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The Battle of The Turban In The United Kingdom And A Subsequent Postal Revolution

Updated: May 28, 2019

This tale starts in the quaint little town of Phagwara,Punjab Province,India. A feisty little boy wearing a vermilion pagri(turban) can be seen running after the cycle of the village postman whizzing dirt and dust. One fine morning, he goes to school and the new teacher asks him about his ambition in life and he cheerfully says that he wants to be a postman. This was the beginning of an enchanting journey of a little boy into a leader of a famous revolution in the United Kingdom during the 60s-70s decades.

This is the story of the Sant Singh Shattar, the first Sikh postman of the British Postal Department who had to fight a long battle in order to gain a recognition for his identity, for who he was. For those of you don't know, Sikhism is a religion originating in India where it is customary for them to not cut their hair and keep their hair properly maintained by wearing a turban or headgear called Pagri on their head.

Source: Unsplash(Man wearing a turban)
A man wearing a Pagri(turban)

So, Sant Singh Shattar moved from Jalandhar to Birmingham in the year 1955. After doing odd jobs for 5 years, he applied for the job of a postman on March 7, 1960. But odds were against him and he got rejected just because a postman was required to wear a uniform cap and Sant Singh couldn't wear a cap due to his turban.

But the High Commissioner from India in the UK intervened and the matter was referred to the Commonwealth Relations Office. After long debate and discussions, Sant Singh Shattar joined the British Postal Department as a postman in training at the Birmingham post office in 1961. And his appeal to wear a turban to work got approved,although he was allowed to wear a navy-blue turban instead.

Source: The Postal Museum, London/Men in turban
Sant Singh Shattar(third from the left) along with his friends wearing turban in Birmingham.

His fight for the recognition of Sikhs during a period when racism was extremely evident is briefly mentioned in the autobiography John Hick:An Autobiography written by the renowned theologian John Hick.

His battle didn't go unnoticed in India as well,he was extolled in a letter by the then Punjab Chief Minister Partap Singh Kairon,“I’m very glad to know the splendid work done by you in vindicating the honour of the turban. It thrills me to know that our brothers have now, through your help, got their rights in England.”

Source:The Postal Museum, London/ The Battle of the Turban
A report in the Birmingham Mail on Sant Singh Shattar being allowed to wear a turban for the first time.

Shattar was a man of multifarious talents- he used to write columns in vernacular newspapers whenever he got home in Phagwara,Punjab Province, India, the most famous being "Pagdi Di Jang"(The Battle of the Turban). He went on to support many other Sikh men in their labour disputes over wearing turbans at work in Manchester, London and Birmingham during the 1960s and 70s.

Recently the Postal Museum, London, installed a panel narrating his inspiring story.

Source: The Postal Museum/ The Turban Story
Turbanised Turbulence, At the Postal Museum, London.

The panel reads-

"Pioneering Postman – Birmingham resident Sant Singh Shattar joined the Post Office in 1960, having fought to bring about an important change. When he applied for the job of postman, he was initially rejected. As a Sikh, his turban meant he could not meet Post Office requirements to wear a uniform cap. But the High Commissioner from India in the UK intervened and Post Office reviewed its decision. Sant Singh became the first postman to wear a turban on duty, now an everyday sight."

Sant Singh Shattar’s victory led the Birmingham Corporation, Manchester Corporation and, the UK Railways to allow the turban in the upcoming years.

His legacy is being carried forward by many organisations in the UK, most famous of them is the UK Punjab Heritage Association.

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