A British Sikh Army Reserve was on Monday (23) was named as the winner of British prime minister Boris Johnson’s Points of Light Award for his exceptional service commemorating Sikh contributions to the country’s armed forces.
Jay Singh Sohal, who is the Conservative Party candidate for West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, was recognised for leading a successful campaign to create the UK’s only memorial to the more than 120,000 Sikh soldiers who fought during the First World War.
“I know you do this with no thought of praise or reward, but allow me to offer my own recognition of how you have created our country’s first memorial to the 120,000 brave Sikh soldiers who fought during the First World War. It is fitting that we honour their enormous courage and sacrifice in ensuring the freedoms we all enjoy today,” Johnson said in a personal letter to Sohal, announcing his Points of Light Award.
Every September, Sohal also works with the British Army to commemorate Sikh contributions to the British Armed Forces on Saragarhi Day, marking the Battle of Saragarhi.
The battle saw 21 Sikh soldiers fight for the British Indian Army and defend the North-West Frontier with Afghanistan against 10,000 enemy forces in 1897.
While the battle has long been commemorated in India by the Indian Army, Sohal was inspired to bring commemorations to the UK to serve as an opportunity to engage British Sikhs with their heritage and celebrate continued Sikh contributions to the British military today.
Sohal said: “Telling the story of shared British Sikh history through the battle of Saragarhi has been a fantastic journey working with wonderful people with the same enthusiasm for our heritage.
“It continues to inspire many more to serve our country in whichever way they can. I’m proud of the part I’ve been able to play in driving grassroots community activity in this way,” Sohal said.
“It’s important to me, as it creates better understanding between diverse communities and gives young people confidence and encouragement in seeking to achieve their goals. I hope my award encourages many others to do the same,” he said.
The Points of Light award recognises outstanding volunteers who are making a change in their community and inspiring others. Sohal, from Sutton Coldfield area of the West Midlands, will be presented with his award by the Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street.
Street said: “I have known Jay for around three years now. He is hugely passionate about our Armed Forces and the historical contribution of Sikh soldiers in World War I and World War II.
“This has led to the creation of the permanent Sikh WW1 memorial at the National Arboretum and has significantly raised the profile of the Battle of Saragarhi. He is extremely well deserving of this honour and I am pleased his work has been recognised by the prime minister.”
Sohal is the 1,244th winner of the Points of Light Award, which has been developed in partnership with the Points of Light programme in the US. Over 6,000 Points of Light have been awarded in the US, and former Presidents have publicly supported the partnership with Points of Light UK.
There is a similar cross-party approach to the UK programme and MPs from different parties often present their constituents with their Points of Light awards.