JSF has responded to a video of Singh Sahib Giani Harpreet Singh, Jathedar Sri Akal Takth Sahib that was shared yesterday (15th March 2021) urging Sikhs to fill in the UK Census 2021 with Sikh as Religion, Punjabi as Language and Sikh as Ethnicity.
This is problematic because:
- Sri Akal Takth Sahib is the representation of Akal Purakh Vaheguru’s power on Earth. This is both spiritual and temporal power (Miri and Piri). Sri Akal Takth Sahib has already made it clear that Sikhs are a separate ‘Quam’. It is for Sikhs to apply this teaching in different countries (and internationally) and choose how they express their identity. World faith leaders generally do not engage in this sort of advocacy; national/regional faith leaders of other religions often do.
- Government and Media could accuse Singh Sahib of using the institution of Sri Akal Takth Sahib to influence, manipulate census data. The West perceives religious interference in state affairs as negative. There is a strong distinction between church and state across many countries in Europe for this reason. If there were any remark against Sri Akal Takth Sahib or the Jathedar, it would cause deep offence and hurt in the community.
- Whilst I will be personally filling out ‘Sikh’ in the Ethnicity question and have advocated for this on national Media, I think this approach is strategic. I would describe it as a strategic compromise. The truth is there no word in the English dictionary that can capture the Guru’s concept of ‘Sikhi’. We are a ‘Quam’, ‘Panth’ and ‘Dharm’. Whilst a Sikh can be compromising and pragmatic, Sri Akal Takth Sahib is the source of our sidhaant (steadfast principles). Therefore, it has to remain uncompromised. The Jathedar’s words can hold weight in legal courts and international discussion. Simply, whilst this may be a beneficial exercise in the UK, it is still a complex issue relating to the identity and classification of Sikhi.
- In the 2011 census, around 80-90k people listed Sikh as their ethnicity. It is almost certain this will increase in the current census 2021. But it cannot be denied there will still be a large proportion of Sikhs that do not complete the census accordingly. What does this tell the law courts and the international community about the reach, influence and relevance of Sri Akal Takth Sahib in the Sikh diaspora? In the past, diaspora Sikh communities have used Sri Akal Takth Sahib’s edicts to explain their actions, practices, and customs to foreign officials.
- This raises serious questions about the advisors to the Akal Takth Sahib Jathedar and the process of consultation. Surely, any consultation has to involve Sikh organisations, Gurdwaras, academics and others from the sangat.