Balle balle! British Queen to be guarded by Sikhs (Lead)

July 29th, 2009 - 8:03 pm ICT by IANS  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, July 29 (IANS) Two years after the British army abandoned a proposal to raise a Sikh regiment, the country’s reining monarch has got her first Sikh bodyguards.

Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s 83-year-old sovereign, will be guarded by two turbaned and bearded men in their 20s.

The smiling photographs of Signaler Simranjit Singh, 26, and Lance Corporal Sarvjit Singh, 28, were splashed across the pages of British newspapers, shown posing with their guns inside Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s sprawling London residence.

Simranjit Singh, who serves with the 21st Signal Regiment based in Chippenham, Wiltshire, took over his royal duties in May.

He was joined later by Sarvjit Singh, who serves with the 3rd Regiment Army Air Corps based in Wattisham, Suffolk.

The two men have been allowed to keep their turbans, long hair and beards in their new jobs.

Leading members of Britain’s Sikh community welcomed the move as “long overdue”, pointing out that Queen Victoria used to have Sikh personal guards.

“I am really very pleased - there is quite a long tradition of links between the British royal family and Sikh soldiers,” said Resham Singh Sandhu, who is a deputy lord lieutenant of Leicestershire county, a royal appointment.

Sandhu, whose father won gallantry medals for services in the British army in World War I, said the number of Sikhs in the British army was steadily increasing.

“In fact, we have a Sikh, Hardit Singh Malik, who was a member of the Royal Flying Corps as far back as in 1918,” he said.

Jagjit Singh Taunque, deputy lord lieutenant of West Midlands, said: “History has been made. They are great role models for the younger generations.”

The appointment comes two years after Britain’s defence chiefs abandoned plans to raise a regiment of British Sikhs after discussions with the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE).

Sikh leaders had informed army recruitment officers that they could easily find enough volunteers to form a 700-strong regiment.

But the offer was rejected after the CRE reportedly argued that creating a Sikh regiment would be divisive and amount to “segregation”.

Many Sikh community leaders supported the idea at the time, saying it would be no different from the Scots, Welsh and Irish Guards or the Royal Gurkha Rifles.

Prince Charles, the heir apparent to the British throne, was said to have been personally interested in raising a Sikh regiment.

In February 2008, Harpreet Kaur, 23, became the first Sikh woman to join the British army.

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