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Friday, August 12, 2022

“Anyone struggling to buy food is welcome at the Gurdwara” says Sikh community leaders

Leaders in the Sikh community in Leeds have said that anyone is welcome to attend a langar at the Gurdwara if they are struggling to make ends meet.

Leaders from the Sikh community in Leeds have invited anyone struggling with putting food on the table to join them for a meal at the gurdwara.

A gurdwara (often called a temple) is a place of worship and is always open for prayer and for people to eat.

Gurdwaras have a langar – a community kitchen that serves meals to people free of charge. The langar is run by volunteers and only serves vegetarian food to make it inclusive for people of all faiths or none.

Originally a Persian word, Langar translates as ‘an alms house’ or ‘a place for the poor and needy’. The purpose of the langar is to provide everyone in need of food with something to eat. Anyone, irrespective of caste, class, religion, and gender is welcome as the Guru’s guest.

Dr Jasjit Singh, an associate professor at the University of Leeds has said anyone in need of food is welcome at a Gurdwara.

In Leeds, the community kitchen is open every day but runs at limited capacity, so people are encouraged to attend on the weekend when more volunteers are running the langar.

Dr Jasjit Singh, an associate professor at the University of Leeds, who researches the religious and cultural lives of the South Asians living in the UK, has said people of all faiths are welcome to eat at the langar “as long as they are respectful.”

He said: “The whole concept of the langar is to empower the community. It is a mutual support network in a way. People donate the food and make it together. Community doesn’t mean just Sikhs but anyone who is in need.

“It is important to be respectful in the gurdwara in the same way you would be if you went to somebody’s house. So, anyone visiting the temple needs to cover their head as a mark of respect, take their shoes off before entering, and do not be intoxicated or smoking.

“Apart from that, there aren’t many rules. Anybody of any background, religion, gender and ethnicity is welcome.”

“It is important to be respectful in the gurdwara in the same way you would be if you went to somebody’s house” – Dr Singh

Statistics from the 2011 Census – the latest available figures – show that approximately 8914 Sikhs are living in Leeds – accounting for 1.2% of people in the city, and 0.4% of the population across the whole of West Yorkshire. This is in comparison to around 40,772 Muslims in Leeds (5.4%) or 326050 people (6.2%) across the region.

According to the latest ONS report on the rising cost of living almost a quarter (23%) of adults reported that it was “very difficult” or “difficult” to pay their regular household bills in March compared to a year ago.

People are facing the pinch after the price of gas and electricity soared last month, with most people’s utility bills skyrocketing by 54%, on average.

The largest gurdwara in Leeds is The Sikh Temple on Chapeltown Road. Image: Betty Longbottom.

Rising Inflation, national insurance, and an increase in the price of food at the supermarkets because of the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and Brexit have meant that many people are turning to food banks and skipping meals to deal with the cost-of-living crisis.

According to the Trussell Trust – the UK’s largest network of food banks – the use of food banks went up by 14% last year and is expected to increase this year.

In Leeds, the largest Gurdwara is The Sikh Temple Gurdwara Leeds on Chapeltown Road, where Dr Jatinder Singh Mehmi is a trustee.

Dr Mehmi added: “Food is something that should be available for everybody. Usually, most people turn up at the langar on the weekends as people have more time, but the gurdwara is always open to people for prayer and food.

“The communal kitchen is where people bring food or raw ingredients – vegetables and lentils, and we all prepare the food, cook together, eat, and wash up together. It is like a big family in a sense.

“The langar is much smaller during the week as it is run by volunteers and demand is slightly less so there is more provision on the weekend and when most people turn up. Anyone who is in need of food is welcome to turn up and join us for a meal.”

Glossary

  • Gurdwara: means “door to the guru” and is a place of assembly and worship for Sikhs
  • Langar: is the community kitchen of the gurdwara, which serves vegetarian meals to all people free of charge, regardless of religion, gender, economic status or ethnicity.
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