Sikhism in the United Kingdom
According to the 2001 census there are an estimated number of 500,000 Sikhs. Most have emigrated from Punjab (India), though there was a sizeable emigration from East Africa, notably Kenya. 56.1 per cent of all Sikhs are British-born. 73.1 per cent of Sikhs live in the South East, Greater London area and the West Midlands.
The first Sikh settler to United Kingdom
The first recorded Sikh settler in Britain was Maharaja Duleep Singh in 1854. Duleep Singh was the last ruler of the Sikh kingdom of Punjab. The Maharaja was dethroned after 6 years rule, and exiled to Britain in 1849 at the age of 14, after the Anglo-Sikh wars. There is a statue to the Maharaja at Butten Island, Thetford, Norfolk, near the Elveden Estate where he lived in Britain. The statue was unveiled by the Prince of Wales in 1999. Despite the early arrival of the Maharaja, the first Sikh Gurdwara (temple) was not established until 1911, at Putney in London.
The Sikh Immigrants to United Kingdom
The first Sikh migration came in the 1930s. It was mostly of men from the Punjab seeking work in British industry, which had a shortage of unskilled labour. Most of the new arrivals worked in industries like foundries and textiles. These new arrivals mostly settled in London, Birmingham and West Yorkshire. The first batch of Sikh migrants usually removed the outward religious symbols (turban, hair and beard) as racist prejudice in Britain would have kept them out of work. The first wave of Sikh immigrants to Britain were the soldier survivors of the World War I though most of them came afterwards from Punjab, after India became independent. They were followed by thousands of Sikhs from East Africa, where many had lived previously.
The Success of Sikhs in United Kingdom
They have done remarkably well in the last fifty years in many fields from farming and commerce to engineering, medicine and law. Today, among them are distinguished businessmen, lawyers, judges, doctors and software experts. An enterprising, resilient and industrious community, they have played a vital role in various professions, business and politics not only in India, but also in countries which they have made their home. Through hard work, perseverance and honesty, they have made a life for themselves and their families.
In recognition of their contribution to the British society, Prime Minister Tony Blair paid them a glowing tribute on the occasion of the 2003 Vaisakhi celebration in London. Mr. Blair said, "I know that British Sikhs have made a great contribution to the economic, cultural and political life of the United Kingdom, and I firmly believe that your faith and culture have brought tremendous strengths and benefits to our society. Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales praised the Sikh community for "having served this country with great loyalty for hundreds of years, adding to the rich tapestry in Britain."
Sikhism in Britain is experiencing a revival in faith and following amongst its youth. Sikh organisations, most notably the Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha in Southall, West London have contributed to this with the acquisition and funding of several educational centres and schools. Media exposure has also led to renewed interest from the indigenous population, with eminent historians such as Professor H.L. Bradshaw commenting that Sikhism is the "faith of the New Age"
Another statistic showing how widely the Sikhs are accepted and praised within the wider framework of British society was a recent survey conducted by a British newspaper of different ethnicities and their wealth. An example was house ownership, where Sikhs had a remarkably high figure of 82%. Overall, Sikhs were placed at number 1, above Jews and Christians who came second and third respectively. For a detailed account of Sikhs in Britain, see Gurharpal Singh and Darshan Singh Tatla, Sikhs in Britain: The Making of a Community (London: Zed, 2006)