By Jasreen Mayal Khanna | BBC |
Founded some 500 years ago in what is now India’s Punjab region, Sikhism is the world’s fifth-largest religion. But what makes its members habitual do-gooders? Author Jasreen Mayal Khanna writes on the tradition of selfless service ingrained in the community.
Think of any scene of disaster and you’ll find Sikh volunteers rallying to the site, feeding migrants, helping riot victims, and rebuilding homes after earthquakes.
From the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar to the Paris terror attacks, the farmers’ marches in India to the protests in America against George Floyd’s killing, people from this 30 million-strong community worldwide have made it a tradition to help complete strangers in their darkest moments.
Through the pandemic, they reached new heights.
In Maharashtra in western India, a gurdwara (the Sikh place of worship) fed two million people in 10 weeks last year. Other gurdwaras in India melted the gold they had collected over the last 50 years to set up hospitals and medical colleges. Sikh NGOs set up “oxygen langars” – langars are the community kitchens in the gurdwaras – providing free oxygen to people as India gasped and reeled through its deadly second wave of coronavirus.
How did Sikhs become the Good Samaritans of the world? Most religions tell their followers to help others and to do good – but how have the Sikhs gone from talking to doing so effectively?
It goes back to their founder Guru Nanak who preached that selfless service (seva as it is called) and hard work are as important as prayer.
When Sikhs visit the gurdwara, they spend time in front of the holy book, giving thanks and praying, but they spend an equal amount of time helping cook and serve the langars or meals, looking after the devotees’ shoes and cleaning the premises.
Sikh temples thus aren’t just places of worship – they are soup kitchens and homeless shelters and community centres, a place to call home if you have none.
By making seva the song of the Sikhs, Guru Nanak instilled service in their DNA. This is why Sikh vegetable vendor, Baljinder Singh, has spent every Friday afternoon for the last 40 years looking after the footwear of the Muslims praying in his local mosque in Punjab. “For me humanity is above any religion,” he says.
Jasreen Mayal Khanna is the author of Seva: Sikh Secrets on How to Be Good in the Real World
Read the full story, entitled ‘ Viewpoint: Why Sikhs are the do-gooders of the world’ (BBC, 16 July 2021), here.
Brickfields Panjabi restaurant provide free food twice a day (Asia Samachar, 14 July 2021)