A group of British lawmakers have launched a year-long campaign to lobby for Sikhism to be added as a separate ethnicity tick-box in the next UK census in 2021 after the country's statistical authority concluded it was not required.
The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for British Sikhs accused the Office of National Statistics (ONS) of ignoring "overwhelming" Sikh community support for such an additional category in order to ensure fair treatment of British Sikhs and address racial discrimination.
"The ONS with its latest proposals in the White Paper has now opened itself up to legal action and a claim of institutionalising discrimination against Sikhs," said Labour MP Preet Kaur Gill, Chair of the APPG for British Sikhs.
"MPs, with the support of gurudwaras, Sikh organisations and the community, are starting a year-long nationwide campaign to put this right and a Sikh ethnic tick box to be added when the Census Order 2019 is presented in the House of Commons," she said.
In a recently released White Paper, titled 'Help Shape Our Future: The 2021 Census of Population and Housing in England and Wales', the ONS said the estimates of the Sikh population can be met through data from the specific response option in the Sikh religion question.
"The ONS does not propose adding an additional specific response option to the 2021 Census ethnic group question because of the evidence that this would not be acceptable to a proportion of the Sikh population," the White Paper states.
"There are differing views within the Sikh population as to whether a specific response option should be added to the 2021 Census, and views on each side are passionately held... All respondents who stated they were ethnically Sikh (in question versions with or without a specific Sikh response option) also stated their religious affiliation was Sikh," the paper notes.
Sikhs are already recognised as a separate religion in the optional religious question introduced in the 2001 Census. The UK's Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 placed an obligatory and specific duty on the country's public authorities to monitor and positively promote race equality in the provision of public services.
According to some British Sikh groups such as Sikh Federation UK, public bodies tend to only reference the ethnic groups used in the census and demand a separate Sikh ethnic tick-box to ensure Sikhs have fair access to all public services.
"The recommendations fully recognise the need for good data on the Sikh community, both in terms of the need for high quality data from the census and also wider across all public services. Everyone who wishes to identify as Sikh will be able to do so," said John Pullinger, UK's National Statistician, who has also written to the APPG for British Sikhs with assurances.
The Network of Sikh Organisation (NSO), which had campaigned against such a separate ethnicity tick-box, welcomed the conclusions of the White Paper as "common sense".
"The ONS has conducted significant research and consultation on this matter across the British Sikh community over a long period of time. They revealed focus groups conducted showed, 'younger second-generation participants wanted to express their Sikh background through the religion question as this is how they expected Sikh identity to be recorded'," the NSO said in a statement.
"In any case, from a doctrinal perspective, Guru Nanak was the founder of a great world religion, not an 'ethnic' group. Sikh teachings reject division of society on grounds of caste, creed, colour and, by the extension of this debate, ethnicity," it adds.
The ONS has also stressed that its "Digital First" census in 2021 will have a new "search-as-you-type" facility on the online form, which will allow anyone to identify as being of any particular ethnic identity, including Sikh.
"The ONS will also utilise the Digital Economy Act 2017 to help ensure data on the Sikh population is available across public services - not just census collected data," it said.
The date for the next UK census has been confirmed as March 21, 2021, subject to parliamentary approval.