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. Ujjal explains:
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.
Mukhtiar Singh photographed in Cotton Mill in Lancashire.
Feb. 1967 Mr Mukhtiar (In bus uniform)
The headline reads: "The New Boy on Route 93 ... Mr Singh, Manchester’s first turbanned conductor: It was the first day in a new job yesterday for Mukhtiar Sing Pardesi – and his turban, for, as he jumped aboard a No. 93 bus at the start of the 6.30am – 1.30pm shift, he became Manchester’s first turbanned bus conductor. Victory: Mr. Singh’s first day collecting fares marked a victory for his fellow countrymen in a seven-year battle to allow Sikhs wearing turbans to work on the city’s buses. He wore the Corporation badge pinned in a blue turban. And, at the end of the day, Mr. Singh, 28, son of a high priest, said at his home in Monton Street, Moss Side, Manchester: “Now all the fuss is over I just want to forget about it, and get on with the job” In the past, city transport regulations required driver and conductors to wear only official caps. This meant that turbanned Sikhs could not be employed. But, at last, on January 4, the city council decided that turbans were “in”. And Mr. Singh, a former mill worker, married with one child, began training over a week ago. For the first five days, Mr. Singh is working under supervision. If he passes examination, he will be on his own”.