Archive: 2012

  1. Response to abuse

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    We’re getting some quite nasty emails and messages on our websites and Youtube pages, about Sikhs, the turban and Guardsman Bhullar.

    Apart from the shockingly bad grammar, and overuse of profanity there does, nonetheless, seem to be a whiff of a semi-valid point which hints to a lack of understanding Sikh turban identity.

    So I thought I’d share with you my new book – a resource – to aid everyone’s reading of the Sikh faith.  Please click image below.

    Knowledge is a weapon but it’s best use is as a powerful tool, please read up – and perhaps future messages on our pages might contain succinct arguments if not proper English!

  2. Turban vs Bearskin

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    The recent news coverage of Jatenderpal Singh Bhullar joining the Scots Guards and going on parade has been largely positive. I’ve reflected on this in previous posts.

    Above: Jatenderpal shaking hands with Major Rick Fletcher (Slough ACIO) after taking the oath of allegiance.

    He is parading alongside Guardsmen in their traditional bearskins.  Below I will narrate why the significance of both lend the turban and bearskin to being complimentary to each other.

    With media asking me for interviews and background to Sikhs in the British Army, I wanted to take this blog post to add some colour to why Jatenderpal wearing his turban is not only important but a celebration of +150 years of British and Sikh interaction in the military.

    First, Jatenderpal is NOT the first Sikh to go on guard duty outside the Palace with a turban. That honour goes to Signaler Simranjit Singh (Royal Signals) and Lance Corporal Sarvjit Singh (Army Air Corps) who both undertook the duty in 2009 (below). Both have gone on to undertake operation tours in Afghanistan.

    Nor is he the first to join the Household Division – Trooper Ranny Singh, was the first to join the Life Guards of the Household Cavalry.

    BUT Jatenderpal is the first to pass selection and join a Foot Guards unit and go on duty with his turban and beard (symbols of his faith) intact.

    No doubt other Sikhs without turbans and beards have joined the Household units, but as uncut hair is crucial for Sikh identity Jatenderpal is making history in maintaining this in the uniform of a Guardsman.  More on this below.

    Secondly, he is making history as a Guardsman but is also continuing a strong lineage of Sikhs who fought for Great Britain.  Historically, Sikh interaction with the British military goes back a long long time:

    In 1845 the Sikhs fought Britain during the Sutlej campaign (First Anglo-Sikh War)

    In 1847 the Sikhs fought Britain during the Punjab campaign (Second Anglo-Sikh War).  That year, the kingdom of the Sikhs was annexed by the British.

    In 1857, Sikhs stood loyal to Britain during the mutiny. If they had not done so India could have fallen out of British hands

    During the World Wars Sikhs fought valiantly for Britain in all areas of conflict (more here).

    All this is the background to what I call the “special respect” the British had for Sikhs.

    Unfortunately, this strong connection and history is lost, sadly over around 50 Sikhs serve in the British Army today.

    Above: Sikhs historically served Britain, here some of them are meeting Winston Churchill in Yalta during WW2

    Moving on to the turban vs bearskin issue (the title of this post), both are strong rich traditions which should be wholly supported as the highest symbol of respect, discipline and honour.

    The bearskin is a tall fur cap worn by Foot Guards, it is an honour they won following their brave heroics at the Battle of Waterloo where they ousted Napoleon’s forces.

    Today it is worn for ceremonial purposes but is a constant reminder of the valour of those who brought honour upon their regiments.

    It is also a symbol of the rich traditions and heritage of the British and the respective Guards units that wear them, providing a poignant backdrop of historic endeavours in an age where we often forget about the service and sacrifices of those who helped make Britain great.

    The turban defines a Sikh, above: Trooper Ranny Singh meeting other Sikhs at a Turbanology event

    The turban, quiet simply, defines a Sikh.  It is the physical form given to disciples since the creation of the faith by Guru Nanak Dev ji in 1469.  The Sikh Gurus all wore turbans and it denoted their high spirituality.

    In wearing a turban a Sikh shows he is independent, distinguishable and a follower of the way of life prescribed by the Sikh Gurus.  This applies equally to women as well as men.

    But the key to understanding the turban of the Sikhs is actually the uncut hair is houses – one of the 5 Ks.  In keeping unshorn hair and beards, Sikhs accept the will of God and the humility of maintaining uncut hair gives them discipline and purpose.

