Navigating Traditions: The Journey of a British-born Sikh

From childhood, we experienced living a double life. One life was at school with white, black and Indian friends, speaking mostly in English, and the other at home, where Punjabi language and traditions dominated. - MANJIT KAUR


By Manjit Kaur | Opinion |

For British-born Sikhs like me, the journey of navigating between traditions can be a challenging experience, but it also allows you to develop a unique perspective on life. From childhood, we experienced living a double life. One life was at school with white, black and Indian friends, speaking mostly in English, and the other at home, where Punjabi language and traditions dominated. This journey is a delicate balance between preserving our ancestral roots and the rich heritage passed down by our parents, whilst at the same time learning to navigate the British culture and taking the best bits of it.

Being born into a practising Sikh family also meant carrying the legacy of Sikhi, which involved a strict routine of daily Nitnem (Sikh prayers), attending kirtan programmes, and a strict vegetarian diet. Though in such a traditional home, expressing individuality, especially for women and girls was generally discouraged, the positive side was that we felt secure and part of a large extended family.

One of the ways you can make sense of this experience of growing up between different traditions in a rapidly changing world is through the notion of ‘being’ and ‘becoming’. We all have a sense of ‘being’ something and somebody. It is related to our sense of our origins and represents our stable, core identity. This often relates to the instinctive sense of identity or the labels that one feels most comfortable with. And for me, there is no doubt, in this regard ‘being’ has always meant Punjabi Sikh and female.

So being represents my core inner self, which is rooted in my cultural, religious, linguistic and social identity. However, this does not mean our identity is fixed and never changing; it is also about ‘becoming’. Our identity is like a flowing river, ‘being’ is represented by the solid riverside, and ‘becoming’ by the constantly flowing water, sometimes fast and sometimes slow, but never static.

Over the years, as I have become more conscious of this double aspect of identity, and I have come to embrace both sides; feeling proud of my past heritage, but, as I wrote in the previous article ‘not living in the past’, and excited about my future journey. Individuals should not be confined to a fixed identity. Instead, we need to realise that life is about growth and that means constantly moving with the times.

In practice, navigating traditions can be challenging, especially for women and girls like me who are expected to follow men and obey their instructions. Though it is important to take good advice from anybody, ultimately you must develop the confidence to make your own choices, even if occasionally they are not the best ones. You see learning is about making mistakes, and lifelong learning is about stepping outside your comfort zone and taking risks.


Feeling insecure and allowing others to tell you how you should be or live is perhaps the greatest barrier to achieving your full potential. There are many reasons why we may feel insecure, but perhaps the most significant one is when you allow others to control you. This reflects a mindset where you are constantly looking to others for permission and approval.

In truth constantly seeking approval from others is a sign of weakness and the only solution is to be your own leader, to tell your story, and to stop looking to others for answers. This is not an easy task, but ultimately it means taking control of your life and making your own choices. That doesn’t mean one becomes selfish or egotistic; it does mean stopping being dragged along by others and to do this you have to develop your own mind.

Comparing oneself to others is toxic and can lead to diminishing your own achievements. Recognizing and appreciating one’s unique qualities and successes is crucial for developing a positive self-image. So, without being egotistic, it is important that we celebrate our personal achievements, no matter how small they may seem. You see, sometimes it is the small steps that lead to healthy and sustained growth. It also means not feeling threatened when others achieve but celebrating together.

On a personal level, I have realised the importance of calmness and kindness, which is not a sign of weakness, as some may think. While shouting and swearing may give you a quick release of emotional energy, it is not going to benefit your relationships. And there is a lot of research that says the key to a happy life is positive relationships with those around you.

If I am honest, in the early part of my life, I did feel very much like a victim with little power. However, as my awareness and confidence grew, I realised being sorry for yourself and playing the victim is not helpful. That means seeing yourself not as powerless but as a strong intelligent person, a survivor, and yes, a fighter! And when you begin to stand up for yourself, respect will come automatically.

Whilst it is important to have a strong sense of your being or roots, it is also important, like the branches of a tree, to grow upwards and outwards, to become the person you can be and to realise your full potential. Connecting with other people and learning from them is important, but ultimately, you can only fully realise your potential by overcoming insecurity and shaping your own future.

Manjit Kaur, a UK-based therapist and counsellor, is a presenter at the 1 Show Live at Panjab Broadcasting Channel, UK. She can be contacted via email at


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