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Sikh people have a long tradition of serving humanity, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, they have once again shown their commitment to helping those in need. From providing free meals to the homeless and stranded travellers to setting up makeshift hospitals and donating oxygen concentrators, Sikh organizations and individuals have been at the forefront of relief efforts. 

In 2021, when Victoria experienced the fourth lockdown, it left certain groups vulnerable without state assistance. International students, for instance, are often only allowed to work limited hours and end up in public-facing industries that get hit hardest by lockdowns. With no access to welfare services, they face financial difficulties and are forced to choose between paying rent or buying food.

Fortunately, the Sikh community in Australia has come forward to fill this gap by providing free meals to those affected by the lockdown measures. This gesture has helped ease the burden for vulnerable groups struggling with the consequences of the pandemic and the government's response to it.

A long tradition of seva in Sikhism 

Sikhism places great emphasis on seva, which means selfless service. One of the most significant ways in which this is expressed is through the langar, a free kitchen found in every gurdwara or Sikh temple. The Golden Temple complex in Amritsar, India, houses the largest langar in the world. They serve up to 100,000 meals a day, which are accessible to everyone, irrespective of religion or background.

Australian Sikh community 

Australia has seen a substantial increase in the number of Sikhs in recent years. According to the 2006 Australian census, around 26,000 Sikhs were living in the country. Ten years later, the 2016 census recorded a significant increase in this number, with 125,000 Sikhs living in Australia. The upcoming census is expected to see these numbers continue to rise. This trend is undoubtedly a positive development.

The growth of the Australian Sikh community is an excellent example of the importance of civil society groups. We can learn valuable lessons about how we should approach our relationships with one another. It's crucial to recognize that we shouldn't rely solely on the state to manage our interactions. Instead, we must start from a personal understanding of our collective bonds and the responsibilities we have towards each other.

Volunteerism in the Australian Sikh Community 

The selfless efforts of Australian Sikhs highlight an important lesson about the value of volunteerism. While paying taxes is crucial for providing services and welfare to others, it does not carry the same level of personal agency, intent, and substance as volunteering. Taxes are more of a distant contribution, while volunteering involves getting directly involved and making a hands-on impact.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted many aspects of our lives, including our expectations of the government and our interactions with others. This presents an opportunity to re-evaluate the role of the state and the importance of civil society groups in improving the lives of others. The example set by Australian Sikhs helps rediscover the value of individual and collective efforts to make a difference in communities.

 

*Based on an article by Grant Wyeth, published in The Diplomat on 7th June 2021

 

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