Archive: Mar 2014

  1. Turbans of the British Indian Army

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    Recent posts on popular social media groups such as “Great Sikh Battles” got me thinking that a blog about writing this post about the Turbans worn in the British Indian Army.

    As the author of  “Turbanology: Guide to Sikh Identity”  it irks me that when talking about the Sikh contribution – researchers and writers often make the mistake of counting anyone who is a ‘Singh’ or has a turban as a Sikh, thus exaggerating the numbers of those who served.  This doesn’t help our understanding of the conflict nor the sacrifices of our ancestors.

    The turban is fundamentally a part of Sikh identity – it encases uncut hair on the head, and for men is complimented by an unshorn beard.  The hair is a sacred symbol, one of the 5 K’s and which all Sikhs keep in accordance with the will of God.

    But the turban is not a solely Sikh symbol – it is associated with the east and shared with many other faiths and cultures across Asia.  This is best seen in India where the turban is worn by many non-Sikhs.

    Turning to the period of Empire, Sikh soldiers were distinguishable by their turbans and uncut beards.  But all British Indian regiments embraced the turban as the primary ceremonial form of regimental headdress worn by all ranks regardless of faith.  Even British officers donned the turban.

    During conflicts such as the Great War, many Indians would switch their turbans for helmets for combat – but the Sikhs were afforded the respect and dignity of always maintaining their dastaar and thus their faith and identity was represented even in battle.

    But when we see images of these conflicts, many are confused by who the turban-wearing Indians are, so this blog is designed to shed light on this – and we can do so by looking at the style of turbans in question.

    So what were there different turban styles.  Here are some examples:

    L – R:  Sikh with 24th Punjabi / (Hindu) Jatt with 12th Pioneers / Punjabi Muslim
    L – R:   Rajputa Muslim with 128th Pioneers /  Afridi with 24th Punjabis

    British Indian regiments during the time of Empire were organised on a class-based system.  While some were solely Sikh, Rajput or Brahmin regiments – others had a mix of squadrons or companies of different races.

    For example – the 36th Sikhs, famed for it’s defence of Samana and heroics at Saragahi, was a regiment based wholly of Sikhs.  While the 27th Punjabis, who achieved battle honours in China, Afghanistan and Burma; was a mixture of Sikh, Hindu Dogra, Punjabi Muslim and Pathan companies.

    The classes that made up British Indian regiments in 1914 were:
    Sikh, (Hindu) Dogra, (Hindu) Jatt, Punjabi Hindu, Brahmin, Punjabi Muslim, Rajputana Muslim, Dekhani Muslim, Pathan, Hazaras, Afridi, Orakzais, Khattaks

    Sikhs were further organised into: Jatt, non-Jatt, Lobana, Mazbi & Ramdasia squadrons or companies.  This was not because the British embraced the caste system but rather because of the prowess in various arms of the classes.  We will leave further discussion of this to a future post.

    While turbans are not the same in how they are tied, we can certainly see similarities in how tthe various races tied their turbans which lends us to be able to analyse photos and say with some credibility who they belong to.

    If you have any real images of British Indians in turbans please do share on this post thread, and let’s see if we can spot which race the soldiers belong to.

  2. New “Sikhs At War” Logo

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    We tasked our favourite artist Jag Lall to create a new logo for the “Sikhs At War” project.

    We went through a long procedure to iron out the best motif – debating what we wanted to depict in order to show the shared British-Sikh history and inspire others to feel proud about their connection and service during the Great War.

    Below are some of the design concepts Jag came up with, which we creatively discussed:

    The common theme was the chakkar / silver circle.  This denotes the oneness with God that Sikhs believe in – reflected within the kara or iron bracelet that forms one of the 5 K’s which all Sikhs wear.

    The Sikh soldier too is represented – in memory of the countless tens of thousands who fought for freedom and against tyranny in every arena of the Great War.  The soldiers turban is large, this was the only defence Sikhs had in war and they’d often find bullets within them!  The beard appears trimmed but isn’t – Sikhs did not cut their hair even in combat; but the beard was kept tied up to stop it jamming in the rifle.

