14 years ago an article in a UK newspaper on the pitiful condition of Sikligar, Vanjara and Satnami Sikhs in India spurred Kulwant Singh Dhesi and Tarsem Singh Deol into action. A genetic imprint in the Sikhs urges them to take up cudgels for the underprivileged and oppressed. Kulwant Singh and Tarsem Singh collected like-minded individuals and founded British Sikh Council UK in 2002. Trips to India followed. Two Indian states, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, were identified with a sizable population of Sikligar, Vanjara and Satnami Sikhs. Initial forays into the field revealed alarming levels of poverty, lack of sanitation, abysmal health and education facilities. Yet, what shone through was a staunch belief in the Sikh value system. Hair was maintained unshorn; youngsters risking ostracisation if the Guru’s mohar was not respected.
Malkit Singh Bal, President, Gurmat Parchar Sanstha (Nagpur) and Gurcharan Singh, Coordinator in India (BSC), joined ranks with the UK natives and the first Gurdwara was constructed in 2003 at Warud, Maharashtra. 10 more Gurdwaras were constructed in Maharashtra. One school and two Gurdwaras were constructed in Aaron (district Guna) and Mathana (district Ashok Nagar) in Madhya Pradesh. Other organizations like Scottish Sikh Council came on board to assist with construction of homes and the tribal Sikhs emerged out of their shanties to move into a life of dignity. The transition has been fascinating. These Sikhs bring their color and vitality to the larger community thereby invigorating the Sikh ethos. Their language, customs, lifestyle and skill should be respected and preserved. British Sikh Council has achieved remarkable success in the last 12 years. The sangat of Europe has contributed and its largesse has made this transition possible. Local governments had marked the tribal Sikhs as denotified tribes and their weapon making skills occasionally put them on the wrong side of the law. Intervention by British Sikh Council UK and able chaperoning by Malkit Singh Bal has encouraged the tribal Sikhs to educate their children and explore better job options. Change is happening but there is lots more work to be done.