How the Sikh Community has responded to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Thankfully, Sikhs are inspirational people who put the community's needs before their own and seek to alleviate the...

People all over the world are being confined to their homes due to the Coronavirus pandemic, and it's a challenging time for many people. It can be frustrating for our daily routines to be disrupted, boredom can set in while social activity is limited, the stress of educating and entertaining children throughout each day can all compound to the anxiety we may be feeling about the potential effects of this virus.

Thankfully, Sikhs are inspirational people who put the community's needs before their own and seek to alleviate the burden facing many today. Sikh organisations and individuals are not only providing essential services in a difficult time, but also inspiring many others to do the same.

In this article, we share just a few examples of Sikhs around the world who are sacrificing their time, energy and sometimes even safety to help others during this COVID-19 epidemic.

Sikhi while self-isolating

The Sikh community has just celebrated a Vaisakhi like no other in history. At this time of year, Sikhs usually take part in the biggest public gatherings of the Sikh calendar. Vaisakhi Nagar Kirtans (Sikh religious processions) in some parts of the world can attract over 100,000 people, whilst Gurdwaras would usually be packed from morning to evening.

However, as a ban on mass gatherings across most of the world has taken effect, and much of the world experiencing "lockdown", all major Nagar Kirtans were cancelled and many of the Gurdwaras were either closed or running a scaled-back contingency service, forcing Sikhs to spend Vaisakhi at home.

Despite this, with the rise of technology, such as online video streaming services, there were plenty of opportunities for Sangat to remain connected and commemorate a virtual Vaisakhi, with the motto: “If you can’t go outside, Go inside!”

Basics of Sikhi

Renowned educational Sikh outlet Basics of Sikhi responded when the extent of the coronavirus pandemic became apparent by adapting to create more live online content. Keen to minimise the impact that Gurdwara closures around the world have on English-speaking sangat, the educational outlet is using real-time streaming services on YouTube and Facebook to provide an increased volume of content and engage with viewers via instant messages.

In collaboration with multimedia partner DGN Sounds, Basics of Sikhi’s daily schedule has modified to include six live streams each day, including morning and evening nitnem (daily prayers), Hukamnama Katha (explanation of the edict of the day) and Sikh stories. The group even held a live interactive online quiz to entertain and educate the Sangat while self-isolting.

For Vaisakhi, the UK-based group organised a packed five-day program with live Kirtan, Simran, Daily Prayers (Nitnem), Storytelling and Discourse. The Basics of Sikhi South East Asia team and the North America teams also arranged a similar program.

Sikh 2 Inspire

Another prominent UK-based Sikhi educational group, Sikh 2 Inspire, put together an online offering to help sangat learn about Sikhi while they stay at home. Using YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, the charity’s daily schedule of events includes nitnem at 4.30am, followed by Hukamnama from Sri Harimandir Sahib and katha, as well as evening nitnem, talks and simran.

In addition, Sikh 2 Inspire has supplemented its daily schedule with weekly posts, including an "Ask S2I" questions and answers session on Twitter and katha of Japji Sahib and Bhai Gurdas Ji’s Vaaran. For Vaisakhi, Sikh 2 Inspire announced a full-day Vaisakhi program, providing further opportunities to learn and connect with Gurbani.

SikhNet

SikhNet has long been a pioneer in online Sikhi services. From February 1985 until October of 1994, before the worldwide web as we know it was created, SikhNet was online as a computer bulletin board system (BBS.) Since then, the website has amassed an impressive array of content including recordings of kirtan and katha, news, educational videos and even a cyber Hukamnama service, allowing Sikhs to ask their Guru for guidance online.

During this epidemic, the team has been supplementing their content with live streams on Facebook twice a day, featuring kirtan, meditation worshops, simran and educational talks at 1pm & 8pm USA Eastern.

Elsewhere in the US, The Sikh Research Institute team also held a full-day Vaisakhi program via live streams, The Raj Academy organised a live kirtan session which featuring global participation and Jakara Movement organised a whole Vaisakhi week of online programs accessible for all.

Sri Harimandir Sahib Live

With a curfew enforced in Punjab, and the public unable to leave their homes except for in extenuating circumstances, sangat around the world saw images of Sri Harimandir Sahib looking uncharacteristically empty. But while the most popular Gurdwara in the world is running a scaled-back service in accordance with the latest guidance from the Akal Takht, sangat around the world can still tune in online via Facebook and YouTube for their daily darshan (viewing).

Digi Sangat – 1 Million Mool Mantar Jaap

A collaborative effort between Gurdwaras, Sikh organisations and charities, including Dharam Seva Records, Nihung Santhiya, Khalsa Aid, Akal Bunga Sahib, Sikh Channel, Midland Langar Seva Society and many others, encourages Sikhs around the world to contribute to a one million Mool Mantar Jaap for sarbat da bhalla (the welfare of all).

