Initiative Helps to Highlight British Sikh Contribution
A new initiative has been launched to create awareness of the contribution British Sikh faith has given to society by way of langar. National Langar Week, which ran between 1 November and 7 November, was the first time in the UK that Sikhs held events nationwide sharing the Sikh way of life via the institution of langar. Langar is the name given to a 500-year-old system that was built to eradicate segregation and promote equality, regardless of gender, socioeconomic status or faith, via the sharing the same food at the same level.
In Britain today, langar is being turned to as a source of basic need by the growing number of individuals and families who are living on the breadline. This year alone, food banks located all over the UK reported an unprecedented 163% increase in their use, with over 900,000 people using a food bank from 2013-2014.
A 2013 report showed Gurdwaras in the UK were struggling to meet the demand of the increase in those requiring free meals. Although there are a reported 423 food banks in the UK, these are not open every day from dawn until dusk, unlike Gurdwaras, nor can they provide hot meals.
Rupinder Kaur Virdee, co-founder of the Sikh Press Association explains, “Sikhs share the same British values as the rest of the country however as a community, the general British public just don’t know much about who we are. We set up National Langar Week in order to open the doors to our communities as well as our way of life and what better way in which to do this, than by the sharing of food. We have a vast number of youth led Sikh societies, some of the largest Sikh Gurdwaras in the UK and community groups who held special events up and down the country.”
Approximately 300 Gurdwaras in the UK serve free hot meals to all visitors, regardless of faith or ethnicity, for up to 14 hours a day, every single day of the year. Collated figures from within the Sikh community show approximately 400 tons of food (flour, lentils, rice, vegetables, salt, sugar and more) is used weekly, cooked and served by an estimated 10,000 of volunteers.
One of these is the Guru Nanak Gurdwara, located in Smethwick. Vice-President of the Gurdwara, Onkar Singh, stressed the importance of such events. “National Langar Week actually coincides with Gurpurab which is the birthday of Guru Nanak Ji and the perfect opportunity to show people what the Sikh religion is actually about. In an era that was difficult he managed to bring people together, regardless of their faith, and sit them down and get them to eat. This is what we want to promote about the Sikh faith – that it is humble, selfless and giving.”