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UK Sikh group considers legal action over no ethnicity tick box in census


Press Trust of India London
A British Sikh group lobbying for Sikhism to be added as a separate ethnicity tick box in the next UK census in 2021 is considering taking legal action against the UK government over its rejection of such a categorisation.
Sikh Federation UK claims to have the support of over 120 Gurdwaras and Sikh organisations as it issued a letter before action to the UK Cabinet Office last week, demanding a reassessment of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) decision to reject the need for such an additional tick box.
Our clients have identified a number of flaws within the process for determining whether to include a Sikh ethnicity category in the 2021 Census, Rosa Curling, solicitor from UK law firm Leigh Day, which is representing the group, said.
They believe it is crucial that individuals are able to identify as ethnically Sikh in the next Census to ensure a more accurate picture of the community is taken. This will ensure public bodies are fulfilling their duties under the Equality Act when making decisions about the allocation of vital public services, she said.
Sikh Federation UK believes that it would be unlawful for the Cabinet Office to lay before the Parliament a Census order based on the proposals set out by the ONS in their December 2018 White Paper.
The draft Census order is due to be laid before the House of Commons later this year.
Without public bodies monitoring Sikhs as a distinct ethnic group they cannot be aware of the barriers Sikhs face as a religio-ethnic community, Bhai Amrik Singh, Chair of the Sikh Federation UK, said.
We hope that the government will listen to our arguments and agree to apply a lawful approach to this decision without the need for the case to be fought in the courts, he said, indicating that unless the group receives a satisfactory response to its letter before action, the group will consider initiating judicial review proceedings in the UK courts.
The issue has divided the British Sikh community, with the Network of Sikh Organisations among those who have been against such a separate tick box.
They should accept the ONS decision to reject their ridiculous 'ethnic' tick-box campaign, said Lord Indarjit Singh, a Sikh peer in the House of Lords and Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations.
Sikhism is a great world faith open to all, and the Gurus explicitly rejected all man made divisions in society including race, caste and by extension, the misuse of the word ethnicity. We'd like someone in the SFUK to explain what an 'ethnic Sikh' is. Is it something like an atheist Christian, he questioned.
Sikhs are 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 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, 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 Office for National Statistics (ONS), which had consulted over the issue in preparation of its White Paper to be tabled in the UK Parliament, believes that the country's first digital census in 2021 will ensure that all groups are covered.
A spokesperson for the ONS said: The ONS recommendations follow extensive research and consultation with groups and individuals and everyone who wishes to identify as Sikh will be able to do so."

"The religion question will have a specific Sikh tick box response option and everyone who wishes to identify as Sikh in response to the ethnicity question will be able to do so through a write-in option. We believe these proposals will enable public bodies to work with the Sikh community in shaping public services to meet their needs, the spokesperson added.

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First Published: May 29 2019 | 6:25 PM IST

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