Meet Preet Kaur Gill, Britain's first Sikh woman MP
While there have been Sikh MPs in the past, this is the first time that a Sikh woman - Preet Kaur Gill - and a man who wears a turban were elected
Dhesi concluded by saying that his propensity to stand out in a crowd may have its own “distinct advantages”. With two community members of Parliament elected in the polls last month, Sikhs in the UK are upbeat about more visibility in public life and having a greater influence on policy matters.
While there have been Sikh MPs in the past, this is the first time that a Sikh woman — Preet Kaur Gill — and a man who wears a turban (Dhesi) were elected from the Birmingham Edgbaston constituency and Slough, respectively.
Gill and Dhesi are both from the Labour Party. Another turban-wearing Sikh, Kuldip Sahota, also of the Labour Party, lost from Telford constituency by a narrow margin. Earlier this week, Gill was selected as one of 11 MPs on the influential cross-party home affairs committee.
Representing the Community
“The Labour Party reached out to our community and it is a positive development that two of us got elected, considering that the previous government had no Sikh representation,” Gill told ET Magazine from the UK.
The Labour Party had also promised in its poll manifesto to hold an independent probe into Britain’s role in Operation Bluestar in 1984 — a military operation ordered by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi at the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
“Representation of the community is a real issue in Britain and during my campaign many members of the Sikh community from across the UK, including my constituency, reached out to me,” says Gill.
According to the 2011 census, 5.3% of Edgbaston’s population was born in India with a 5.7% Hindu demographic and 4.7% Sikh.
As a member of Parliament, Gill is focused on working for education and health services and the skills shortages in these areas that the UK is likely to face in a post-Brexit scenario. “I will be addressing issues such as adequate training facilities for young people in areas of skills shortages. There are many people of Indian origin and from other Commonwealth countries who are contributing in a big way towards the delivery of healthcare services through the National Health Service and other public organisations. We will be reaching out to them.”
The UK-born MP has family in Delhi and Chandigarh and visits India at least once in two years. She had spent nine months in Delhi after her graduation in 1995.
Many Sikh organisations such as the British Sikh Consultative Forum, Network of Sikh Organisations, Sikh Council UK, Sikh Federation UK and the British Sikh Association supported Dhesi, Gill and other members of the community during the campaign.
“We have been looking at the Canadian government which has four Sikh ministers and 19 MPs of Indian origin.
Building stronger political lobbying networks for Sikhs and Indians in the UK is important across all parties,” says Gill.
Dhesi and Gill are not the first Sikhs to be elected MPs. Former lawmakers from the community include Parmjit Dhanda, the late Piara Singh Khabra, the late Marsha Singh and Paramjeet Singh Gill.
“Though there were three of us when I was an MP (between 2001 and 2010), the last government had none. There should be many more Sikh MPs and we can’t get complacent,” Dhanda, who was a Labour MP from Gloucester, told ET Magazine.
While he thinks that a lot remains to be done as far as Sikh representation in government is concerned, Dhanda concedes that gurdwaras in UK have done a remarkable job. Carrying out a lot of humanitarian work quietly, gurdwaras in the UK are now coming out openly to engage in community service and reaching out to different sections of people. “While we welcome the Sikh MPs representing their constituencies with many diverse communities, we will also depend on them to play an active role when it comes to issues specific to our community,” says Gurmel Singh, secretary general of the Sikh Council of UK.
Gurpreet Singh Anand, managing trustee, the Central Gurdwara (Khalsa Jatha) London, feels the increased involvement of the UK Sikh community in public life since the mid-90s has resulted in it being seen as one of the most integrated minorities in the UK. “That is especially important as we also stand out with our unique appearance. It demonstrates that integration is not about appearance, but about values and contribution to the society,” adds Anand.
Making an impact
London-based lawyer Manoj Ladwa, who recently published a book of essays titled Winning Partnership — India-UK Relations Beyond Brexit, reckons that having a larger representation of people of Indian origin in the UK Parliament, including two Sikh MPs, is a celebration of diversity that helps the Indian community to engage with different arms of the British government and also helps people in the UK understand diversity.
“Indians have always been job creators in the UK and have had success in the armed forces, sports and professions across the board. Now the gurdwaras too are helping the community in integrating into the mainstream,” points out Ladwa.
Rami Ranger, who runs a marketing & distribution business and is the deputy treasurer of the Conservative Party, feels the gurdwaras are making an impact because they are seen as community organisations that provide spiritual sustenance. They also support weak and vulnerable sections regardless of race and religion.
“The British Sikhs have always been respected with a record number having fought for the British empire. Today Sikhs are seen as a hardworking community and 82% are home owners — more than any other community in the UK. Home owners claim less benefits and pay higher taxes,” says Ranger whose daughter Reena Ranger, a councillor, stood as a Conservative candidate for the Parliament from Birmingham Hall Green. constituency, but lost.