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UK Gurdwara defends policy on disabled visitors, others say it doesn't go far enough
By: Barfi Culture Team
Published: 4th April 2018

A Gurdwara in Slough has responded today to a story by Barfi Culture last week that a disabled Sikh man was forced to sit outside during his cousin's wedding.

On Friday we reported that Lux Phull was not allowed to sit in his chair, which he needs for his paralysed body, in the prayer hall at the Guru Maneyo Granth Gurdwara in Slough (a town to the west of London).

The news was met with anger from many Sikhs on social media and the story was widely shared. Barfi Culture reached out to the Gurdwara in question, as well as the Sikh Council UK and the local MP Tan Dhesi, but none had responded until today.

In the statement the Gurdwara defends its current policy but says it will be "liaising with the Akal Takhat" (the highest temporal body for Sikhs, inside the Golden Temple, Amritsar) to review its policy.

But other Sikh activists say the Akal Takhat has already issued guidance making allowances for disabled visitors and that Gurdwaras need to make further accommodations to take this into account.

The Sikh Council UK has also responded today with a statement. It agrees that the Akal Takhat has asked for allowances to be made for disabled visitors, but added that it is up to each Gurdwara to "determine the nature and type of arrangements".

The statements (in full) are below.

Guru Maneyo Granth Gurdwara
On Friday 30 March a gentleman who walks on crutches came to his cousin's wedding at the Guru Maneyo Granth Gurdwara and tweeted that he felt discriminated against due to his disability, because chairs are not permitted in the main prayer hall.

We regret that the gentleman in question felt discriminated against in any way. We have a very strong culture of inclusion and equality at this Gurdwara, which is fully adapted to enable access for disabled people and wheelchair users; including inside the main prayer hall. People with disabilities and wheelchair users participate fully in all our activities. Gurdwara wheelchairs are available for any disabled person who wishes to enter the main prayer hall, approach Sri Guru Granth Sahib jee and pray.

Following the guidance issued by the Akal Takhat, the highest Sikh religious authority, it is our policy not to permit anyone to sit on a chair inside the prayer hall. This covers both normal chairs and wheelchairs. Many Gurdwaras have the same policy for this reason.
People without a disability must sit on the floor, while people with a disability are made comfortable either on a chair or in a wheelchair in a dedicated seating area just before the entrance to the prayer hall. From here they have a clear view of events inside the hall and can also watch, listen and participate via large screens placed near the
seating area.

These arrangements are fully compliant with UK law and we are not aware of any disabled member of our congregation or visitor having felt uncomfortable with them prior to this incident. Indeed we regularly receive extremely positive feedback from disabled participants, young and old.

However, as it appears that this individual did feel discriminated against, we will be liaising with the Akal Takhat for further guidance, to ask if there is any room for interpretation of this rule to allow for disabled people to sit inside the prayer hall in a wheelchair or on a chair during prayers which would not be a breach of the Sikh religious rulings which we are bound to uphold.

In the meantime we warmly welcome anyone with a disability to our Gurdwara to participate fully in all of our activities with the benefit of our excellent disabled facilities, including a dedicated lift up to the prayer hall, wheelchairs for visiting the prayer hall itself, ramps, disabled toilets and disabled parking.

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Sikh student Ajit Singh Juss says there is clear support for provisions for disabled people at Gurdwaras.




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Sikh Council UK statement
Sikh Council UK has been asked to comment on the matter of disabled access to Guru Maneyo Granth Gurdwara Slough. We have been in contact with representatives from the management of the Gurdwara and further to their statement today provide this statement by way of clarification of the Sikh Rehit Maryada (Code of Conduct) and Sikh Council UK guidance on this matter.

In accordance with Sikh tradition the practices of Sangat and Pangat (offering congregational prayers and eating ceremonially prepared food in the Darbar and Langar halls of the Gurdwara respectively) require members of the congregation to be seated cross-legged on the floor.

The Sikh Rehit Maryada (Code of Conduct) precludes sitting on chairs or other such distinctive seating arrangements in a Gurdwara for these purposes. This tradition and practice dates back to the time of the Sikh Gurus and the principles underpinning it within the Sikh faith include equality, humility and reverence. The Akal Takhat, the highest temporal seat of authority in the Sikh faith, has issued edicts providing supplementary guidance on making provision for the disabled whilst maintaining the requirements of the Sikh Rehit Maryada.

In the UK context it is our considered view that equalities laws do not strictly apply to matters of religious doctrine concerning acts of worship but in accordance with good practice and Sikh principles and practices that reasonable adjustments should be made for people with disabilities so that those who are not able to sit on the floor can feel imbued in the religious services of the Gurdwara in a mutually respectful and dignified manner whilst safeguarding the requirements of the Sikh Rehit Maryada.

It is ultimately a matter for Gurdwara managements to determine the nature and type of arrangements for members of their congregation with disabilities at a local level in accordance with the Sikh Rehit Maryada and we note a number and variety of provisions are in place at Gurdwaras across the country taking into account local needs and requirements and building facilities. We note Guru Maneyo Granth Gurdwara provides a number of adjustments to accommodate those with disabilities and we remain in dialogue with representatives of the Gurdwara on reviewing the matter.


Article published on 4th April 2018 in the People section




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