Young British Sikh women have a very tailored racial experience within the women of colour umbrella. We are the youngest religion in India and one of the youngest religions of the world, roughly considered to be about 530 years old. We belong to a small, growing community with lots of potential.
Focus on that word for a moment – growing. Not grown, just growing. It implies an unoccupied space and time. It implies everything I have experienced as a 23 year old British Sikh woman, that we are yet to become just as multi-skilled as our larger Indian counterparts.
Now I don't mean to imply that we do not have the same opportunities as larger Indian communities. As British citizens, we have doors open to us that would otherwise be a distant dream if we had never immigrated here in the first place. But we do need to envision the possibility that, as a young community, we have yet to stick our fingers in other pies. The perpetuated stereotypes of Sikh men and women have certainly hindered our attempt to be taken seriously, both in India and in the UK. It’s undermining Sikh men and women from being taken seriously in other career fields. The stereotypes about Sikhs being these absurd, comical characters have also been a longstanding notion fuelled by Indian cinema, undermining us in our attempts to prosper economically.
We’re depicted as these loud, thoughtless, dense, dancing oxygen stealers within Indian cinema and for those who have never met a Sikh before, this just propagates the stereotype. Sikh women are almost always domesticated in every portrayal of Indian cinematic art, which is a huge gender bias and another hindrance to us. It’s a heavily inappropriate and offensive depiction of the entire Sikh community and the personas that exist within that community. These obsolete and ludicrous interpretations of us as individuals are possibly marginalising us from becoming a thriving culture; we don’t want to be associated with these embarrassing assumptions of our collective character. This is not who we are, or what we have achieved. To impose these mocking stereotypes on one community is uneducated and in this day and age, it’s ridiculously outdated.
There are two solutions to this – either the cinematic audience needs to stop relying on Indian cinema to define what Sikhs are meant to be and look towards the talented individuals within our community for that definition, or there aren’t enough role models and this is where we need to encourage growth from.
I tried googling 'inspiring Sikh women of all time' thinking that the results of this search would bring me closer to women who can paint, sing, play the piano and are avid readers – women I could relate to. It is worth noting that iconic fighters such as Mai Bhago, Gulab Kaur and Sahib Kaur graced my screen - yet not many links pertaining to the achievements of modern Sikh women appeared. Where are we all?
We have certainly made strides in this department, from launching the first online ethnic marketplaces to becoming fashion designers, models and even editors in a predominantly white industry. What our unique and equality-championing belief system needs right now is for modern Sikh women to also think communally about their goals. Mentoring schemes for young Sikh girls who bury their heads in books and art, hoping to become writers or illustrators one day. We need to provide guidance and instruction to those of us who want to learn something as mind-boggling as coding. Sunday Punjabi schools are great, but not enough. Opportunities like these exist but are far and few. Very few.
We’re meant to have an array of success stories in front of us, just like everyone else. I’m fed up of thinking about Sikh female role models and having to look back at the women who are gone. Every other vast ethnic community has its own long line of successful public figures acting as ambassadors for their community, culture and religion. What we need to do is recognise this as a strength and build our very own line of successors, help them find a large and prominent platform to speak and represent our community. Encouraging them to gain traction through a variety of different avenues (social media, the news, television, conferences) and championing their successes amidst the wider world.
If I can leave any kind of footprint, it would be the kind of footprint a Sikh woman would feel capable of filling. Because she can.
If there are many inspiring, successful Sikh women, they certainly aren’t receiving the media attention that they probably would have if they had belonged to an increasingly large ethnic community. Researching for Sikh sportswomen, scientists or linguists in this era shouldn’t be so difficult, and the results certainly shouldn’t be so sparse. Where are we all?
Because we, us, Sikh women – we are commercially viable. We’re intelligent, versatile and we glow from the enrichment of our culture. We are a brave community, been slaughtered at the hands of the partition, terrorism, Operation Bluestar and post-Indira riots. We’ve endured a lot during our 500+ years of existence. There is absolutely no reason why we should casually disappear into the background, or remain overshadowed by the POC umbrella. It is imperative that we remember how incredibly enterprising we are as a community – names like Analjit Singh and Jay Sidhu should attest to that (erm, where are all the women?).
We’re an organised and hard-working unit, having spread to many corners of the world. Did you know that some of us live in Iceland (100), Japan (2,000) and Kazakhstan (800)? There’s even a population of us (just over 4,000) in Fiji. Who would have thought that we would settle in such contrasting corners of the world? It has a lot to do with our versatility – our willingness to adapt to any given environment in order to grow and foster our ambitions. Amongst all of those population figures, think of how many of them must be women, who will bear more aspiring, creative young women. Women like you and me.
We’re not just a minority within a minority.
Now get to work, I’m rooting for you.