House of Lords disapproves ethnic tick-box in census for Sikh community

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LONDON: In a major development, House of Lords has approved the draft census order for England and Wales without a Sikh response option in the ethnicity question.

The Sikh Federation, claiming to have the backing of more than 150 Gurdwaras and groups, is campaigning for a Sick tick-box option in the question on ethnicity. But the census-without this- was approved by the House of Lords without amendment, having already passed through the House of Commons.

Crossbench life peer Lord Singh of Wimbledon described the Sikh Federation (UK) as “an extremist fringe group which rejects key Sikh teaching” during a debate at which the House of Lords.

Lord Nicholas Edward True

Lord Singh told peers the federation was leading “an ill-conceived campaign to confine Sikh teaching open to all to a single ethnicity. It’s un-Sikh-like argument is that being recorded under ethnicity will get us more resources than other religions,” he said.

“It plays on the hurt felt by many of us over the 1984 genocide of Sikhs, saying that reducing the religion to an ethnic group will help us to get a Sikh state in India. The politically motivated federation falsely claims mass support, with questionable statistics,” Singh argued.

Lord Singh lambasted the federation for misunderstanding of the Mandla case in the early 1980s. “The law then protected ethnicity, but religion, against discrimination. The Law Lords ruled that as most Sikhs in the UK then were born in Punjab and had Punjabi ethnicity, Sikhs were also entitled to protection. The criteria of birth and origin would not be met today, as most Sikhs are born in the UK, nor is such a convoluted protection necessary. The Equality Act 2010 gives full protection to religion,” he said, adding many Sikhs were appalled at how “some British politicians, anxious for votes, are willing to accept as fact the absurdities of those who shout the loudest”.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon

Minister of state at the Cabinet Office Lord True said it was not possible to include a tick-box on the census for each of the groups that asked for one but there would continue to be a specific Sikh response option in the census question on religion.

But Labour life peer Baroness Kennedy argued it was “ethnic, not faith, data that public bodies use to make decisions about the provision of public services” whilst Labour life peer Baroness Hayter said Sikhs were being discriminated against.
The federation has launched two legal challenges in the high court against the Cabinet Office over the census and this week plans to lodge a petition with Scotland’s supreme civil court over the Census (Scotland) Order, which also lacks a Sikh response option in the ethnicity question.