of Parliament. To omit a separate section or tick box for the Sikhs in the ethnicity column in the national census is inconsistent with the law. It undermines the legality and accuracy of the national census and discriminates against the Sikhs in the application of Equality Act 2010; notwithstanding that the majority of the Sikh community supports such provision for the purposes of implementation of the law.
Sikh ethnicity and Sikh religion are mutually inclusive. The ethnicity tick box does not currently cater for the Sikhs because a tick box for ‘Indian’, ‘Pakistani’ and ‘other’ cannot reflect the Sikh ethnicity as endorsed by law and by its historical basis derived from Nirmal Panth.
It is therefore proposed that there be a separate section for the Sikhs so that under that section the following boxes can be ticked: British Sikhs, Indian Sikhs, White Sikhs, Sikhs of other background.
Such a proposal cannot prejudice anyone because it helps monitor Sikh statistics in the future.
The writer is a retired High Court Judge in Uganda and Director of Gurbani Centre UK, a Sikh charity
British Sikhs may get ethnicity status in census – Report (Asia Samachar, 29 July 2018)
Sikh Qaumi Identity (Asia Samachar, 4 Aug 2018)
The need to recognise Sikh ethnicity (Asia Samachar, 31 July 2018)