LONDON: Sikhism is being considered as a separate ethnicity in the next UK census in 2021, following a long-standing demand by some British Sikh groups.
The UK's Office for National Statistics (ONS) had opened a public consultation over whether to add the separate box for Sikhs under ethnicity, instead of just as a religion, and are now getting ready to present the findings to the government.
"Our recommendations for the 2021 Census will be included in a government White Paper later this year," an ONS spokesperson said.
The ONS had raised concerns over the issue of "public acceptability" and whether the move would have backing across Britain's 430,000-strong Sikh community.
In the last census in 2011, an estimated 83,000 Sikhs reportedly refused to tick any of the choices in the question on ethnicity, rejecting options such as Indian in order to write "Sikh" in the space for "any other ethnic group".
The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for British Sikhs, chaired by Preet Kaur Gill 'the UK's first female Sikh MP' offered to write to Gurdwaras about five months ago.
"Overwhelmingly they have said yes. Not a single gurdwara has opposed it," said Gill.
Sikhs are already 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 and specific 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.
"If the Census 2021 ethnicity question does not include a Sikh tick box question, the impact from a service user perspective will continue to grow and result in Sikhs being invisible to those who develop policies and deliver public services.
This will span across the inequalities observed by Sikhs in health, education, employment etc," Sikh Federation UK and Sikh Network have said as part of their representations to the ONS.
Last year, over 100 British MPs, including Indian-origin lawmakers, had signed a letter to the UK Statistics Authority, which oversees the work of ONS, to include Sikh as a separate ethnic box in time for the 2021 census.
However, there are others who are not behind the campaign, with some groups pointing out that being Sikh is a choice, not something you belong to at birth.
"Our Gurus taught that all humans are of the same one race and that man-made divisions based on caste or race are divisive and false," had said Lord Indarjit Singh, director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (UK).
The UK has been collating ethnic group data since the census of 1991 and the data is used for resource allocation by central and local government, to inform policy development and to help organisations meet and monitor their statutory obligations.
The ONS said that questions used for the census have evolved to remain relevant to contemporary British society and phraseology of the census questionnaire is targeted to ensure the public and data users have complete clarity.
A decision on whether to include Sikhism as a distinct ethnic identity in the next census is some way off, as the government looks into all sides of the argument from later this year.