SANCTUARY | A Silent Voice Speaks: The Wee Indian Woman on the Bus tells the story of Trishna Singh OBE, born in Glasgow in the 1950s as a first generation Scottish Bhat Sikh, through her life and journey battling against community traditions and setting up the Sikh Sanjog, aiming to provide support for women in the community. We talk to Trishna to learn more.
Can you tell readers a bit more about your own story as detailed in A Silent Voice Speaks?
I wanted readers to understand what it was like to be a Sikh woman growing up and living in two cultures.
Why did you want to tell your story via memoir?
I thought it was the only way my story would be told. I always kept diaries and couldn’t see anything in print that related to me personally. Our stories were hidden – other people’s stories have been told. I thought ‘why is nobody writing about us’, so I decided to do it. I started writing the very original version of this book about 1991.
“I think I was mostly very overwhelmed [when I found out about receiving an OBE] – it was very surreal. It made me think of how proud my parents and grandparents would have been.”
What brought you to set up the now Sikh Sanjog in Scotland? What have been some stand out moments in terms of your work, and the community, found through it?
The empowerment of other women from the same culture as myself. Stand out moments are women who have come to Sikh Sanjog now being part of mainstream culture.
All the milestones – reaching 10 years, 20 years, 30 years of helping Sikh women.
Setting up our social enterprise – Punjabi Junction – the only one in the world set up and run solely by Sikh women. When we started Sikh Sanjog 35 years ago one of the goals for me was that it would have women from within the Bhat Sikh community employed as youth workers, community development workers. The aim of social enterprise, Punjabi Junction, 12 years ago was that it would have a ‘manager from within the Bhat Sikh Community’ and we have achieved both goals.
The biggest stand out moment so far was last year – 2021 – when we were asked to host the Royal Family, and another was the first official report launched at the Scottish Parliament in December 2021, highlighting issues faced by Sikh women in Scotland – we are hoping it will feed into policy, but there are really are too many to mention here. Anyone interested in what we do can look at our website: sikhsanjog.com
You were awarded an OBE for your work – though you mention in the book you initially thought your siblings were playing a prank, how did you react / find the experience once you realised it was in fact real?
I think I was mostly very overwhelmed – it was very surreal – I think when it was announced in the media was when it became real. It made me think of how proud my parents and grandparents would have been.
“I hope to see more Sikh women writing and accepted as writers, perhaps helped by writers in mainstream culture. I know there are women who have important stories to tell and they should be told.”
You note that the ‘real history’ of the women from the Bhat Sikh community hasn’t disappeared, because it had truly never been recognised, and that you hope your story can change the narrative. How do you hope to see this change?
I hope to see more Sikh women writing and accepted as writers, perhaps helped by writers in mainstream culture. I know there are women who have important stories to tell and they should be told.
Your book is dedicated to “a community of women who have lived in two cultures for over half a century”, “the hidden heroines who left everything in India” – why do you feel it’s particularly important to shine a light on these women and their stories, who often just quietly go about their lives, considered – as you say – “the observers, never the participants”?
Because they shouldn’t just be observers – they are entitled to live their lives freely. My mother, if she was still alive, would have lived here for 75 years with no-one knowing she existed.
What do you hope readers take from your book?
I hope that they understand that, even in 2022, not all women in Scotland are equal but they should be – internally within their own communities and externally within the mainstream.