Kids Corner


Sardar Sewa Singh Kohli:
Sikh-Briton Activist & Leader





My father, Sewa Singh Kohli, who has died aged 92, was a well-known Sikh community leader and businessman in Scotland.

Born in Ambala, Punjab, he was the fourth of nine children. After school and college, he graduated in oriental languages in 1941 from Punjab University Lahore.

His passion for justice was expressed in his Communist Party of India (CPI) activity. From 1941 to 1948, he worked for NW Railways and was a trade union and CPI activist; he was then a full-time union official and CPI leader until 1959. In 1948, the CPI was temporarily declared illegal and he went underground. The Partition of Punjab and India in 1947 brought great challenges: for him it involved saving the life of a Muslim man from a mob and helping refugees settle in Delhi.

Sewa Singh's broad outlook took him to Liberia in 1959 to work in an import-export business. In April 1962 he went to Glasgow for medical treatment and stayed on. The rest of the family joined him from Delhi later that year so his children could have better educational opportunities. His degree was not recognised in Britain, so he went into business and started BK Trading Company, which imported Indian foods. In later years he owned a restaurant and then started Kohli Travel.

He never forgot his responsibility towards the community.

He campaigned to ensure Sikh, Hindu and Muslim religious marriages were legally recognised. His love of the arts, including writing Punjabi and Urdu poetry, led him to encourage others to take up Punjabi folk dance and drama.

His oldest brother was killed in the 1984 anti-Sikh pogroms in India, but he was not consumed with hatred. Rather, he sought the truth about the massacres and justice for those affected.

He organised Sikh pilgrimages to India and Pakistan, a feat recognised by the president of Pakistan; compiled a translation of Urdu literature into Punjabi; organised photographic exhibitions of the Sikh contribution to Glasgow and of Sikhs in the Second World War; and worked tirelessly to create the Mel Milaap - a Sikh and South Asian community centre in Glasgow for older people.

He was a longstanding Labour Party member and was actively involved in, and represented the community on, many organisations. Of his numerous awards he was particularly proud of his MBE, presented in 1998.

He is survived by his wife, Harinder, whom he married in 1946; his children, Pushpinder, Aman and me; 10 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.


[Courtesy: The Guardian. Edited for]

May 19, 2012


Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), May 19, 2012, 12:20 PM.

What hidden gems who have remained relatively unknown, unrecognized and unsung. They continue to amaze us. Is there any field where they have not excelled in?

2: Inderjit Singh Gabrie (Glasgow, Scotland), June 07, 2012, 7:24 AM.

Great article, Harpreet. Well written. Uncle ji was a great man. I had the opportunity of chatting with him and meeting him regularly at 'Kohli Travel' when he was well, and a few times in 'Mel Milaap' Take care and God bless.

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Sikh-Briton Activist & Leader"

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