A unique one-year Masters course in Sikh Studies was launched during 2019 in the University of Wolverhampton, a city in the west Midlands with a large population of Indian and Sikh origin, raising the profile of the subject in the UK.
The course, the first such in Europe, is based in the university’s Centre for Sikh and Panjabi Studies directed by academic Opinderjit Kaur Takhar. Launched in 2018, the centre held a three-day conference in September on ‘A Journey of 550 Years: Sikh Studies in Academia’.
“The course is a unique opportunity to explore the Sikh community and the Sikh faith both in India and the diaspora, with a particular emphasis on the British Sikh perspective. The university is an ideal location due to the population of Sikhs in the city”, Takhar says.
One of the most multicultural cities in the UK, it was in Wolverhampton in 1969 that Tarsem Sandhu won his two-year campaign to be able to wear a turban while driving buses, which was a turning point that changed attitudes, beliefs and employment law in the UK.
It was also in Wolverhampton that local MP Enoch Powell made his infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in 1968, inflaming racial discord and challenging community integration. The Sikh community rose to the challenge, which led to the first race relations initiatives in the UK.
Wolverhampton is today home to 14 gurdwaras catering to a Sikh population which is the second largest in the UK outside London. Panjabi is the second most spoken language in the city, which aids academic study and research into Sikh history and issues.
“The aspiration behind the centre came from the university’s chancellor Swraj Paul and the vice-chancellor Geoff Layer. Both Paul, who is from Jalandhar, and Layer, have been instrumental in ensuring that the centre is a success through its research and outreach at grassroots level”, Takhar adds.
According to Paul, the centre’s emphasis is to promote the key teachings of the Sikh faith to the wider community, Sikh and non-Sikh. It has links with premier universities and colleges of Punjab, as well as with the Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Khalsa College in Delhi.
Doctoral students based in the centre have been exploring topics from mental health and alcohol abuse to the transmission of tradition through ‘kirtaniyas’ and the political sphere.
Takhar adds: “Regular discussions with the British Sikh community highlight the importance of ensuring that gurdwaras, especially in the UK, are fit for the 21st century. The centre is in the process of devising a Professional Development Programme to be offered to gurdwaras across the UK as one of the major contributions to the UK’s Sikh community”.
During the September conference, Paul called for academic focus on aspects of the ‘Panjabi personality’ exemplified by individuals such as Zail Singh, Manmohan Singh and Inder Gujral.
Paul said: “This could well include some analysis of outstanding Panjabi personalities of contemporary times and the values that shaped their contribution to India and the world today”.
“After all, in recent years, Panjabis have helped to influence the destiny of India and some have risen to the highest positions of state. President Giani Zail Singh and Prime Minister Inder Gujral are distinguished examples”.
“Look at how successfully Panjabis have adapted to modern environments all over the world including in the UK and America. As societies modernise and struggle to make these transitions and adjustments, perhaps the Panjabi experience should be studied further and become better known”, he told academics from various parts of the world.
Courtesy: hindustan times
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