MPs came together at Portcullis House yesterday as part of an event organised by Sikh Channel to increase awareness of the dastaar (Sikh turban).
The event saw dozens of MPs coming to have a dastaar tied on them, through which they learnt about the significance and the role it plays in Sikh identity. The event was broadcast live on Sikh Channel, with footage also featuring on BBC and London Live news.
This Turban Awareness Day was organised following a racist hate attack on 21st February, when somebody attempted to rip the turban off Ravneet Singh, a visitor to Parliament.
Kam Singh from the Sikh Channel, who organised the event, said: ‘It was sad & shocking to see this sort of hate incident take place directly outside the heart of British democracy. Through this event we have taken a step to unite all against race hate and have educated lawmakers & others on the significance of the dastaar, and the contribution that Sikhs have made and continue to make to this country.’
The event was attended by several prominent MPs and ministers.
Harriet Baldwin, a Foreign Office Minister, said: ‘I’m just here to celebrate the great contribution that our Sikh communities make up and down the whole of the UK […] I am honoured to be here, and it’s a privilege to welcome so many people into Parliament today […] let’s hope we have many more members of Parliament from the Sikh community in the future.’
James Cleverly, Vice-Chair of the Conservative Party said: ‘This is such a brilliant idea!’ He added: ‘I hope that events like this demonstrate to the Sikh community, and indeed, to all minority groups in the UK, that they are welcome, that they are part of our society, and that they have every right to fully engage with the political process, the parliamentary process, whatever it might be.’
Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, the country’s first turbaned MP, called it a ‘magnificent’ event, saying that he was embarrassed by the attack on his guest Ravneet Singh last month. He said: ‘The Sikhs are very, very proud of that distinct identity. These events should hopefully make the turban more relevant to British society and to make them more aware how important it is to the Sikh community […] It is an indictment that in 2018, especially in Britain – we’re in one of the most multicultural and advanced nations on earth.’ He also said that he hoped the pictures of various MPs wearing turbans would filter through social media to their constituents, increasing the awareness of the turban and making it more acceptable in society.
The UK’s first female Sikh MP, Preet Kaur Gill, said at the event: ‘Today is about learning to respect the turban because not many people know about it, and given the event that took place outside of Parliament, this is wonderful to see the Sikh community come to Parliament and to engage with members of Parliament so that they can understand some of the issues that they face on a daily basis.’
The event also helped MPs learn about the dastaar itself including the material and process of tying it. Stuart McDonald, MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East said that he was ‘quite amazed at the length of material’ needed for a dastaar.
Sukhdeep Singh, educator at Basics of Sikhi, said: ‘It was great to be in the Houses of Parliament today raising awareness about the dastaar. Sikh Channel have provided this much-needed opportunity to raise awareness about the significance of the dastaar to MPs, many of whom did not know much about it beforehand.’