x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Turban to make its debut in the UK House of Lords

Rawalpindi-born Indarjit Singh will be first to wear the traditional Sikh headgear on legislators¿ benches in British parliament.

LONDON // Something is about to be seen in the British parliament for the first time since it came into existence in 1320 - a legislator in a turban.

Indarjit Singh, the director of the Network of Sikh Organisations UK, would become the first turban-wearing parliamentarian following the announcement this week that he was to become a peer in the House of Lords.

None of the handful of Sikh MPs elected to the House of Commons has ever donned a turban, while the only other male Sikh to sit in the House of Lords, Darsem King, also opted to forgo any headgear after his appointment in 1999.

That will all change when Mr Singh, who was born in Rawalpindi in 1932 but brought to the UK by his parents a year later, takes his seat as an independent peer later this year.

The announcement of a peerage for Mr Singh, Britain's best known Sikh through his regular BBC radio broadcasts over the past 27 years, was made on Monday by the House of Lords Appointments Commission, which recommended non-party political peerages for "people of distinction who will bring authority and expertise to the House of Lords".

A trustee of the World Congress of Faiths, Mr Singh told The Times: "I'm delighted to be the first turbaned Sikh in parliament. It is an honour for the whole Sikh community.

"It gives me a new opportunity to do what I have always tried to do: to work with people of all beliefs to increase tolerance and understanding, and work for greater social and political justice in our society."

His presence in the historic chamber will not be the first time that Mr Singh has created a small piece of history - in 2008, he became the first Sikh ever to address a major conference at the Vatican.

An expert in mine management, Mr Singh has worked on mining and civil engineering projects in the UK, India and Dubai.

He has become the most prominent of Britain's 340,000 Sikhs since becoming a regular contributor to Thought for the Day on Radio 4's Today programme in 1984, and has made frequent World Service broadcasts.

Mr Singh will be stepping in august Indian shoes when he enters parliament. The first Asian to be elected to the British parliament was Dadabhai Naoroji, who served as an MP from 1892-1895.

One of the co-founders of the Indian National Congress, his political aide in London was Muhammed Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan. Naoroji was also a mentor to both Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Mohandas Gandhi.

dsapsted@thenational.ae