Identity – faith, football and academics

  • 03 February 2023

“I stand out in a crowd, don’t I?” Amrit Gill (Natural Sciences (Biological) 2019) likes to say.

Amrit, from Coventry, is Sikh and – more often than not – wearing at least one item of clothing which points to his football allegiance.

“When Tony Adams came to the Cambridge Union, I have a photo with him of me in an Arsenal tracksuit, shirt and jacket. That’s when I’ll concede it’s a little embarrassing,” says Amrit, who is pictured with the iconic Arsenal captain and Caius AFC team-mate Finlay Gerrand (Physics PhD 2021).

“Why Arsenal when I’m from Coventry? People level the accusation against me that ‘you’re a glory supporter’ … I say there’s been little glory in supporting Arsenal over the years! I’ve supported them since I first saw them on television, aged four.

“In Harry Potter you don’t choose the wand, the wand chooses you – I feel the same applies with supporting Arsenal, what with their sorcery on the pitch!” Three men posing for the camera

Despite Arsenal leading the Premier League at the time of writing, Amrit is far from confident about the Gunners’ chances to end the wait for their first championship since 2004 this season. It is the hope which leads to most disappointment when following sport.

With his Kesh (uncut hair/beard) and Dastaar (turban) though, his religious faith is far clearer.

“I’m very comfortable in my identity. I carry my beliefs close to me and I feel strongly in them, with the notion that their best form of expression is through my actions,” he says.

Amrit is active in the Cambridge University Sikh Society, which organises annual access conferences with its Oxford equivalent.

“The Sikh Society provides a community or a meet point for people of Sikh faith,” he adds.

“Within it you find people who understand you and your background implicitly; in contrast you encounter people in Cambridge who simply have never met a Sikh before!

“I find that you carry your faith with you. Even if you haven’t got the infrastructure around you can still practise your faith.

“Cambridge does have a Gurdwara, a Sikh temple, on Arbury Road. I try to go but they only run a programme on Sundays and I have football on Sundays, so I’m usually late for football!”

One aspect of his identity he did struggle with was his student one – what to study. Amrit matriculated to read Medicine, but switched to Natural Sciences, and contemplated another U-turn, before intermitting – and then the pandemic began.

“I came in as a medic but switched to Natural Sciences within two weeks,” he says.

“I was always wrestling between the two. The nine months before I couldn’t decide which course suited me better.

“My friends used to take the mickey out of me. I was in such a state, I was almost going to both sets of lectures.

“What it boiled down to was ‘do I want to be a doctor?’ If I was going to do it, I wanted to do it for the right reasons and respect the vocation with the honour it deserves.

“In the end, I felt like there was something out there that suited me more. It was a tough decision but I moved passed it.

“One thing I gained is an ability in how to go about big decisions. The initial decision doesn’t always matter as much. It’s more how you respond, and you’ll never know how the alternative would have panned out.”

Switching courses and intermitting – where students pause their studies – was “a difficult process”, says Amrit, who is pictured with his parents.

“But what it showed me was the support and help I got from College during it,” he adds.

“This isn’t really a normal place. I felt I could trust everyone to have my best interests at heart.” Three people smiling at the camera

Discussing his Tutor, Directors of Studies and staff in the Education and Tutorial Office, Amrit adds: “They really care about the students and make decisions with students’ best interests in mind. In real life you don’t have a space as safe as that. It’s a special thing and something you’re really lucky to have here.”

Football has been central to Amrit’s time at Caius. Whether it is playful conversations with Porters who support rival clubs, or the next Caius AFC training session or match, Amrit is often found talking about the sport he loves.

He adds: “So many of the people I know from Caius are through the football club, across a whole host of different year groups. Collectively, we bleed black and blue and I’d love for more people to share in this. Consider this a call to Caians to descend on the sportsground and cheer us on during Cuppers!”