Remembering a Sikh postman whose battle benefits the community in UK even today

The UK Sikhs owe it to the first postman who fought for the right to wear a turban and won....

In 1955, Sant Singh Shattar moved from Jalandhar to Birmingham. He applied for the job of a postman on March 7, 1960, only to be rejected. As a Sikh, his turban meant he could not meet the Post Office’s requirements of wearing a uniform cap. But he fought and won — becoming the first postman in the UK postal department in 1961 to be allowed to wear a turban on duty, a change that helps Sikhs in the UK even today. Fifty-eight years after he won this battle and nearly two years after the Postal Museum, London, installed a panel narrating this inspiring story — a postcard from London has reached Shattar’s family in India.

Shattar died in 1983, aged 73, at his home in Phagwara, Punjab. His family hadn’t been in touch with the UK postal department and was unaware that they had taken such an initiative in Shattar’s memory. His daughter-in-law Santosh Kaur, 72, says it was her granddaughter who started searching for traces of her great-grandfather’s travels in Birmingham in 2016. But it wasn’t until December 2018 that they got to know about the installation. The museum then got in touch with Shattar’s family through the UK-based historian Amandeep Singh Madra...

...Andy Richmond, head of exhibitions, access and learning, at The Postal Museum, writes in an email, “The rejection of his application was referred to the Commonwealth Relations Office by the High Commissioner for India in the UK.” After lengthy discussions, Shattar joined in 1961 as a postman in training at Birmingham post office, who was allowed to wear a navy-blue turban instead.

Security was the ground of rejection initially. The Commonwealth Relations Office had written: “Until quite recently, there were strong practical reasons, connected with security, for our requirement that postmen should wear a uniform cap. In the future, we shall not insist that Sikhs who apply for employment as postmen must wear a uniform cap…”

Richmond writes, “The idea to install the panel came from a project we ran in 2014 with a group of people from the University of the Third Age (a global movement of retired people). They had been tasked with researching our archive to find the unsung heroes of the Post Office, who could be featured at the museum. They found an article about Sant Singh in the Post Office Magazine of December 1960.” The museum then decided to honour his memory.

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