Oldest UK gurdwara in for a facelift, new version to dole out sanitary pads

JALANDHAR: Central (Khalsa Jatha), London — the oldest gurdwara in Europe established in 1908 by the early Sikh immigrants, would become the first gurdwara in the world to provide free sanitary pads to women.
The gurdwara is under renovation and a pad-dispensing machine would be provided in the ladies‘ toilet.

The restoration and renovation work at the gurdwara is also aimed at making it energy-efficient. “During restoration and renovation of the gurdwaras, we have designed things in a way that it would use for 95% of its power needs. As work is near completion, we are seeking quotations for the dispensing machine for sanitary pads and would install it in the ladies‘ toilet,” said Peter Virdee, chairman of Virdee Foundation, which has undertaken the renovation work. He said they would take up with other gurdwaras in the UK to provide similar facilities for women.

The project has been taken up after Binti International – a UK based charity working to make sure that girls have access to sanitary pads, teaching girls about menstruation and breaking stigmas and taboos around it – founder Manjit Kaur Gill took up the issue with Virdee. “We need to talk about periods and the importance of hygiene and to smash shame associated with these. We would also be talking to women inside the gurdwaras on these issues,” she told TOI on Sunday.

She said she was planning to reach out to homeless women in London with her free sanitary pad campaign. “We shall tell them that they can have free food in the gurdwara langar and also get the free sanitary pads there,” she said. “This would be our pilot project and after looking at its success and challenges, we would be reaching out to managements of other gurdwaras in UK and urge them to provide similar facilities for women to ensure that they ‘bleed with dignity‘ and don‘t having any inhibitions in visiting or serving at the gurdwara during periods,” she said.

“Five centuries back gave equal status to women and emphasized for their dignity. We are working for dignity and health of women,” she said.

Gill, a second generation immigrant with roots in district Hoshiarpur, is also working in Punjab and other parts of India to create awareness among girls and to provide the sanitary pads. “We have also held workshops in schools for the girls to create awareness and currently we are working in UK, India and Africa,” she said.

Prominent Sikh personalities have remained associated with the Central Gurdwara also known as Khalsa Jatha and Maharaja (grandfather of Punjab CM ) made a significant contribution for its building in 1911. “A lot of important history of Sikhs in the UK is associated with it. Martyr was a frequent visitor and would also do sewa (volunteer service) here,” said Virdee.

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