PM declares British Sikhs are a "model community"


British Sikhs are a “model” community, Premier David Cameron told guests at a reception he hosted to mark Vaisakhi, the annual Sikh harvest festival. Held at Number Ten, the two-hour event brought together around 200 guests, each eminent in their respective fields of work.

Traditionally Vaisakhi in Punjab had been a time for farmers to reap the fruits of their toil and a time for joy after the long-awaited harvest.

Networking between guests, young and old, was distracted the moment the PM walked into the state rooms. It was amusing to observe, again, how several guests made a dash to greet the PM, and have their photograph taken. For first-timers, understood. I was the same when I first entered Number 10 on 3 December 1999, during Mr Blair’s reign, then as a fledgling reporter.

The event began with hymns, performed by the Gurmat Sangeet Academy, followed by prayers led by Gyani Charanjit Singh, head priest at Leamington Spa’s £11 million Gurdwara – one of around 300 in Britain, each run by elected committees of worshippers. Several guests removed their shoes and covered their heads during the prayers, as a mark of respect. Then the PM stepped on to the raised platform to give his address:

You are all extremely welcome here tonight,”

He began.

And I wanted to welcome you particularly this year because I think the highlight of my year so far, in a job that takes me to meet some extraordinary people and to some extraordinary places, was the visit that I was able to make to Amritsar to see for myself the Golden Temple – really the spiritual home of your religion,” describing it “an incredibly moving and memorable experience.”

He added:

When I’m hit with trouble and turbulence and problems that I can just think back to those beautiful calm waters around the Golden Temple and the wonderful smell of chappatis being cooked.”

He described the moment he met the first person in Amritsar:

I put out my hand and said hello I’m David Cameron and he said 'yes, I know, I’m from Croydon,' which prompted laughter. I was quite surprised that no serving British PM had been not only to visit the Golden Temple but also to see the site of that dreadful event that happened in the last century.”

He also made reference to the three pillars of Sikhism: the absolute belief in God and the importance of worshipping God; the importance of work and the dignity that work brings; and the importance of contributing to your community:

And those are really such vital pillars of our life here in the UK, and maybe they are part of the explanation of why your community is a model of how a community can integrate into a country, can make such an enormous contribution to that country, but can of course retain the importance of your separate identity at the same time.”

On the once aggressive searching of turbans at airports:

I’m proud that the government put a stop to that EU nonsense."

The PM also won applause for noting that next year will be the 160th anniversary of the first Sikh arriving in the UK, in 1854.

..considerably before the Camerons made it South from Scotland,”

which prompted laughter. He also pointed out that the Sikh community has:

“one of the lowest rates of imprisonment of any group in our society.”

Savouries and soft drinks were served throughout the event. Guests included: MPs Dominic Grieve, Alok Sharma and Paul Uppal. Richard Harrington, MP for Watford joked about his tall height: “At least I can look down on the PM,” he smiled. Also present were Sayeeda Warsi; former High Sheriff of Leicestershire Resham Singh Sandhu; Women of Cultures’ director Dr Gurjeet Bains; professor of cardiology Jaswinder Gill; director of Sikh Channel DS Bal; singer Mona Singh who is following in her father Channi Singh’s footsteps, founder of Punjabi music band Alaap; Bhangra legend Malkit Singh; radio DJ Bobby Friction; editor and publisher of Asian Voice and Gujarat Samachar Mr CB Patel, professor of Physics at Imperial College Tejinder Virdee; director of charity United Sikhs, Sundeep Kaur; Kulbinder Kaur Pouni, headteacher at Wolverhampton’s first Sikh-ethos Anand Primary School due to open this September; Dr Rami Ranger, Chairman, The British Sikh Society – some of whom will feature in The Sunday Times Rich List, to be published this weekend.

Other guests included teenage Sikh students Arjan Singh, Pardeep Sandhu, Simranjeet Singh, Pargat Singh and Amarpreet Kaur, as well as Pardeep Kaur and Ranvir Singh, the only Sikh couple serving in the British Army as a chef and trooper, respectively. Also present was 27-year-old Princejit Ubhi, representing the RAF, entrepreneur Ranjit Singh Baxi and financier Jitesh Gadhia.

Outside on the pavement, members of campaigning group Kesri Lehar were protesting peacefully. Holding placards and standing behind large banners, they chanted: “Wake up Mr Cameron” and “we want justice”. Kesri Lehar campaigns to stop human rights abuses facing minorities in India, also calling for the death penalty ban.

Last month in a major debate at Westminster Hall, Sikh Council UK was recognised as a ‘national advocate’ for British Sikhs. The debate was instigated by the All Party Parliamentary Group for British Sikhs and was led by Gareth Johnson, Tory MP for Dartford.

Sikhs have added a little something in their own special way to Britain. In Gravesend, a street was named ‘Khalsa Avenue’, whilst in Southall the iconic ‘Glassy Junction’ public house, famed for its Punjabi atmosphere, became the first to accept Indian rupee currency from its customers. Coventry’s Joginder Singh Nagra was responsible for introducing the Punjabi GCSE and A’Level to the National Curriculum.

The first day of the month Vaisakh, Vaisakhi is the anniversary of the birth of the Khalsa Nation. On April 13, 1699 the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, called a mass gathering of Sikhs and initiated the five beloved ones 9Panj Pyare) and established the Khalsa order of Saint Soldiers, bringing to fruition a way of life that had been lived by the 10 Gurus and which would be guided by the immortal message conveyed through them and installed as The Word or Shabad Guru in Shri Guru Granth Sahib. Thus a code of conduct was established providing for the Sikh nation a distinctive identity that bestowed honour and dignity.

This was the third Vaisakhi reception Mr Cameron has hosted at Number 10. In concluding, Mr Cameron said:

I look forward to many more like this. You should think of Number 10 as one of your homes. Thank you very much.”

He then attempted a swift exit, but was stopped along the way by many guests who appeared desperate to meet him. Hopefully the PM made it home at a decent hour, especially as it was his wife Samantha’s 42nd birthday.

By Dhiren Katwa, originally featured in the Asian Voice