Fifty Years Of Sikhs In Slough

By Siba Matti | 16 April 2007
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photo shows boy doing sword moves in garden

Courtesy of Slough Museum.

Slough is widely renowned for being a multicultural melting pot, and Slough Museum is celebrating this with a series of five exhibitions dedicated to the different religious communities within the town.

Follow the Anglo-Sikh Heritage Trail of London

Panjaab to Slough: Migration and Panjabi Community Life in Slough (1950-2007), is the first show running until April 28 2007, and explores Sikhism. According to the 2001 Census, 11,000 Sikhs reside in Slough, the equivalent of nine per cent of the town’s inhabitants. They form the largest Sikh population in the UK.

The exhibition includes testimonials and photographs of many inspirational figures who have made their mark within the community, while also offering an explanation of the Sikh faith, including a replica of a congregation hall, the 10 Sikh Gurus, and the objects representing the five K’s, rules that a Sikh must follow – Kesh (uncut hair is mandatory), Kanga (a wooden comb for hygiene and to maintain the Kesh), Kara (a steel bracelet to remind the wearer that they are bound to their Guru), Kachera (special cotton underwear worn to reflect modesty and high moral character) and finally Kirpan, a sword worn to defend one’s faith and protect the weak.

photo shows disc with swords sticking from it

Courtesy of Slough Museum.

Many of Slough’s Sikh residents describe their love and respect for their faith, and the fact that it is so easy to be open and honest about it, as community activist Paramjeet Kaur explained:

“I have found Slough to be a socially engaging and warm place, and feel very much at home amongst the local and other diverse communities. Slough’s social diversity gives me strength. Throughout my life, I have been a regular victim of violent racism because of my visible Sikh appearance, and in 2004 I was violently attacked in Coventry, the city where I spent my childhood and 28 years of my life.

“Slough is frequently dismissed and derided by outsiders as a dump. I have certainly found the living experience of Slough to be great, and something I wish to continue for a long time ahead,” he added.

Other stories demonstrate how Sikhism has contributed and made a difference to Slough. Harshindar Kaur Buttar, the head teacher of Khalsa Primary School, in Wexham Road, Slough, came to the UK in 1991. Her school accommodates 492 pupils, 20 per cent of which are non-Sikhs, who learn a combination of the national curriculum plus Sikh studies.

photo shows wedding photograph

Courtesy of Slough Museum.

Meanwhile, Lea Junior School, in Grasmere Avenue, Slough, holds an annual summer Sikh camp with free vegetarian food (Langar), teachings about Sikhism and universal values, sports including football, cricket and the Sikh martial art of Gatka, plus music, painting and board games. Sport is evidently a way for Sikhs to bond amongst themselves and with other communities. Slough’s Ramgarhia Sports Club, established by Ramgarhia Sikh Gurdwara in 1991, promotes itself as a place where all colours, creeds, religions and races can meet to play squash, football, hockey, cricket and golf together.

photo shows sikh family group

The Jabble family in the 1970s. Courtesy of Slough Museum.

Another theme of the exhibition is Sikh accomplishments, and many credit their religion as the reason for their success.

Hardeep Singh Kataria, a DJ for more than nine years, who also works in event management and music production, hopes he is a positive role model for other young Sikhs.

“Growing up, I have always been part of a strong Sikh community in Slough,” he says.

“My faith kept me strong, especially through difficult times in my career. Being a Sikh has played a positive and important role, as I am an Asian DJ, and play at many Sikh weddings, where Bhangra is always the most predominantly played music.

“Bhangra music is also played at many Sikh festivals and ceremonies and I am proud to be a part of that and provide the music at many joyous occasions,” he added.

photo shows spinning wheel

Courtesy of Slough Museum

Slough resident Dabinderjit Singh has also enjoyed successful career, attaining many academic qualifications, and an OBE from the Queen for his services as director of the National Audit Office.

The Sikh community also plays an active role in UK local politics, and one particularly inspirational character is Reshbeg Singh Dhillon. Originally from India, Reshbeg Singh Dhillon came to the UK in 1966 to study politics, and later completed a Masters degree in economics.

Despite losing his first election to represent Labour locally in 1971, Reshbeg Singh Dhillon was admired by other Sikhs for his courage to stand for election in a town where open racism was rife.

He won his second election campaign in 1976, and made his mark in history by becoming the first Sikh councillor to wear a turban.

photo shows close up of dress

Courtesy of Slough Museum.

The show concludes by paying tribute to forgotten heroes from the past, the men and women troupes from modern day Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan who fought with the British in World War I and II. More than 74,000 were killed and 130,000 injured in both wars combined.

This small but poignant exhibition highlights the devotion Sikhs have for their faith; but while they remain loyal to their roots and traditions, they also adopt western values and make an active contribution within their local community. It is clear that both cultures can teach and learn a lot from each other, as Ranjit Kaur Bilku, exhibition organiser, commented:

“There is far too much emphasis on focusing on the differences of communities, rather than embracing diversity, and sharing similarities that communities have in common.”

The second exhibition in the series of five, focusing on Islam, will run at the Slough Museum from October 3 to 20 2007, for more information, or if you would like to get involved, please contact Ranjit on 07958 603541 or email her at rani AT culturalinsight.org

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