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.
This March, when Santosh visited the museum, she carried along Shattar’s scrapbook. It had, among other things, a 1963 letter from then Punjab chief minister Partap Singh Kairon, in which the CM wrote, “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.”
While Shattar’s victory led the Birmingham Corporation in 1962, Manchester Corporation in 1966 and, later, the UK Railways to allow the turban, in France, the turban struggle continues, with “religious symbols”, including the headgear, being banned.