    The turban is the best way to cover, protect and encase the long hair – and becomes a crown which all Sikhs wear to show they are an independent race.

    For an initiated Sikh, wearing a cap or hat is out of the question as it degrades the turban.  Similarly the turban should be tied afresh daily and respected by all by not touching it or mocking it.

    So the bearskin represents tradition, duty, honour, history and remembrance.

    So the turban stands for identity, spirituality, independence, discipline and selflessness.

    Is there any difference between them?  Or do they actually compliment one another because of what they symbolise especially in a modern age.

    I hope this short piece will shed some light on why Guardsman Bhullar is wearing his turban and not a bearskin – the key is to respect that he is able to serve in his regiment with his Sikh identity intact.

    I truly hope his example inspires many more Brits to work hard and towards the goal of serving their faith and country.

    There is more on the significance of Sikh identity in my new book here.

  3. Proud of Jatenderpal

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    Here’s some photos of him on duty … truly hope it inspired more young men (of all religious backgrounds) to serve their country with pride:

  4. The First Sikh Scots Guard

    The Daily Mail have an article entitled “The Sikh soldier who will be the first to guard Buckingham Palace without a bearskin as he’ll be wearing a turban instead”.

    It’s about Jatenderpal Singh Bhullar, a remarkable young man who swapped bricklaying for a career in the British Army.

    It’s indeed a fantastic success story, one we’ve followed all the way and featured in our recent film “Slough to Soldier” (below).

    When we got to know Jatenderpal for the filming – he told us he wanted to be in the Paras.

    He wanted to push himself – and venture into a career path that not many Indians had gone down let alone a Sikh with a full beard!

    We urged him on, why shouldn’t someone set a goal for themselves and work hard to achieve it?!
    It’s an inspiration, one which I was certainly touched by and his ambition and drive for success is certainly something which more young people need to have.  

    Jatenderpal didn’t get into the Paras though because of his run time which was a few seconds below the requirement, but he did into the Scots Guards.  In doing so he became the first Sikh with uncut hair/beard to get into Guards regiment!

    I spoke to him after he passed out to congratulate him on this remarkable achievement, and urged him to carry on doing what he was doing because he was not only breaking new ground but representing his faith and community.  

    He sent me a picture of himself in his Scots uniform, and it made me proud to think a Sikh such as he had broken new ground – and would go on to do well in that regiment.

    I knew he’d make a great soldier and felt pleased about his progress from when we first met and filmed him.

    So it’s unfortunate to hear he might have some difficulty in his ambition.

    BUT I for one have full faith in Jatenderpal’s strive to succeed as a soldier – and will be supporting him in every way possible.  

    I hope people from the community-at-large will do the same.

    Please comment positively on this post so we can convey our best wishes to the first Sikh Guard – may he inspired many others to follow suit!

  5. New Short Film “Sikhs At Sandhurst” Coming Soon…

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    My first visit to Royal Military Academy Sandhurst was during a research trip in 2011.

    It struck me immediately that the rich history of this place – which has produced fine officers for centuries – places Sikhs in a glowing frame.

    Quite literally – images of Sikhs in their glorious uniforms line the corridors.  Crests of the various Indian regiments decorate the Indian Memorial room.  A Sikh (and other Indians) appears in a stained-glass window to mark their sacrifices in Afghanistan in 1919.

    We ventured back to Sandhurst in 2012 to film with officers and soldiers for the recent “Slough to Soldier” short film series for the British Army, and during that we gathered enough material to edit a new short narrating the connection.
    “Sikhs At Sandhurst” tells the tale of the Punjabi Prince who’s attendance at the Academy required a special dispensation from the Queen herself.  We look at the records of Prince Victor Duleep Singh with the Sandhurst Collection Curator – and follow the journey of Sikhs who went to Sandhurst and serve their country.

     I’m looking forward to sharing the short film with you soon – it will be uploaded to our main site and embedded here. 

  6. National Memorial Arboretum

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    Had a fantastic time visiting the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

    Timely reflection upon all those who have served and sacrificed for Great Britain.
    I came across a Jewish memorial at the site – made me think whether the Sikh community should invest in leaving a lasting legacy as well – in memory of all those Sikhs who sacrificed during the World Wars.
  7. Remembrance 2012

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    We should all by now know the importance of supporting our troops who fight for Great Britain.