The idea is for groups or individuals to use their time at home to recite the opening passage of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, known as the Mool Mantar (root mantra), as many times as possible and submit their totals online at Digisangat.co.uk.

The groups had hoped to reach 250,000 during the two weeks between Sunday 29th March unti Monday 13th April. However, that target was already reached by Wednesday 1st April, so the groups set a new target of 1 million jaaps.

SikhInside – Virtual Satsang

For the month leading up to Vaisakhi, Malaysia-based collective SikhInside held a “Virtual Satsang” on YouTube and Facebook and Twitter.

The group of sevadars (selfless servants) began the online initiative in 2011, filming events across South-East Asia, in countries including Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, New Zealand, India & Australia.

The event concluded with an e-Vaisakhi celebration on 14th April 2020. The Virtual Satsang continues to take place each day at 12pm UK time.

For those that may wish to read to learn rather than listen, this Akaal Publishers has put together a free Vaisakhi e-book containing 12 pages of detailed information.

Nanak Naam

Throughout the lockdown period, Satpal Singh - founder of Sikh spirituality content provider Nanak Naam has been sharing various videos for GurMat (Guru minded) based understanding of topics including “how Gurmat spiritual wisdom and meditation helps us to deal with troubles in life” and “Coping in Uncertain Times”.

Shastar Vidiya

Another form of woship in Sikhi is through Shastar Vidiya, the study of weaponry. Sahibzada Baba Ajit Singh Gatka Akhara usually runs Gatka (Sikh martial arts) classes in London. However, during this epidemic the martial arts group has been sharing videos to help people at home improve their fitness, while most gyms and sports clubs are closed.

The Akhara, or martial arts club, is sharing videos to explain correct form of exercises such as push-ups and squats, motivational posts, workout routines for adults and children, and much more. They are ran a 13 day challenge for Vaisakhi, encouraging the community to exercise for at least 13 minutes each day in the lead up to Vaisakhi.

And looking to keep up the warrior tradition surrounding Vaisakhi, the Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji Akhadha asked Sikhs to send in videos of them performing gatka (Sikh weaponry martial art) to be used in a video compilation to be released to the wider Sangat.

Vaisakhi initiatives

Akal Takht Jathedar (head) Jagtar Singh Hawara made a call to hoist the Nishan Sahib (Sikh flag) outside of homes this Vaisakhi when all are staying in. With this request in mind, Khalsa Foundation of the Khalsa Camp group released a video on how to make your own Nishan Sahib. The call was echoed by The Sikh Press Association who shared posts from the Sangat across social media platforms, and continue to share news of Sikh initiatives to the Sangat and the worldwide media, as well as its own content via video streams and online news.

The ChardiKala Turban Academy also asked people to “don a dastaar” and share pictures online. A dastaar (Sikh turban) is part of the Sikh physical identity. Meanwhile, Sikh professional network City Sikhs also ran an e-Vaisakhi celebration, involving educational talks, kirtan and even a cooking tutorial.

Activities for Children

Prashaad is a sacred Sikh food serving that is simple to make and a staple part of every Sikh ceremony. Parents were encouraged make prashaad with their children when SikhNet released a video showing how to make it and how to get children involved in making it. SikhNet also helped to create an animation made for children called Guru Teg Bahadur and the Magical Land.

Kiddie Sangat, a subsidiary of Everythings 13, has also been busy providing live and interactive Kiddie Sangat sessions for children. These live streams feature story telling, nursery rhymes and sing alongs, as well as Sikhi craft tutorials. The streams are available to view on Kiddie Sangat Instagram account @kiddiesangat. 

Meanwhile, the Australian-based Khalsa Education Society launched a competition asking children to take part in a competition reciting GurBani, a Sakhi (story on the Gurus) or Kavita (Sikh poem). And UK-based Sikh educational charity Nanak Naam created a five-day Vaisakhi challenge for children to help them understand how something that happened 321 years ago still relates to them today.

Continuing the theme of education, social media account Miss Kaur Humanities is giving away free info-graphics on Vaisakhi designed to be easy for children to take in. As a tutor and teacher by profession, Miss Kaur uses her social media profile to share mindfulness techniques and self-care tips, tailored to children as well as adults. Her Instagram account is also a great resource in its own right for signposting details of educational and spiritual initiatives from across the Sikh community.

SHARE Charity UK has released the Mata Sahib Kaur animated movie for children to watch during Vaisakhi too. During the Coronavirus pandemic, the charity has been providing live, interactive, educational entertainment, including story time and sharing ideas of how families can celebrate Vaisakhi at hime, via their Instagram page @sharecharityuk.

