"The UK owes an immense debt of gratitude to the courage and sacrifice of the Sikh soldiers." Prince Charles, St.James Palace, 24 April 2008
Winston Churchill urges respect for Sikhs
"British people are highly indebted and obliged to Sikhs...we needed their help twice and they did help us very well. As a result of their timely help, we are able to live with dignity, honour and independence..."
In his "Let's Respect the Turban" speech to the House of Commons, following the conclusion of the second World War, Churchill said:
".....It is a matter of regret that due to the obsession of the present times people are distorting the superior religious and social values, but those who wish to preserve them with respect, we should appreciate them as well as help them. Sikhs do need our help for such a cause and we should give it happily. Those who know the Sikh history, know England's relationship with the Sikhs and are aware of the achievements of the Sikhs, they should persistently support the idea of relaxation to Sikhs to ride a motorbike with their turbans on, because it is their religious privilege...British people are highly indebted and obliged to Sikhs for a long time. I know that within this century we needed their help twice and they did help us very well. As a result of their timely help, we are today able to live with honour, dignity, and independence. In the war, they fought and died for us, wearing the turbans. At that time we were not adamant that they should wear safety helmets because we knew that they are not going to wear them anyways and we would be deprived of their help. At that time due to our miserable and poor situation, we did not force it on them to wear safety helmets, why should we force it now? Rather, we should now respect their traditions and by granting this legitimate concession, win their applaud."
200 YEARS OF BRITISH-SIKH RELATIONS: Past, Present & Future
2009 will mark 200 years of formal contact between the British and Sikhs. In 1809, the first official treaty of 'amity and concord' - Treaty of Amritsar - was signed between the British authorities and the Government of Panjaab. On 25th April 1809, Charles Metcalfe from the British East India Company met with Maharaja Ranjeet Singh, in Amritsar, to sign a formal agreement of 'friendship and co-operation'.It represents a major signpost in history of British-Panjaabi and British-Sikh relations. Much has followed from this official contact - friendly and unfriendly, in what is today a very eventful, tumultuous, controversial, history of British-Sikh contact, interaction, subjugation, service, submission, sacrifice, betrayal, subjugation, migration, racism, social cohesion and integration.
2009 will be an opportunity to highlight the last 200 years of BRITISH-SIKH RELATIONS: Past, Present & Future. A series of talks, event, exhibitions, discussions, are invited from across British and Sikh communities and organisations in the UK. Ideas, include pictorial exhibitions of Sikhs in British Life, the Untold Story of the Anglo-Sikh Wars, Sikhs in 1947: the British role, Sikh migration and settlement in Britain, the Britain's Unrecognised Hero: Sikh Soldier in the World Wars, Cohesion & Integration: Sikh-British diaologue.
Communities, organisations, history groups, societies, gurdwaras are encouraged to organise an event which will inform and inspire British and Sikh minds about their unique and intricate relationship over the last 200 years, and how it continues to unfold and evolve today.We invite you to join in, organise a local event, talk, exhibition, create awareness of the historic British-Sikh bonds and further the cause of understanding and cohesion between Britain and the Sikh nation.
TREATY OF AMRITSAR: 25th April 2009 marks exactly 200 years
since the British and Sikhs came into contact. On 25th April 2009, Sikh-British relations were formally commenced with the signing of the TREATY OF AMRITSAR, between the Government of Panjaab and the British East India Company (as authorised by the British Government).
The Treaty formalised 'amity and concord' between the Panjaab state, the country of the Panjaabi-Sikh people, and the British Government and its East India Company which controlled and governed much of the territories of South Asia ('India') as part of British India.
The history of British-Sikh relations is rich with details, events, wars, colonialism, migration and more.
The Anglo-Sikh relationship is a vibrant story of foes becoming friends. It is a mixture of official treaties, conflict, intense wars, betrayal, political failures, imperial schemes, mass agitations and protests, bullets and bloodshed, protection, sacrifices, migration, settlement and social cohesion.
Timeline 1809 to 2009
The following is a summary time-line of this 200 year history.
1809: Signing of Treaty of Amritsar, confirming 'amity and concord' between Sikh state and British India.
1831: Alexander Burnes, British representative, visits Ranjeet Singh in Lahore. Brings a present of a present of horses from King William IV.
1839: Signing of Tripartite Treaty between Panjaab, British and rival Afghan monarch (Shah Shuja).
1845-1849: Two Anglo-Sikh Wars, between Panjaab and British armies. Treaties of Amritsar, Lahore and Bhyrowal signed between defeated Sikh forces and British power, confirming British conquest of Panjaab.
1849: British take-over Panjaab and annex into British India. Terminate Panjaabi state and independence.
1849: Joseph Davey Cunningham (1812-1851), Scottish officer in British political service, publishes "History of the Sikhs: from the origin of the nation to the battles of the Sutlej." Book documents secret British plans to overthrow Panjaab. Book banned and Cunningham dismissed.
