| Wolverhampton, UK | 21 Feb 2017 | Asia Samachar |
Five disabled Sikhs took on the management committee of the largest gurdwara in Wolverhampton for alleged discrimination when they were forced to sit behind screens in the prayer hall and dining room.
A trial was due start at Birmingham County Court today (20 Feb 2017) but a deal was struck between the five and the Guru Nanak Gurdwara in Blakenhall management team.
“Fifty years ago Sikhs were fighting for the right to wear turbans in public in this country. Here we are in 2017 fighting for the right to attend the Gurdwara as disabled people without being hidden away and forced to sit like zoo animals behind partitions,” Bhupinder Kaur Chohan, one of the five disabled claimants, was outed by Express and Star.
“We have just the same right to worship and pray as everyone else. We should not be made to feel inferior.”
SEE ALSO: Roles and functions of a gurdwara
The case is believed to be the first of its kind internationally and could impact practices at Sikh gurdwaras up and down the country, the report added.
When asked how the segregation made him feel, Malkeet tells a BBC interviewer: “Upset, really. Upset.”
Judge Alastair Smail was keen to see both sides reaching a compromise on a number of key points, which included installing a lift to the prayer hall within the next five months and completely getting rid of the partitions in the prayer.
The out of court settlement requires the gurdwara to remove all of the screens from both rooms as well as signs which prohibited the use of chairs and wheelchairs.
In addition, a lift will be installed providing access to the first-floor prayer hall and “all necessary auxiliary aids” as set out by Wolverhampton council will be permitted, including chairs with arm rests.
The ruling committee must also pay the claimaint’s costs as part of the deal, which the claimants say are in excess of £150,000, according to the report in Express and Star.
Screens in the dining hall must be removed by Sunday, as must the signs, and screens in the prayer hall within 14 days. New chairs must be in place within 21 days and the a target date for the lift was set between three and five months, the report said.
“This is a compromise with good will on both sides. I can see the Gurdwara has committed itself to modernising in terms of its access for disabled people. All institutions have to do that and now the Gurdwara has agreed to that too and I commend that,” said the judge.
“Nominal damages will be paid so the claimants have compromised too. I am hoping this is a happy ending as far as it possible can be and I very much hope there are no further applications to this court.”
In the same report, Rajinder Singh Basi, Chair of the Sikh Forum in Wolverhampton, was qouted as saying: “Disabled people are not second class citizens and deserve enjoyment of the same right to worship and attend gurdwaras as everyone else.
“Now the Gurdwara must make changes within a very short space of time and we look forward to them doing so.”
On behalf of the temple’s ruling committee, a spokesman, said: “The Gurdwara maintains that it provided reasonable adjustments for those members of the congregation with disabilities whilst acting in accordance with the Sikh Rehat Maryada, the Sikh Code of Conduct and Conventions promulgated by the Akal Takhat in Punjab India which is the highest temporal authority in the Sikh faith.
“In reaching this amicable settlement, the Gurdwara would want to send the message that all are welcome with open hands and that the Gurdwara will continue to build on the provision for making suitable provision for the disabled whilst maintaining adherence to the Sikh Rehit Maryada in consultation with the guidance provided by Sikh Council UK.”
[ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs in Southeast Asia and surrounding countries. We have a Facebook page, do give it a LIKE. Follow us on Twitter. Visit our website: www.asiasamachar.com]
Sikhs show little interest in preserving heritage in Pakistan, says author Amardeep (Asia Samachar, 15 Sept 2016)
Sikhs must go beyond borders, Mejindarpal tells Pulapol Speaker Series (Asia Samachar, 10 Sept 2016)
Roles and functions of a gurdwara (Asia Samachar, 11 Dec 2015)