Obituary: Davinder Singh Parmar

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The Independent Online
Davinder Singh Parmar, political activist, born Amristar 31 December 1926, died London 27 August 1992.

SARDAR Davinder Singh Parmar was the founder of the modern Khalistan movement in this country and President of the British Sikhs Association.

Parmar, a descendant of the last king of the Punjab, came to Tottenham, north London, with his wife in 1954, but his homeland in the Punjab dominated his thoughts and actions for the rest of his life.

He was one of the first Sikhs to emigrate to Britain and, although only in his political youth, he soon became a pivotal figure in the country's fledgling Sikh community. With other activists he founded the British branch of the Akali Dal, still one of the strongest and most important Sikh political parties in India.

But within the Sikh community he is best known as being the driving force behind the start of the Khalistan homeland movement for an independent state in the Punjab - an ideal he developed in the 1960s and one he held and worked for until the end of his life, both in this country and internationally.

As a reaction to the notorious Operation Blue Star in 1984 in which thousands of Sikhs died in battles over the Golden Temple in his birthplace of Amritsar, activists in this country set up a Khalistan government in exile of which Parmar became the defence minister.

He was President of the British Sikhs Association, which campaigned for equal rights for the growing immigrant community. It struggled for Sikh rights in the workplace during a time when immigrants were being exploited, but its most famous success was the change in the motorcycle helmet laws after a campaign in the Seventies.

The law required Sikhs to wear helmets, while their faith required a turban to be worn. In an act of defiance Parmar rode a motorcycle past Downing Street without a helmet and with a turban. He claimed that under Raj regulations Sikhs were expected to wear turbans, and should be able to do the same while riding motorcycles in Britain. Syd Bidwell, the former Labour MP for Ealing Southall, a constituency with a large Sikh population, eventually steered a change to the law through parliament in 1976.

Parmar came from the distinguished Kanhya confederacy, one of the 12 royal houses in the Punjab, and his great-grandfather was General Arjun Singh, who led the Sikh forces when they fought with the British in the 1840s. Parmar was famed for his bravery, taking part in the fierce defence of the Golden Temple in the fighting following Indian partition in 1947, sticking to his post even after receiving a heel-wound in machine-gun fire.

Sardar Davinder Singh Parmar was widely known in the international Sikh world and his yet-to-be-published memoirs will be a vital document for anybody interested in the history of the Sikhs in this country and in the Punjab. He was a generous and committed man of honesty and integrity who would find time to help with individual problems while never losing sight of his international aims.

(Photograph omitted)

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