Sikh Vision is another collective that offers resources for children about Sikhi. The group recently created over 100 Vaisakhi activity sheets that can be downloaded for free. These include reading comprehension exercises based on Sakhis (Sikh stories), word searches, dot-to-dot, drawing and colouring exercises, Vaisakhi greeting cards and many more other puzzles. There is even an online Quiz about the Sikh Gurus. The resources can be downloaded in pdf format at www.Sikh-Vision.com

Sikh Colouring is an organisation that creates Sikh-themed colouring books, and has been using social media to share creative ideas for parents. One of their initiatives is a daily schedule for when schools are closed. The downloadable schedule helps parents draw up a rough plan for their day while home-schooling, which is unfamiliar territory for many parents. The group also has a range of creative activities available for children via its website www.sikhcolouring.com.

Seva during COVID-19

Elsewehere, there has been a heartwarming response from the Sikh community to the Coronavirus epidemic. Seva, or selfless service, is a core part of Sikhi, the Sikh faith. Despite the unprecedented lockdown that the world has found itself in, Sikhs have continued providing Seva to the whole community, especially the elderly and vulnerable in their cities and towns.

A few notable examples of this Seva include:

Khalsa Aid

Khalsa Aid is a Sikh humanitarian charity which assists in relief efforts worldwide, and set up operations after natural disasters and conflicts in places such as Haiti, in Syria and Myanmar. In the UK it has been delivering free food to NHS staff across 8 hospitals including Charing Cross Hospital, UCL and Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow.

The charity is providing a similar service; delivering groceries and essentials for elders across the USA - in California, New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin and Montana. In addition, Khalsa Aid is also leading the Seva in Canada, and has set up operations to provide food and essential support to elders in various locations, including: Montreal, Brampton, Vancouver, Ottowa, Nanaimo, Victoria, Toronto and Winnipeg.

London

In West London, Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara Southall - Europe's most popular Sikh Gurdwara, has teamed up with youth charity SWAT Youth, to deliver free food and essentials to elderly and vulnerable people self isolating at home.

Gurdwaras in the London boroughs of Bexley, Dartford and Greenwich have teamed up to provide a similar service in their community, as has as a youth group from the Sikh congregation in Redbridge and Ilford. They are all offering to provide meals and urgent transport, provide shopping for food and other essentials such as medication, as well as providing company - in whatever way that is safe and appropriate.

Meanwhile, homeless charity Nishkam SWAT, which provides food, essentials and even healthcare to the homeless community across 24 sites nationwide has stated that it will continue to support all of its service users throughout the Coronavirus pandemic.

The charity is providing a streamlined service - providing packed lunches rather than hot food in order to minimise waiting times, and supplying volunteers with the necessary gloves, masks and other equipment to ensure their safety. It is also delivering supplies to hospital staff, to help ensure that the heroic healthcare workers are kept well-fed and looked-after.

Meanwhile, in Slough, Guru Maneyo Granth Gurdwara has gone a step further, by not only providing delivery of food and essentials to the community, but offering to open up its entire 4 acre site to the NHS for use as an emergency hospital, if needed.

UK Midlands

Elsewhere in the UK, Midland Langar Seva Society, was established in 2013 to provide hot food and refreshments to rough sleepers and other vulnerable people in the area.It has since grown across the Midlands, and even the UK, in areas such as Coventry, Leicester, Cardiff, Newcastle, Leamington Spa and Bristol - serving approximately 37,0000 hot meals per month. During this pandemic, MLSS has stepped up its operations once again, and began providing sanitary equipment such as face masks, toilet roll and gloves, as well as hot meals and groceries, to existing service users as well as those who are self-isolating, or otherwise unable to undertake their own trips for groceries and essentials.

Five other Sikh organisations, including Gurdwara Baba Deep Singh Shaheed, the Sikh Soup Kitchen and youth group Shere Panjab have teamed up to serve the needs of elderly people in Birmingham and Wolverhampton during the pandemic. 

Langar Aid - a subsidiary of the aforementioned Khalsa Aid - has been providing food and services to homeless and otherwise vulnerable members of the community in Coventry. The charity has also stepped up to provide a further 200 meals each day to those who are self-isolating in Coventry, as well as distributing food and milk to hospitals and other support organisations in the city.

And three local Sikh organisations: Lotus Sanctuary, Patshahi 6 Academy and Midland Langar Seva Society teamed up in Wolverhampton to provide support to the most vulnerable in the community during the COVID19 pandemic. Meanwhile in Nottingham, local charity Guru Nanak's Mission Nottingham has been donating vegetarian packed lunch for anyone in or near Nottingham who needs food. They drop food off at evening shelters across the city throughout the year, but during the pandemic, they are reaching out to those self-isolating as well.

