New research: Sikh activism and race relations organisations in Britain

It’s always gratifying to see our collections contributing to academic research and new publications.

Gyani Sundar Singh Sagar, who fought for turban-wearing Sikh men to be exempt from the law regarding motorcycle helmets. Image courtesy of Ujjal Singh

Gyani Sundar Singh Sagar, who fought for turban-wearing Sikh men to be exempt from the law regarding motorcycle helmets. Image courtesy of Ujjal Singh

Brett Bebber from Old Dominion University in Virginia, USA, spent some time with us researching Sikh activism. He found our oral history collections (audio recordings and transcripts) useful, particularly those collected through the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Education Trust project Exploring Our Roots (2002). Brett has just sent us a link to the first publication coming out of his research: Model migrants?: Sikh activism and race relations organisations in Britain. It’s a fascinating read. Here’s the abstract and a link to the full article:

Race relations organisations in Britain hailed Sikhs as models of peaceful integration during volatile political debates about the immigration of Commonwealth peoples during the 1960s and early 1970s. But Sikh campaigns to protect the sanctity of turban-wearing challenged this symbiotic relationship. This article explores how motorcycle helmet laws provoked a campaign to protect the Sikh turban and allowed diasporic Sikhs to articulate their concerns about British integration and race relations expertise during the mid-1970s. Sikh campaigners linked restrictions on turban-wearing to concerns about race relations legislation, equal employment policy, and their rights as British residents. In assessing the fluctuating relationship between Sikh activists and race relations authorities, it reveals the fractures in pluralist integrationist ideologies that continued to prioritise British cultural authority. The evidence here also demonstrates that this moment provided British Sikh communities with an unprecedented opportunity for national solidarity and diasporic community-building.

Read the full article

Brett Bebber, Department of History, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA, USA
Published in Contemporary British History, 2017

If you fancy a shorter read check out the Fight for the Turban story on the Archives+ Radical Thinking section.

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