Monday, April 6, 2015

A Sikh Regiment for the British Army?

Sikh soldiers have a long and distinguished place in military history. During the Anglo-Sikh Wars of the 1840s, the Sikhs proved to be the most formidable opponents the British ever encountered in India. Having been incorporated into the British Empire, the Sikhs proved to be just as impressive fighting on behalf of that Empire as they had in fighting against it. They served during the Indian Mutiny of 1857, in Afghanistan and along the Northwest Frontier, in various colonial campaigns in Africa and Asia, and in all major theaters of both the First World War and the Second World War. Ten Sikh soldiers have won the Victoria Cross, Britain's highest award for gallantry. Few peoples have a military tradition as worthy of praise as that of the Sikhs.
There are today more than half a million Sikhs in the United Kingdom, a mutually beneficial legacy of the British Empire. However, fewer than two hundred Sikhs currently serve in the British military, which has often had difficulty in meeting its manpower needs in recent years. This has led to the proposal that the a dedicated Sikh unit be raised from among the Sikh population of the United Kingdom. Perhaps starting on a small scale, with a single reserve company, it could eventually expand into a genuine regiment, taking its inspiration from the glorious traditions of the Sikh regiments of the past.
This is an outstanding idea. After all, there are already regiments of Scottish, Welsh, and Irish soldiers. The British army still recruits soldiers from Nepal for its two Gurkha battalions. Why would be wrong with having a regiment raised from Britain's Sikh community? Not only would it benefit Britain's military, a strong force for good in the 21st Century world, but it would contribute to fostering a positive multicultural society while remaining true to traditional British values.
The Sikh community in Britain seems generally supportive of the proposal, opining that it will encourage Sikh enlistment and help rectify the lack of Sikh representation in the army. Baron Singh of Wimbeldon, Director of the Network of Sikh Organizations and probably the most recognized Sikh community leader in Britain, has expressed his endorsement of the plan. Some commentators have even suggested that the proposal was designed by the Conservative-led government to win support from the Sikh community with an eye to next month's general election.

The forces of political correctness, of course, have mobilized against the proposal, asserting that the creation of an all-Sikh regiment is somehow racist. The idea of a Sikh military unit also dusts off memories from Britain's imperial past and there are several people who insist that everything to do with the British Empire must be condemned and despised.

Such poo-pooers should be ignored. The idea of a Sikh Regiment for the British Army is a good one and it deserves a chance.

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