California

Freemont Gurdwara in California has set-up a free home delivery service for those in need in their area, showing a real worldwide effort by Gurdwaras to tackle the issues brought about by the virus. Along with Sikh activism charity the Jakara Movement, the Gurdwara has set up a free pantry in California. The community is encouraged to donate any spare food and essentials, and from this food bank, volunteers will provide deliveries to anyone in need.

Australia

In Australia, the Sikh Volunteers Australia group have started a home delivery service for locals across Melbourne, whilst Sikh charity Turbans 4 Australia are doing something similar in Sydney.

Kenya 

The Ramgharia Youth Association is providing pre-packed food parcels to families and individuals across Kenya during the COVID19 pandemic. The packs, which include essential food supplies such as cooking oil, beans, lentils and rice, as well as non-food items such as soap and toilet roll, are designed to cater for a family of 5 for 2 weeks, or individuals for 5 days 

India

Meanwhile in India, many Gurdwaras are still open to the public and continue to provide free food, or Langar, to anyone in need , during the COVID19 outbreak. 

For instance, Gurdwara Dukh Niwaran Sahib in Punjab's Ludhiana District are reportedly serving 10,000 meals per day, while many other Gurdwaras across Punjab, Haryana and Delhi are providing around 3,000 meals daily at the moment. Many Gurdwaras in India are also providing shelter for the particularly vulnerable.

Inspiring Individuals

Mankamal Singh and family: Living Room Kirtan

Proving that you don’t need industrial equipment, lots of manpower or a large venue to help sangat connect to Sikhi, a family in East London has been streaming kirtan on Facebook from their living room during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Father Mankamal Singh explained that the family hopes to sing and share a shabad from their living room every day during the COVID19 isolation period. Their efforts have even seen their broadcast appear on television, via the Sikh Channel.

Gurpreet Singh: Gatka Combative Akhara

And another way in which Sikhs can also connect to the divine is through the martial arts. Gurpreet Singh, a sevadar from the UK who teaches martial arts to students of all ages, has put together a series of recorded and live Gatka tutorials on Facebook.

The tutorials are aimed at children and beginners, and include the very basic skills, such as how to draw your stick weapon, and how to warm up in the comfort of your own home. There are even online classes for regular students, while classes at the dojo are on hold during the epidemic.

Mandeep Singh - Maths Teacher

Maths teacher and Basics of Sikhi educator Mandeep Singh Narwal is offering assistance to parents who are educating their children at home during the COVID-19 crisis. With schools in the UK assigning children work to carry out at home, Mandeep has kindly reached out to the community via his social media accounts, offering assistance to parents who are struggling.

"While you are home-schooling/remotely/digitally educating your children, if you need assistance with understanding something that has been assigned for your child, or if you need more resources, just give me a shout, especially if your child is in years 6 to 13 for MATHS," he posted.

Mukhtiar Singh - Lawyer

Another individual offering his professional experience as seva to those in need is barrister Mukhtiar Singh. He is offering free advice to key workers and businesses in his locality of Gravesham and Medway througout April, as a token of gratitude for thier important work during this difficult time.

Tinessa Kaur - Lawyer

It isn't just schoolchildren whose education has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. University students are also finding themselves affected, and many will be missing classes.
Tinessa Kaur from legal outfit Kaurs Legal is offering students online tutoring for high school, undergraduate and postgraduate law exams.

Jaspreet Kaur - Free Homeschooling Resources

Teacher and poet Jaspreet Kaur goes by the handle @behindthenetra on Twitter. She has spent her time compiling free online resources to help parents with home-schooling while schools have been closed.
Via a Google shared drive, Jaspreet has made free resources for Key Stage 2, 3, 4 and 5 available to download and print for free, as well as wellness advice and tips. She is even offering to post these resources for anyone who doesn't have access to IT or printers.

Baljinder Kaur - illustrator

Illustrator Baljinder Kaur is collaborating with children on Instagram in a very creative and innovative project. Having recently published children's books on Guru Nanak Dev Ji and Bhai Fauja Singh, she is now inviting children aged 5 to 12, with the help of their parents, to submit their art work to her account @Blahjinder on Instagram.

Baljinder then takes elements of the original art work and adds her own flair to create a collaborative piece of art. As you might expect, Baljinder has been inundated with artwork, so was not taking any more pieces at the time of publishing, but the results are amazing and available to see on her Instagram profile.

Rajinder Singh - "The Skipping Singh"

73 year old Rajiinder Singh is keen to make sure that people stay fit and healthy during this pandemic, and is encouraging everyone to take up skipping. He has appeared in mainstream media outlets challenging everybody, young and old, to take up skipping and other agility exercises whole they are confined indoors.

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