IN A first, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) of the United Kingdom (UK) will celebrate the Sikh festival of Baisakhi at the MoD headquarters in Whitehall, London, on April 13.
Elaborate arrangements have been made for the ceremony that will be conducted by the Sikh Chaplain of the armed forces of the UK, Mandeep Kaur, and be attended by senior British politicians and officials from the MoD as well as Sikh personalities from Britain. Speaking to The Indian Express over phone from London, Mandeep Kaur, who is the first Sikh Chaplain to be appointed (in 2005) and carries an equivalent rank of Lt Colonel, said this was the first time that such a ceremony marking a Sikh religious festival was being held in the MoD.
“The Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon, will be in attendance as well as the Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) Earl Howe, and other senior members of British armed forces. The Deputy High Commissioner of UK in Chandigarh, David Lelliott, who deals with the state of Punjab, will also be present during the ceremony,” she said. Mandeep Kaur said Baisakhi is an important celebration in the Sikh calendar and is of historical significance. It marks the day when the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, established the Khalsa panth and motivated the Sikhs to rise up and defend their beliefs at all costs.
The function will begin at 9:15 am on April 13. “As it is primarily a religious event, we will keep the religious angle prime to it. The festival is an opportunity for us all to remember, rejoice and re-dedicate ourselves to the egalitarian teachings and values of the Sikh faith,” she said.
The event is being supported by the Chief of Defence Staff, House of Lords, 1914 Sikhs Campaign who are raising awareness of the contribution Sikhs made to WW1 globally and Undivided Indian Ex-Servicemen Association (UIESA), among several others. The function will also highlight Sikh heroes and Sikh history, apart from the role they played in the armies of the British empire.
The British Deputy High Commissioner will also speak on the occasion along with a lecture on ‘The Glorious legacy of Khalsa by Manvir Singh, Prison Chaplain of UK and ‘Song of Khalsa’ being performed by students of Khalsa Secondary Academy. Serving members of the British military will also speak on the occasion along with Machael Fallon, the Secretary of State for Defence.
The British armed forces have around 230 Sikh servicemen who are serving in the Army, Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. In 2015, there had been a demand to raise a Sikh Regiment in the British Army comprising nearly 700 soldiers. The House of Commons had been informed at the time that the matter was being considered by the Chief of General Staff.
Meanwhile, Mandeep Kaur, who migrated to the UK in 2003 from the town of Dasuya in Punjab, welcomed the decision of the British government to mark the festival of Baisakhi. She said it would celebrate the diversity of the country as well as the great contribution of the Sikhs to UK.