1850: Formation of 1st Sikh Infrantry Regiment to serve under British India.
1854: Maharajah Duleep Singh (5-years old, deposed monarchical head of Panjaab), taken to Britain and raised as 'Christian-English gentleman'.
1857: Large-scale rebellion against British rule across India. Sikh-Panjaabi troops provide vital support, preventing near toppling of British control. British Raj survives due to vital Sikh support.
1872: British authorities rounds up Naamdhari Sikh movement activists, campaigning for Panjaab independence and boycott of British rule. Forty-nine activists blown to death by cannon fire. Nineteen hanged. Leader Baba Raam Singh, exiled to Burma (dies in 1885).
1873: Founding of Singh Sabha Movement, to revive Sikh ethics and culture, following alarm at growing Christian missionary conversion activity in Panjaab.
1881: British install their own managers to control the functions of the Harmandir Sahib ('Golden Temple'), Amritsar.
1886: Maharajah Duleep Singh attempts to return to Panjaab. Permitted to arrive in India, under tight surveillance, but prohibited from going to Panjaab.
1887: Duleep Singh seeks Russian support for Sikh revolt. Russia refuses.
1893: Formation of Khalsa College (Amritsar), a major Sikh national educational institution.
1897: Battle of Saragarhi 21 Sikh Soldiers (36th Sikhs) die fighting against 15,000 Afghan tribesman, defending British fort in Saragarhi, North West Frontier region. The whole of the House of Commons (London) stands in praise of this "unparalleled act of bravery".
1908: 100 Sikhs set up first make-shift Sikh Gurdwara in UK, subsequently moved to a permanent location in Shepherds Bush.
1914-1918: Tens of thousands of Panjaabi and Sikh soldiers fight for British in World War One, across Europe and Middle-East.
1919: Jalianwala Bagh Amritsar massacre. Sir Michael O'Dwyer, Governor of Panjaab, gives orders for mass shooting on large-scale civilian protest gathering in Amritsar to "teach Panjaab a much needed lesson". Four hundred civilians killed, and many more seriously injured.
1920: Sikhs form the Gurdwara Reform Movement to rescue various Sikh Gurdwaras from domination and control by 'mahants' and British. Sikhs, also, form Akali Dal as a campaigning body, to assert Sikh national-political rights and fight restrictive British policies.
1925: Sikh Gurdwara Act giving full control of Sikh Gurdwaras to a designated Sikh authority, the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandhak Committee.
1940: Udham Singh shoots dead Sir Michael O'Dwyer, in Caxton Hall, London. Udham Singh arrested, convicted and hanged
1939-1945: 300,000 Panjaabi-Sikh soldiers fight in World War Two.
1946: Colonel Landen Sarasfied, British Army Officer, publishes "Betrayal of the Sikhs", calling upon British Government to protect Sikh position in forthcoming transfer of power set for 1947.
1947: British Government surrenders rule over India, and transfers power to a central government in Dheli. Panjaab is partitioned and divided between two new formed states - India and Pakistan. Sikhs angry and disaffected with entire process. Sikhs feel 'let down and abandoned' by British Government. Sikhs left stateless and without self-government, exposed to the Indian state.
1960s: Large-scale Panjaabi-Sikh migration to England, UK.
1983: House of Lords declares Sikhs (Mandla v Dowell Lee case) to be "more than just a religion". It declares that Sikhs are a distinct racial group on grounds of their ethnic history, language, religion, culture and sense of community.
1984: 100,000 Sikhs gather in Hyde Park, London to protest against Indian Government military onslaught in June 1984 on Panjaab. British Sikhs urge British Government intervention.
2000: British Government bans two Sikh organisations (Babbar Khalsa and International Sikh Youth Federation), under anti-terrorism legislation.
2005: Sikhs participate in William Wallace (Scottish national braveheart) 700 year anniversary parade, Lanark, Scotland.
2007: Call for establishment of a Sikh regiment in British Army rejected by British Government and Commission for Race Equality.
2008: Prince Charles says that Britain "owes an immense debt of gratitude" to Sikhs for their sacrifices in the World Wars.
2008: Sarika Kaur Case : Sikh girl wins legal right to wear her kara at school in Wales following High Court (London) ruling.
2009: Construction of third dedicated Sikh school (Khalsa Primary School) begins in England, in Ealing, London. Sikhs write to Queen Victoria requesting access to Sikh artefacts, Granths and documents held in Windsor Castle.
View the following excellent online sources on Anglo-Sikh history:
Sikhs in Britain http://www.sikhsinbritain.com/home.html
Empire, Faith and Kinship: Exploring 150 years of the Anglo-Sikh relationship http://www.efk.ukpha.org/
Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail http://www.asht.info/anglosikh