Sikhs Service Beyond Communal Barriers
~ By Arkopriya Pal
The Sikh community has always made news – both nationally as well as around the globe – for relentlessly helping people in times of crisis and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been no exception. While the world is locked away in homes, battling the fast-spreading infection, the Sikh community is, at various places, working tirelessly in a bid to ensure that no one has to sleep on an empty stomach and everyone gets access to logistics supply in the times of the pandemic.
In their distribution of food packets since the lockdown was announced in the country, the Sikh community has been effortlessly breaking the barriers of communal divide in their social service. Sikh teachings are all about creating a fairer, more tolerant society and being ready to stand up for the weak and underprivileged, no matter how daunting the circumstances may be. Setting an example of communal harmony, namaz and Gurbani path were performed simultaneously in Gurdwara ‘Sahib Haa Da Naara’ at the Muslim-majority town of Malerkotla, Punjab. Members of the gurdwara management committee, Namdhari Mission, Sanatan Dharm community and police officers jointly organised a party for the members of the Muslim community on the opening of Roza(fast), but by taking care of social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. After the lockdown in March, the gurdwara management committee had started serving langar to a local Madrassa, where students of other states were stuck. Apart from serving langar to Madrassa students, the gurdwara management committee had also served langar to around 1,000 other needy and poor residents of the city during the lockdown.
“The Gurbani path was going on in the main hall while namaz was offered in another hall of gurdwara by our Muslim brothers. The main purpose of organising the party was to reconfirm that we all are united,” said Narinderpal Singh, Head Granthi of Gurdwara Sahib. Members of the Muslim community said visiting the historic gurdwara was not a new thing for them as they had been coming to this gurdwara since their birth.
The emphasis on giving in Sikhism is seen in the institution of langar, a free communal eating space attached to every temple or gurdwara. Guru Nanak began this practice of langar against the background of a caste system in which the food of a higher caste was considered polluted by even the shadow of someone from a lower caste passing by. The Guru insisted that all people, rich and poor, beggar and king, assemble together on the same level, to eat food prepared and served by those hailing from varied social backgrounds. At the Golden Temple in Amritsar, 3,000 free meals are served to visitors every half hour.
The practice of langar has also extended to other areas of social need on previous occasions. Even at the time of severe flooding in Orissa in 2019, Sikhs had set up huge food camps for the thousands who had lost their homes and their livelihoods. More recently, the UK-based charity Khalsa Aid and other Sikhs were involved in the provision of langar and aid to relieve the suffering and distress in the earthquake-torn Gujarat on India’s west coast.
At Adelaide, Australia, a free tiffin service has been spearheaded by the Sikhs, primarily meant for needy students in the event of the closure of langars at gurdwaras, as a safety measure. The Allenby Gardens Gurdwara announced that only needy students could collect the langar. The Sikh community in Sydney too has spent over 4,000 Australian dollars on a food donation program for elderly folks stuck in self-isolation. The group—” Turbans of Australia”—have so far donated more than 1.5 tons of food. The food was delivered to residents who were unable to purchase basic non-perishable foods. United Sikhs, a UN-affiliated non-profit and non-governmental organisation said that the food banks aim to help disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, especially seniors citizens and children. All the supplies from United Sikhs are free, the organisation said, including canned goods, hot meals, dry goods and medicines. (The Globe Newswire)
The committee of the Gurdwara Gurunanak Darbar, Pachpaoli started their ‘langar seva’ after the lockdown on March 21 in keeping with their Sikh tradition of short notice without much time for planning or preparation. Their aim continues to be, ensuring food for starving citizens, irrespective of their religions. This task becomes all the more difficult without food outlets, vendors and kiosks at their usual availability. The Sikh initiative also inspired as many as 45 different NGOs and residents’ groups in the town who also began preparing food packets.