London: Sikhs in the UK are taking the concept of langar or free meals served in gurdwaras to the streets of Britain to feed the country’s growing homeless population. The Sikh Welfare and Awareness Team (SWAT), a relatively new British charity, decided to take the concept of donated produce prepared into vegetarian dishes out of its traditional gurdwara setting to address the growing problem of homelessness in the UK.
The Sikh langars are popular here not just because the food is free, but because the delicious meals served in langars are considered by many as luxury. “We come here because we get food… A hot meal. It’s a luxury for me,” a 55-year-old homeless man told the BBC during filming of one such pop-up kitchen over the weekend. Nearly 250 others were handed out hot soup, drinks, chocolate bars and other supplies from the SWAT van parked up on the Strand in central London on Sunday evening.
The Swat team, as they’re known, park at the same spot every week so a group of volunteers from the Sikh community can hand out supplies. The homeless people, an overwhelming majority of whom are not Sikhs, patiently wait in the queue to be served. Many Sikh temples in the UK have also reported a surge in the numbers of non-Sikhs coming in for the free Langar meals after the 2008 recession.
Surinder Singh Purewal, a senior member of the gurdwara’s management team, said: “We don’t mind it. As long as people show respect, are not intoxicated and cover their heads in line with our traditions, then everyone is welcome.” SWAT founder Randeep Singh said: “When you go to the temple, what’s the message? The message is to help others, help your neighbours. That’s what we are doing.”
The tradition of langar dates back nearly 500 years based on teachings of the the founder of the Sikh religion, Guru Nanak. Sikhs based in Britain have kept the tradition alive over the years and serve thousands of free meals daily in gurdwaras around the country.
The Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara in the west London suburb of Southall, one of the biggest gurdwaras outside India, says it alone serves an average of 15,000 meals every week – 5,000 on weekdays and 10,000 on weekends. According to the latest figures, the homeless population in the UK is estimated at around 13,900 and charities fear the problem is getting worse with tougher economic conditions and unemployment. According to 2011 census, Sikhism was recorded as the religion of 432,429 people in the UK.