Ujjal Singh has worked at the heart of the Manchester Sikh community for more than 30 years. A huge inspiration in Ujjal’s life was his father, Gyani Sundar Singh Sagar.
Born in Galotian, now Pakistan, in 1917, Gyani Sundar Singh Sagar settled in England in 1949. Gyani ji, as he was known, had always been community spirited, it was for this spirit that he earned the name 'Sagar', meaning 'Ocean'. This commitment to the local community continued here in Manchester.
He worked on the development of his faith and his community and spent the last 40 years of his life trying to fight for the right of his religion, such as the right to wear a turban.
In 1958 Gyani ji applied to work as a bus conductor. The employee uniform included a peaked cap which Gyani ji couldn’t wear because, as a practicing Sikh, he wore a turban. Gyani ji was refused employment because he refused to remove his turban and this was when the battle for the right to wear a turban began.
Perhaps the time has come to die for the Turban."
This was how Gyani ji felt in 1966, seven years after his initial application to work as a conductor was rejected. Manchester’s transport committee didn’t feel “justified in making any alteration in the present regulations” despite other UK local authorities and organisations, such as British Railways, allowing Sikh employees to wear their turbans.
Finally, in October 1966 Manchester City Council relented. With a vote of 71 against 23, Sikhs working as drivers and conductors on Manchester’s buses were allowed to wear their turban. Ujjal’s cousin, Mukhtiar Singh became the first turbaned Sikh to drive a bus and work as a conductor in Manchester.