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Voices: Our Untold Stories »Asian Stories
Sikhs praying

The Sikh Punjabi Community

Although Sikhs are a minority in India, they form the largest religious group of Indians who have emigrated and settled in Britain.

Sikhs believe in equality and the brotehrhood of man

Coming mainly from the State of Indian Punjab, they have a strong military tradition and a history of migration to other parts of the world.

They emerged in the 16th century as a reformist sect of Hinduism, led by Guru Nanak. His teachings and those of their ensuing nine Gurus (Prophets) are embodied in the holy book, The Granth Sahib.

quote
The earliest Sikhs who came in any noticeable numbers were battle-weary soldiers who had survived the horrors of the First World War in France. Instantly recognisable with their beard and turbans, these Sikh immigrants hardly received a war heroes' welcome. quote
Our Untold Stories

The original teachings, in which some Islamic influence can be detected, attached many of the outward manifestations of Hinduism such as idolatry and ostentatious prayer.

Congregational worship at the Gurdwara is practised and a more liberal doctrine rejects the caste system in favour of the concept of equality and the brotherhood of man.

The Tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh established Sikhs as a readily identifiable group by introducing certain recognisable symbols based on the uniform of the Sikh warriors.

These include a beard, long hair (kas/uncut) secured by a comb and covered by a turban and a metal bangk (kara) usually made of steel and worn on the right wrist.

Drugs and tobacco are forbidden as well as meat, fish and eggs.

The experiences of the first wave of Sikh settlers who came to Britain were markedly different from the Hindu and Muslim migrants. Many had skills like carpentry, plumbing and electrical experience from their work with in East Africa.

The earliest Sikhs who came in any noticeable numbers were battle-weary soldiers who had survived the horrors of the First World War in France.

Golden Temple of Amritsar
The Golden Temple of Amritsar is the holiest shrine in Sikhism

Instantly recognisable with their beard and turbans, these Sikh immigrants hardly received a war heroes' welcome. The fighting had taken its toll on Britain and by the end of 1918, the country was gripped by a major depression.

Recession, coupled with racism, meant little or no hope of work for these pioneering Punjabi Sikhs, who were forced to make ends meet by working as door-to-door salesmen, peddling clothes and cheap household goods to unfriendly housewives.

But they persevered - some even took to working as fortune tellers - and by the 1930s, many of Britain's ports and industrial cities had a small but visible Sikh presence.

quote
They hoped to remain in Britain for a few years, save enough money and then return to their families in India. But low pay and other family pressures made them stay on permanently. They then gradually sent for their wives and children to join them. Many of these Sikh migrants were farmers or skilled craftsmen from the rich, agricultural Punjab who arrived with just a change of clothes in their suitcases. quote
Our Untold Stories

After the Second World War ended in 1945, Britain experienced a rapid industrial growth. This created a demand for labour and Britain turned to the Empire for a cheap source of labour to fill the gap.

Many Asians, especially from the state of Punjab, were willing to come to Britain because partition of India in 1947 had created social and economic problems.

In the early 1950s and 1960s many Sikhs settled in the inner city areas of the North and Midlands, in towns like Bradford, Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham, and found jobs in textile and manufacturing industries.

The work they did in factories and foundries was mostly night shifts - low paid and monotonous. Early settlers were mainly male. They hoped to remain in Britain for a few years, save enough money and then return to their families in India. But low pay and other family pressures made them stay on permanently.

They then gradually sent for their wives and children to join them. Many of these Sikh migrants were farmers or skilled craftsmen from the rich, agricultural Punjab who arrived with just a change of clothes in their suitcases.

Sikh dancing
Punjabi folk music and dance is now popular in Britain

They were later followed by several thousand Sikhs from East Africa who, in spite of being better educated and skilled than their Punjabi brethren, still had to contend with discrimination and accept jobs driving buses or working as manual labourers.

All these Sikh migrants shared one common goal - to earn and save as much as they could and then return to their beloved homeland, to build or buy a new family home or more land or simply to install a tube-well on their existing land.

These dreams could only come true by slaving away 12 hours a day, six, maybe seven days a week and sharing a cramped, cold terraced house with several other men. Meanwhile the host community swung to the sounds of the Sixties.

quote
All these Sikh migrants shared one common goal - to earn and save as much as they could and then return to their beloved homeland, to build or buy a new family home or more land or simply to install a tube-well on their existing land. These dreams could only come true by slaving away 12 hours a day, six, maybe seven days a week and sharing a cramped, cold terraced house with several other men. Meanwhile the host community swung to the sounds of the Sixties. quote
Our Untold Stories

The majority of the Sikh families in Gloucestershire have moved into this area from other cities.

From such humble endeavours, many have risen to run their multiple market stalls, shops or supermarkets and some have added their name to the list of richest people in the United Kingdom.

Although there is no Gurdwara place of worship for Sikhism in Gloucestershire, the Sikhs follow their religion at home and sometimes visit nearby cities to be part of the congregation.

The Golden Temple in Amritsar (India) is the most holy shrine of Sikhism. The Sikh community speaks the Punjabi language and they keep their Punjabi culture in the forefront. Punjabi folk dances and songs "Bhangra" and "Gidha" are very popular in Britain. There are now well over 200 Gurdwaras in the UK with large numbers of Sikhs in Birmingham, Coventry, Walsall, Southall, Wolverhampton, Slough and Gravesend.

Many Sikhs have also excelled in different professions. From humble working-class roots, over a period of 40-odd years, the Sikh community has clearly made its mark on British society and can proudly claim its offspring as lawyers, scientists, doctors, engineers and accountants.

» See 'Avatar Duggal'
» See 'Harjit Gill'
» See 'Parmjit Dhanda MP'

This article is user-generated content (ie external contribution) expressing a personal opinion, not the views of BBC Gloucestershire.
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