Empire, Faith and War: A ReviewLeave a Comment
It was the tercentenary of the birth of the Sikh brotherhood – the Khalsa; and as a teenager i was active with my schools Sikh society. I thought it would be a great idea to visit with fellow students a new exhibition everyone in my community was talking about. And so one Saturday with a teacher and a minibus eagerly arranged we embarked upon a trip from Birmingham to London.
Just like Amandeep Singh Madra and Parmjit Singh, who were featured in the BBC1 documentary series “The Sikhs” on Vaisakhi that year, I too wanted to write and research about Sikhs. I’d like to think as a mainstream journalist (and one who has produced independent projects alongside organizations such as the Arts Council, as well as events in prestigious venues such as Parliament and RMA Sandhurst) that that visit and iconic book sparked my drive to tell the Sikh story to mainstream audiences.
It is a testament to their hard work and continuous effort to delve, find, preserve and promote these treasures of knowledge which would otherwise be hidden or little understood. And a sign of their dedication that since their work on the original “Warrior Saints” in 1999 the team has progressed to become, undoubtedly, the leaders in their field of researching and producing content on Anglo-Sikh history and heritage. Bravo!
The exhibition is a journey every person (Sikh or non, history enthusiast or not) should undertake as we mark the First World War and seek ways of better understanding the various elements of the conflict and the people involved in it. In better understanding the Sikh story one get’s a real appreciation of how the community has got to where it has today, as crucial players in British society and economy.
It is too easy to be critical of such hard works, the only doubt expressed in my mind about the experience was on overhearing a tour guide stating an incorrect fact (on the composition of the 36th Sikhs) as well as the hanging question mark I had about the practical ways the Sikh code of conduct was enacted by the soldiers – which in itself requires more research and reading.
But I must offer this critique for balance – that the space for the exhibit does not do it justice. I do not doubt that with a larger room better laid out the UKPHA team could fill it with more riches of our history and rather than offering what in places is a general introduction to elements of the Sikh effort (such as with the campaign outside of Europe) could present more depth. Perhaps that is their intention or desire as they continue this project over the next few years.
Finally, I so wanted to take something away with me – in the form of a book – of their research and images on the WW1 Sikhs and the behind-the-scenes story of how they made such a wonderful exhibition happen. Perhaps this is something they are working on – I’d love to buy it. There were books on sale, but some of these have been a turn-off for me because of the connection they’ve had with the sanatanist Nidar Singh. Though that should not in any way impact upon the view of UKPHA as the pioneers of bringing Anglo-Sikh heritage to the masses.
I do not doubt that, like me many years ago, there are many many more young impressionable men and women out there yearning for this power of knowledge – who inspired by such national events will progress the cause of the British Sikh community. They should see this exhibition and be proud of their communities heroism during the war – and of the awesome work of UKPHA in keeping their story alive.
‘Empire, Faith & War’ is a project of the UK Punjab Heritage Association (UKPHA) and is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
Learn more here: www.empirefaithwar.com and follow them on Twitter via @gt1588