    We debated about whether to keep the Union Jack flag and Nishaan Sahib – but in our final choice we were won over by simplicity as we didn’t feel the need to make this extroversial gesture.

    Our final choice for our logo is the final one above – image 6.

    We feel this pays tribute to the memory of Sikhs during the Great War – please do comment and add your thoughts.

  3. Skinner’s Horse

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    I recently made contact with Skinner’s Horse, a riding group that recreate the heroics of the famous British Indian regiment.

    The group are looking for Sikhs/Indians who can ride to join their organisation – in order to better reflect the make up of the regiment.

    If you’re interested – click on the links above and get involved!

    It’s worth noting that Skinner’s Horse was one of many cavalry regiments made up of class based squadrons – with Sikhs serving alongside Rajputs, Muslim Rajput and Hindu Jatts.

    All saw action during the Great War, and received great recognition in France and Flanders before being moved to Mesopotamia.

    Please do comment on this thread about the group – and any stories or pictures you may have.

  4. Abusing intellectual property is not on!

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    *** UPDATE on 19/3/14 ***

    Further to the below post, I’ve now spoken to the founder/manager of Akaal Channel (AS Kooner).  We had a good measured conversation – and what struck me was that he wasn’t interested in £ but moving forward as a community and with good relations intact.

    This is a very humbling and reassuring position – our work is here to benefit others, we give selflessly in what we do.  So despite mistakes we must always be willing to apologise and move on.  This is great to see from someone who runs a Sikh media channel.

    Mr Kooner asked us to come and present our work regularly on Akaal Channel, which we declined.  Our films and productions reach a greater international audience online, nor are we interested in air time or fame.  But when we engage with ALL mainstream media on new releases, we will be willing to work with Akaal on promoting our work.

    I now consider this matter at an end – it’s good to know that there is someone who is working professionally in the Indian media world – ontrast this to Mr “I Am Sikh media” over at Sikh Channel!

    *** The original post is below so you can our original issue ***

    I’ve never been one to disregard another persons rights over their intellectual property – as a journalist I have always acknowledged that plagiarism is wrong and that citing others work always deserves a credit.

    As an independent researcher and history enthusiast – I balance my work and family life with my passion for making films about British Sikh history.  I’m not paid to do this nor do I make any money from the productions I create.  Indeed, I pay more for the privilege of trying to narrate the story of my ancestors – by paying a premium for archive images, by spending my own money on travel, expenses, interviews and eventually self-publishing my work.
    So ironic that in the first infringement of my intellectual property this week I happened to have been at the British Library researching regimental histories when a friend sent me the below photo:
    Akaal Channel did not ask my permission to use the cover of my book – nor had they contacted my team for it or acknowledged our work.  Having been told about this infringement I called the channel head to complain – he had no idea about the misuse!  This is a terrible example of unprofessional behaviour on the part of a so called broadcaster.
    The Indian channels all plead poverty to their viewers – constantly asking for donations (notice the ticker at the bottom of the screen) and asking for money to keep their free to air services going.  But what about researchers and filmmakers like me?  We do not get any support from such channels nor do we ask for money from the community at large – our efforts are not just self-funded but self-supporting.  This is why I am irate at the infringement of my hard work and effort.  
    Steps will now be undertaken to ensure this does not happen – this blog post should be a warning to others that I will not tolerate anyone ripping off my work.
    Further to that, I have now discovered that my work has ALSO been ripped off by a researcher in the States who has copied images from my book and ripped video from my online productions (free productions which we self-fund for others to enjoy) for his own trailer.
    I am perplexed about what to do about the latter because I cannot take it seriously – it has spelling mistakes and is a shoddy piece of work.  But a copyright infringement nonetheless.  So on that note I have sent a request for the offending material to be taken down.
    This blatant abuse of others hard work and efforts must end – I speak not only for myself but others I know of who have this same problem with their intellectual property rights being violated.
    There are very few of us working on the British Sikh history agenda – this number will not grow (indeed it will dwindle) unless proper credit is given to those who undertake this important work at personal cost and so little gain.