Insights from the 2021 UK Census: Unravelling the Sikh Identity Issue

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525,865 people identifying as Sikh in the UK, marking a significant rise of 100,000 from the 2011 Census – Graphic: National Secular Society

By Gurnam Singh | Opinion |

In a landmark move to capture the evolving tapestry of the United Kingdom’s population, the 2021 Census has revealed intriguing insights into the Sikh community, sparking discussions on identity, representation, and future implications. The Sikh Think Tank Show on Punjab Broadcasting (Channel UK SKY775) recently delved into the outcome of the census, shedding light on the shifts within the Sikh population and addressing pertinent questions about identity.

The UK census, conducted every decade since 1801, has adapted over the years to reflect societal changes and technological advancements. Serving as a cornerstone for government planning, policy formulation, and resource allocation, the census covers a spectrum of topics, providing a detailed snapshot of the population’s composition, characteristics, and needs.

Reflections on Census 2021 | Sikh Think Tank (Punjab Broadcasting Channel, UK; 26th Dec 2023)

The 2021 census, embracing modern methodologies like online data collection, presented a comprehensive overview of the UK’s Sikh population. The Office of National Statistics’ data, released on December 15th for England and Wales, reported a notable increase, with 525,865 people identifying as Sikh, marking a significant rise of 100,000 from the 2011 Census.

Punjab Broadcasting Channel brought together a distinguished panel to delve deeper into the census findings:

  1. Dr Jasdev Singh Rai: A medical doctor, human rights activist, writer, and founder of the Sikh Human Rights Group.
  2. Bhai Jagdev Singh Virdee, MBE: Editor of the Sikh Report and a statistician with extensive experience in policy development.
  3. Dabinderjit Singh, OBE: Spokesman for the SFUK and former Cabinet Office employee.

Jagdev Singh offered his expert review of the data, which he confirmed provided a pretty accurate picture. He highlighted that 426,230 identified as Sikh through the religion question alone, while 1,725 chose the ethnic group question, and 97,910 responded to both questions (religion and ethnicity).

Sikhs exhibited higher home ownership rates, with 30% living in multi-family or multi-generational households, compared to the national average of 11%. Marriage rates were higher among Sikhs, with 61% married compared to the national average of 44.4% and 63.9% of Panjabi speakers identified as Sikh.

CHALLENGES AND ADVOCACY: THE SIKH IDENTITY QUESTION

The discussion addressed the challenges faced by the Sikh community in the census, particularly regarding the campaign for a separate Sikh ethnicity box. Dabinderjit Singh highlighted concerns that the lack of a distinct box may have resulted in a significant undercount of Sikhs, potentially as much as 400,000.

Dr. Jasdev Singh Rai advocated for a novel approach, introducing the concept of “Qaum” – a non-territorial community distinct from nation or nation-state identity. Drawing from the UN World Conference against Racism in 2001, the proposal aimed to ensure recognition of distinct cultural identities without implying a right to nationhood.

The expert panel discussed the potential implications of the census data for the Sikh community, emphasizing the need for accurate representation in policy formulation. Dabinderjit Singh argued that the methodology massively undercounts the Sikh population. He also highlighted the importance of ensuring all Sikhs are counted and the role of the census in addressing the needs and concerns of Sikhs, particularly in terms of public services and support.

FUTURE CHALLENGES: SECULARISM AND COUNTING SIKHS IN 2031

Show host Gurnam Singh directed questions towards the future, considering secular trends and the challenge of counting Sikhs in 2031. The panel engaged in thoughtful discussions on ensuring the accurate representation of Sikhs beyond religious categorizations.

In summary, the discussion provided a platform for a nuanced exploration of the census data, identity challenges, and the path forward for the Sikh community in the UK. As the Sikh nation evolves, the insights gained from the 2021 census serve as a crucial guide for policymakers and advocates alike.

Gurnam Singh is an academic activist dedicated to human rights, liberty, equality, social and environmental justice. He is an Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Warwick, UK. He can be contacted at Gurnam.singh.1@warwick.ac.uk

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

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1 COMMENT

  1. In my humble opinion, this discussion missed the most important point, namely: “Of the people who identified as Sikh through ethnic group only, 55.4% did not report their religion, 13.6% reported their religion as Muslim, 12.5% reported no religion and 8.7% reported their religion as Christian.”
    Why would any sane Sikh report their religion as Muslim (13.6%) or Christian(8.7%)? For me, this is the most concerning issue here….

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