    I wanted to share this “Khanda Poppy” that British Sikhs have created in an effort to show their solidarity and remember those from their community that also served during the Great War and WW2.
    Visit them here:
    Lest we forget…
  8. Saragarhi – 115th anniversary

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    Today marks the 115th anniversary of the Battle of Saragarhi, where 21 loyal Sikhs stood against thousands of Afghan tribes.

    I’ve contributed to a piece on the NRI blog, which is linked here and copied below

    21 Sikhs

    Sourav Roy

    September 12, 2012
    The Battle of Saragarhi is a tale of the incredible valour of 21 soldiers who remained unconquered even in death.
    On this day, in the records of military warfare, a tale of bravery was written – when an army of 21 Sikh soldiers, in an isolated communications post, made a gallant stand against an enemy 10,000 strong. Fighting to the last man, they would create a lasting legacy of human bravery and valour on the battlefield. 12th September 1897 was the day when the Battle of Saragarhi was fought.

    During the Raj, the British colonial rulers had constructed a series of forts to control the NWFP (North West Frontier Province – today a state in Pakistan) in order to provide security to troops against marauding tribesmen and their lashkars (large body of troops). Most of these forts had initially been built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh as part of the consolidation of the Sikh empire in Punjab, and the British added some more.

    Two such forts on the Samana ridge of the Hindukush and Sulaiman ranges were Fort Lockhart and Fort Gulistan – both situated only a few miles apart. Since these forts were not inter-visible, a signaling relay post called Saragarhi was located mid-way on a cliff to provide visual Morse code signals using a heliograph between them. In 1897 there was a general uprising in the NWFP engineered by the Afghans. The 36th Sikh regimentunder the British army was deployed to protect the Gulistan and Lockhart forts. On the 3rd and 9th September 1897, Orakazai and Afridi lashkars attacked Fort Gulistan but were defeated.

    Following their victory, the 36th Sikh troops, while returning from Fort Lockhart stationed 21 of their soldiers at Saragarhi under Havildar Ishar Singh. The Afghan tribes saw this as a golden opportunity, and on 12th September 1897, large hordes of tribesmen attacked Saragarhi. Their strategy was to ensure that no help from Lockhart reached Saragarhi and, after destroying Saragarhi, attack fort Lockhart and Gulistan.

    The Commanding Officer of 36th Sikh, Lt. Col. Haughton, was at Fort Lockhart and in communication with the Saragarhi post. He could see from his position that the tribes were numbered around ten to twelve thousand and requested for reinforcements from Headquarters.

    Havildar Singh and his men knew well that Saragarhi would fall, because a handful of men in that make-shift post of stones and mud walls with a wooden door could not withstand the onslaught of thousands of tribesmen. The soldiers’ duty was to defend Saragarhi while waiting for reinforcements to arrive.

    It must be noted here that the 21 soldiers were not there out of choice, but duty. Now that they were, it was their job to live – and if necessary die – fighting to protect it in the best tradition of their race and regiment.

    At Saragarhi, the Afghans made numerous unsuccessful attempts to break open the gate of the post. While they suffered heavy casualties, the defenders too kept dwindling with their depleting ammunition. Without consideration to his safety, Sepoy Gurmukh Singh kept signaling a minute-to-minute account of the Battle from Saragarhi to the Battalion Headquarters. When repeated attacks failed, the Afghans set fire to the surrounding bushes and two of the tribesmen under cover of smoke, managed to make a breach in the wall.

    A few soldiers were ordered to deal with this breach. This resulted in weakening of the resistance covering the gate. The Afghans now rushed the gate as well as the breach. Thereafter, one of the finest hand-to-hand fights followed. The handful of trapped men at Fort Lockhart also witnessed this unique saga of heroism and valour unfold at Saragarhi.

    After conquering Saragarhi, the tribals set it on fire, while the soldiers lay dead or dying with their ammunition exhausted. Having destroyed Saragarhi, the Afghans turned to Fort Gulistan, but they had been successfully delayed in their progress, and reinforcements arrived in the night of 13th September, before the fort could be conquered.

