The idea, context, framing and realities of 'Sikh radicalisation' in Britain




This project provided the first empirical examination of so-called ‘Sikh radicalisation’ in diaspora.

I explored the historical framing of ‘Sikh extremism’ (a term used interchangeably with ‘Sikh radicalisation’), the context of reported incidents, the key narratives and issues leading to these incidents and an analysis of the various channels through which these narratives are transmitted.

The research provided the first in-depth analysis of the framing of ‘Sikh extremism’ analysing the persistence of concerns about Sikh extremism, particularly given the general non-violent nature of ‘Sikh militancy’ (Wallace 2011). I argued that these concerns are impacted by (a) the racialisation of religious minorities, (b) a specific type of ‘Indian secularism’ which frames Indian legislation and media reporting, and (c) the post 9/11 securitisation and increased surveillance of Sikh bodies as part of the ‘War on Terror’ with its concerns about ‘religious violence’ and the necessity of the secular nation state to ensure that any such violence is suitably policed.

By presenting an account of the narratives and issues which contribute to Sikh protests and incidents based on historical analyses and ethnographic research, I explored the relationships between narratives, incidents and flashpoints and how the framing of these various incidents impacts on policy and media discourse around Sikhs in diaspora.

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Building on earlier work on British Sikh communities this ESRC/CREST-funded research has had significant traction both nationally and internationally particularly in the UK, Canada and India.

The research has been recognised as a crucial resource for bolstering British government and agencies’ understanding of the contexts and issues affecting Sikh communities in the UK. Deemed “ground-breaking research” by policy makers “which clearly outlines the main internal and external issues facing the Sikh community in Britain” the research was recognised by the British government for its ‘outstanding contributions to challenging community narratives’ during its Vaisakhi Event 2018 held at 10 Downing Street where Dr Singh was invited to meet and present his report to the Prime Minister. 

Indeed, Dr Singh has become a go-to expert for policymakers to understand the context and dynamics of the Sikh community in Britain, most recently, for example, presenting oral evidence to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Religion in the Media (May 2020). The report also received coverage in mainstream British and Indian national news media and current affairs programmes upon publication in November 2017, including BBC Radio 4 Sunday, BBC Asian Network's Big Debate and the Times of India. In April 2018, Singh, as a recognised expert on the media framing of Sikh extremism, was invited to participate in one of the World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) #AskCanadianSikhs events, which were organised across Canada in response to media coverage of alleged Sikh extremism in Canada. Dr Singh’s expertise has also led to an invitation from REACH PLC, the largest national and regional news publisher in the UK, to deliver training to its journalists (July 2020).

In developing his report, Singh undertook a series of community consultations hosted by various Sikh organisations across the UK. The Sikh Press Association hosted Singh’s community consultation event in Southall, which, for its Press Officer “set a standard now for how this community views academic research projects”. Singh’s community consultation in Leeds led to the establishment of Sikh Alliance Yorkshire (SAY), which has gone on to hold open community consultations on a variety of topics, including mental health, hate crime and bullying, and loneliness.

Moreover, Singh’s community-centric method of engagement now adopted by SAY is “a massive benefit to Police/Community Relations, bringing Sikhs and others together from all parts of the city to talk honestly and critically about substantive issues is a remarkable plus,” capturing how Singh’s research has become embedded in local and regional community work in the UK, as well as shaping international dialogue and understanding of Sikh-related issues as far afield as Canada.

Publications and outputs

1) Singh, J. (2020) ‘Narratives in Action: Modelling the Types and Drivers of Sikh Activism in Diaspora,’ Religions, 11(10), 539.

2) Singh, J. (2019) ‘Racialization, “religious violence” and radicalisation: The persistence of narratives of “Sikh extremism” in the West,’ Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 46(15).

3) Singh, J. (2018) ‘Sikh activism in Britain: Narratives and Issues’. Guide produced for media and policy makers.

4) Singh, J. (2017) The idea, context, framing and realities of Sikh radicalisation in Britain. Open access research report. 

Project website