July 23, 2018 | By Sikh Siyasat Bureau
London: In the Census 2011 more than 83,000 Sikhs rejected all the existing ethnic tick boxes, including ‘Indian’ and chose instead to tick ‘other’ and write Sikh. This provided the strongest indication possible that Sikhs who complete the census form wanted a Sikh ethnic tick box and not to be labelled Indians.
In the official Office for National Statistics (ONS) consultation in 2015 and 2016 for the Census 2021 it received requests for 55 additional ethnic tick boxes, including requests for a Sikh ethnic tick box from leading Sikh organisations, like the Sikh Federation (UK), linked to Gurdwaras, the main religious institutions that Sikhs regularly attend.
The findings of the UK Sikh Survey 2016, the largest survey of Sikhs that had over 4,500 respondents, was conducted by The Sikh Network and shared with ONS. It found 93.5% of all Sikh respondents wanted the inclusion of a separate Sikh ethnic tick box in the Census 2021.
In September 2017 in just one week nearly 140 MPs signed a letter to John Pullinger, Chief Executive of the UK Statistics Authority, who is also responsible for the ONS calling for the inclusion of Sikh as an ethnic group, as well as a religion, on the 2021 census form. MPs indicated the number of MPs could easily have been doubled or tripled given the level of cross-party support for the Sikh community on this issue.
After national and international publicity surrounding support by MPs a handful of individuals in the Sikh community no doubt encouraged by the Indian High Commission, including one unelected member of the House of Lords, woke up to the fact that the ONS were to make a decision in 2018 on whether or not to introduce a Sikh ethnic tick box in the Census 2021.
There was no opposition to a Sikh ethnic tick box in the official consultation, but ONS entertained the idea there might be some opposition that resulted in the ONS hosting a large meeting in London on 23 October 2017 regarding a Sikh ethnic tick box.
The ONS write up of the meeting states “at the meeting there was strong support for option 1 (to include a Sikh tick box in the ethnicity question and the religion question) over the other options suggested. In a vote taken at the end of the meeting only two (the Lord and his assistant) people voted against option 1.”
Following a stakeholder event at the QEII Centre on 13 December 2017 ONS stated it had reduced the number of groups being considered for an additional ethnic tick box to four groups (Jewish, Roma, Sikh and Somali), but ONS said it needed to undertake further work before making recommendations for the Census White Paper 2018.
At a meeting with ONS in February 2018 Iain Bell, the Deputy National Statistician confirmed to Preet Kaur Gill MP, the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for British Sikhs, that the need for Sikh ethnicity data had been identified and ONS were taking further advice on their legal duties.
MPs have repeated Sikhs were declared a distinct ethnic group following the historic unanimous 5:0 judgement 35 years ago in the Mandla v Dowell Lee case (1983) in the House of Lords and this could not be ignored by the ONS.
Furthermore, the census categories determined by ONS and associated advice given by the ONS to public bodies on monitoring meant Sikhs were being discriminated against as they were deliberately being overlooked by decision makers, as highlighted by the Prime Minister’s first annual Race Disparity Audit that confirmed in October 2017 no data was being collected on Sikhs.
Iain Bell confirmed that the only question that remained to be confirmed was the degree of ‘public acceptability’ within the Sikh community. The APPG agreed with Iain Bell that the best way to do this was to write to the management committees of each of the 250 Gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship in the UK) asking them to indicate whether or not they supported the proposal for a separate Sikh ethnic tick box. Iain Bell suggested if 60% or more of Gurdwaras that responded were in favour this would be sufficient for the ONS.
MPs belonging to the APPG are due to meet John Pullinger the National Statistician on Monday 23 July to discuss the responses to the ‘public acceptability’ question.
The APPG wrote to around 250 UK Gurdwaras asking them to indicate whether or not they supported the inclusion of a Sikh ethnic tick box in the Census 2021. 112 Gurdwaras have individually responded to the request by the APPG. The APPG asked each Gurdwara to complete a return and indicate its official membership and the approximate size of their Sangat (or congregation).
All 112 Gurdwaras, that include all the largest Gurdwaras in the UK, have indicated they are in favour of a separate Sikh ethnic tick box. Gurdwaras large and small have responded from all 12 regions of the UK, including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and cover the widest spectrum within the community e.g. Singh Sabha Gurdwaras, Ramgharia Gurdwaras, Bhatra Gurdwaras and Ravidas Gurdwaras. The 112 Gurdwaras have indicated they have a combined official membership of more than 107,000 Sikhs over the age of 18 and total weekly congregations or Sangat of nearly 470,000.
This information means the ONS will almost certainly recommend to the Cabinet Office that a Sikh ethnic tick box must be included in the Census White Paper 2018.
Bhai Amrik Singh, the Chair of the Sikh Federation (UK) said:
“The ONS cannot overlook the huge protest by over 83,000 Sikhs in the Census 2011 who rejected all existing options and wrote Sikh.”
“The official consultations by the ONS in 2015 and 2016 showed there was a demand for a Sikh ethnic tick box and no one objected.”
“We have the support of at least 250 MPs from across the political spectrum for our demand.”
“The ONS has taken legal advice and they know they cannot simply ignore the legal recognition of Sikhs as an ethnic group.”
“The final ONS test was one of public acceptability and our main religious institutions have spoken with one voice with 100% backing for a separate Sikh ethnic tick box.”
“ONS will now have to recommend a Sikh ethnic tick box in the Census White Paper later this year.”