GT1588 volunteer Amrit Kaur Lohia recounts her experience representing Sikhs and GT1588 at the launch of Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee year:
I don’t know about you, but I always get frustrated when I see the usual suspects, ‘the elder statesmen’, representing Sikhs or any other group for that matter. The Sikh community, like any other, is so much more diverse than that.
So upon receiving an invitation to represent Sikhs on behalf of GT1588/UKPHA (UK Punjab Heritage Association) before the Queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury, I naturally jumped at the chance.
I first came into contact with GT 1588 when I visited last year’s major exhibition held at my university, the School of Oriental and African Studies. As those who were lucky enough to visit may agree it humanised Sikh history with historical evidence – without asserting opinion. Instead, the exhibition and its curators let you make your own mind up – and that’s the way it should be – encouraging diversity of identity and informed opinion from a shared history.
As a History student specialising in South Asia, I was drawn to ‘the GT 1588 concept’ and felt compelled to volunteer and help ensure that other visitors could also feel the ‘historical experience’ I felt. As a result I ended up at my own university every day of summer holidays. In other words, I had signed my soul away…but in a good way!
This year the Queen is celebrating her Diamond Jubilee and the event I was invited to attend at Lambeth Palace last week was a multi-faith reception to celebrate the nine historic faiths that the monarchy represents. Each was asked to bring along a historical object that in some way represented something of its tradition and history. I along with the three other representatives of the Sikh tradition discussed an Indian painting of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (from the V&A Museum) with Her Majesty, The Duke of Edinburgh and the host for the day, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Apart from meeting the Queen and representing Sikhs in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, mingling amongst the upper echelons of society, taught me a lot. It’s a shame it’s not the norm to see young people and/or a female representing Sikhs at such levels. I expected to be shunned seeing as I don’t have the status and title or a million letters after my name. However my legitimacy as a representative of the Sikh faith wasn’t in doubt was it? “Your name’s Amrit. Have you taken ‘Amrit’? Your life is nothing without it…”
A couple of years ago a comment like that would have done the job and made me feel like an illegitimate representative. However, my experience as a trustee for a national youth empowerment charity Envision, a youth ambassador for The Holocaust Educational Trust, an advocate of Gurmat Sangeet, a history undergraduate and Sikh has taught me that passion for knowledge is legitimacy. Not passion for power.
These experiences and passions are what make up my identity. ‘The GT1588 concept’ has re-enforced this. The way you connect with your history and identity cannot be asserted. It is found through historical experience and for me GT 1588 facilitated that ‘hunt’. So the aforementioned comment, however it was meant, in my eyes was both unfounded and missed the mark.
The people prey
To be understood
I pray to understand.
The point of writing this blog is to emphasise how important it is to educate ourselves via engaging with historical evidence. Don’t go by moulded and re-moulded traditions and sayings to form an ‘identity’. Something that has struck me is that Sikh history was taught to us from a young age like it was myth and therefore we were instantly distanced from it.
Meeting the wide array of Sikhs who visited the GT1588 exhibition of all ages, from all walks of life, and seeing and hearing their responses made me realise that no matter how diverse we are, we share the same history. So engage with that experience, learn from it, and by all means perpetuate but most importantly represent – and be true to yourself and what feels right to you.
Amrit Kaur Lohia
Read more including Amrit’s quote in the UK national media: