It’s a social ill that there are people who cannot afford to provide food for their family and are reliant on the charity of others to be able to survive. When a million people are visiting foodbanks to receive 3 days of food across the UK, that’s not a minority. Regardless of their social status, no one should be in such a position that they feel they or their family cannot be fed.
Being part of the Sikh community, I witness not only our practices, but also am very interested in seeing how we contribute to society at large. One of the core concepts in Sikhi is called seva. It means selfless service. There is a full expectation that as a Sikh, you will be a contributing member of society and do so willingly with no expectation of reward or payment.
One of the other core concepts is one called langar. Langar means free kitchen. It was a practice first started by our first guru, Guru Nanak Dev ji, in the early 16th century. He set out to instill some thinking in people that when we eat, we eat equally. That when we eat, it should be done by the community, freely, and with no expectation of payment. So when anyone visits a gurdwara, they are all welcome to partake in eating the langar being served. Traditionally everyone sits on the floor to eat, and this is to signify that no one is more important than any other, especially in the house of God.
Over recent years, the Sikh community has been very supportive of those facing hard times in the UK when it comes to needing food. There was a BBC report last year about Sikhs feeding the homeless in Derby and one earlier this year about how more and more people are turning to Sikh temples to receive hot food.
It makes me very proud to see my fellow Sikh brothers and sisters offering their time willingly to be able to make food. We are staying true to the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev ji, and showing our fellow Brits just how integrated we are in society and how we care about anyone facing hard times. The gurdwaras are not able to offer overnight shelter, but they will provide a safe haven where you can be fed throughout the day.
In the gurdwara, Sikh helpers will advise people on practice. For example, there’s a simple accepted practice that you cover your head before eating. This is important because Sikhs are meant to keep their hair covered at all times, so certainly in the gurdwara it has to be done. There are bandana style cloths and scarves for women available so there’s often little worry that you don’t have your own. Importantly, there’s no pressure to follow strict doctrine, just normal and regular hygienic and social practice.
It continues to sadden me that people are needing to use foodbanks in order to feel they can eat. Langar at gurdwaras and for the homeless on British streets is a real boon for those in need of help. If you’re aware of people who aren’t sure about how they’re going to feed themselves or their family, let them know they can visit their local gurdwara and will be welcomed.