    After the Afghan uprising was suppressed, the Army recaptured Saragarhi. They found 600 bodies – 21 of them were Sikh men in uniforms. It is believed that 4,800 Afghans were wounded in the battle.

    When the gallantry of Saragarhi was recounted to the British Parliament, the members gave a standing ovation in tribute to the 21 Indian soldiers. The story was received around the world with awe and admiration. Each of the 21 valiant men of this epic battle were posthumously awarded the Indian Order of Merit Class III by the Queen of England. This award is equivalent to today’s Param Vir Chakra. Never before or since has a body of troops – that is, all of them – won gallantry awards in a single action.

    The story of Saragarhi is as heroic as that of the battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans fought to the last stand – a large army of Persians. 115 years after the greatest last stand recorded in military history, we would like to believe that Saragarhi is a well-known tale among historians. The truth is – it isn’t. We would love to believe that Saragarhi is studied in military textbooks. The truth is – it isn’t. We would love to believe that, if not the rest of the world, at least Indians from world take pride in Saragarhi. The truth is – tales of Saragarhi are discussed only out of self interest and political motivation – because it sounds honorific. The real message of Saragarhi is long lost.

    Among the very few people researching the battle of Saragarhi is Jay Singh-Sohal, who is currently working on a documentary film titled 21 Sikhs. In a recent discussion, Singh-Sohal explains:-
    “Saragarhi was forgotten because it was just yet another example of valour and bravery shown by Sikhs during the Raj. The importance of Saragarhi is that as an event it marks a highpoint in what I call ‘the special respect’ the British had for Sikhs during the times of colonial rule. The Sikhs were brave, the Sikhs were loyal – and they would rather die than surrender.
    The British recognized this and recruited them in the thousands – sending them all over the world to serve the interests of the crown. Without the Sikhs fighting for the British – it would have been difficult for the British to protect and secure the North West Frontier Province, Hong Kong, Burma. Without Sikhs in East-Africa, Mesopotamia and Gallipoli – the great-war could have been protracted. Without Sikhs in Flanders, the Germans might have reached the ports and the course of history might have been different. I find this history all very inspiring not only because it shines a light into a bygone age but because this respect and high esteem the Sikhs were held in, has been forgotten – my work as a filmmaker is to tell this story. After all, if we don’t who will?”

    The Battle of Saragarhi is a tale of the incredible valour of a handful of soldiers who believed in their duty and remained unconquered even in death, with the Sikh war cry ringing from their dying lips in defiance of the foe. You must not and will not be forgotten. Today, on this day, 115 years after your supreme sacrifice – we salute you!

    Click HERE if you want to discover more about Sikh military history during the Great War

  9. Slough to Soldier: the full series

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    We’ve now released our series of short films about why young people join the British Army.

    The film, although not a Sikhs@War series film; is worth sharing here because of the individual stories of the people we follow and the background of why they want to serve their country.

    Part 1 is about inspiration, and follows two brothers discovering the hidden history of Sikhs while on a visit to Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst

    Part 2 follows Meri Mosharrafa who’s friends were hurt in an IED blast in Afghanistan, an event that’s pushed her to want to become an Army medic

    Part 3 is about Tarnjit Randhawa, a gym instructor who wants to push himself to the limit in the forces

    Part 4 features Jatinderpal Singh Bhullar, who is swapping life as a bricklayer for a career in the Paras.  He wants to be the first Sikh to do it.

  10. Where Sikhs Went 1914-18

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    As we expand our work on telling the story of Sikhs who fought during the Great War – we recognise there are two crucial parts of the history we we need to tell in order to create greater understanding of their deeds.

    Where Sikhs served and fought during the conflict and how many there were.

    Understanding this is important, in our view, to appreciating the sacrifices Sikhs soldiers made during the conflict.  They were leaving their homes and villages to travel very far overseas, many didn’t think they’d return.

    To address the first point, we’ve produced this new short introductory film which will help facilitate greater understanding of the Great War conflict and of the importance of the staunch Sikhs during it.

    It concisely shows where Sikhs went as part of the Indian Expeditionary Forces (there were 7 in total).

    You can watch it below:

    And please do post your thoughts in comments – so we can gauge your opinions of our research and work in bringing this history to mass audiences.