Sir Michael Fallon with the chairman of the British Sikh Association Rami Ranger
Defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon has said a greater diversity among the higher ranks of the armed forces is key to increasing the number of ethnic minorities enlisting for service.
Fallon was speaking at an event hosted by the armed forces last Thursday (23) taking place ahead of Vaisakhi, the Sikh new year, which falls on April 13.
He said: “The most important thing of all, to address diversity at all levels, is to show people from the Sikh community that you don’t just join, you can also get on.
“I think it’s important for very aspirational communities, like the Sikhs, to see people succeed, to find role models in people at senior ranks. That way they can see that there is no barrier, it’s only your talent – not your community or religion – that is taken into account.”
Last week’s event was to mark the signing of a covenant by the British Sikh Association to formally recognise the ties between the British Sikh community and the armed forces.
The association also pledged to urge the 24 employers among their membership to provide job opportunities to service leavers.
Rami Ranger, chairman of the British Sikh Association, said: “The covenant demonstrates our commitment as citizens of the UK to our illustrious armed forces, while at the same time recognising their round-the-clock, 365-days-a-year commitment for our freedom.”
During the event, members of the association spoke in support of the armed forces and archival footage of Sikh soldiers serving in the Second World War and other conflicts was shown.
The event ties into the ministry of defence’s goal to ensure 10 per cent of new recruits come from a BAME (black, Asian or Minority Ethnic) community. BAME representation at recruitment level remains under six per cent.
“Our armed forces are stronger if they are more diverse.”
Fallon identified a “lack of understanding” among ethnic minority communities about the role of the armed forces as one of the major barriers to diversity.
He said: “I remember speaking after the floods to a Muslim woman in Bradford. Soldiers had been placing sandbags along the street and she said to me, ‘We never realised the army was here to help us’. There are sometimes barriers to understanding that we need to break down.”
Fallon commented on the practical benefits of diversity within security forces, in regards to intelligence, citing the recent attack on parliament.
“Our armed forces are stronger if they are more diverse, because they then represent the whole of the country that they are guarding and protecting.
But it’s also important for the armed forces to understand these communities, to reach into these communities, and we will have to work harder at that.
“We should be very careful about condemning the attack [on parliament last week] as Islamic. It was connected to Islamist streaks, but it was not Islamic.
Filmmaker Gurinder Chadha scoops award
Film director Gurinder Chadha was awarded the Sikh Jewel award during the event for her “immense contribution” to British cinema.
Several of Chadha’s films, including Bend it Like Beckham, Bhaji on the Beach and I’m British But… explore the British Asian experience.
Her most recent film, Viceroy’s House, eschews Britain for partition-era India, following the final days of British India through the perspective of the man tasked with overseeing the transition – Lord Mountbatten, the final viceroy of India.
Receiving the award, Chadha said: “Some people use religion to divide; that is the theme of my film, and also the atrocities inflicted on us. It is a fair film.”
Chadha, born in Nairobi, Kenya to a Punjabi Sikh family, relocated to Southall in London while a child.
Hotelier Jasminder Singh and writer Jagjeet Singh Sohal also received the Sikh Jewel award.