Sikh students host 2nd 'community kitchen' to promote equality, sharing

Sikh students host 2nd 'community kitchen' to promote equality, sharing

CHAMPAIGN — The world's fifth-largest religion brings a whole new meaning to the term free lunch.

In a white tent on the University of Illinois campus, members of the UI Sikh Student Association hosted a Langar — a free community lunch — all day Thursday. By late morning, the scent of home-cooked Indian food wafting out of the tent was drawing a crowd.

A Langar, or free kitchen, is designed to uphold such Sikh beliefs as equality among all, community and sharing.

This second annual Langar the student group held on the UI campus was intended to promote awareness of what the Sikh faith is all about, and to correct some mistaken notions some people have about Sikhs, says Simi Sandhu, a UI senior and the association's president.

"We just want to spread awareness of who we are. The best way to do this is by sharing food," she says.

In the wake of 9/11, Sikhs in turbans are sometimes assumed to be terrorists and can be targets of hate crimes, Sandhu says.

A report released by the Sikh Coalition last month found 67 percent of Sikh American school children endure bullying at school, more than double the national rate for all children.

A monotheistic religion founded in the 15th century, Sikhism has more than 20 million followers worldwide.

Fellow UI senior Amrita Bamrah, also helping with the Langar, said she hasn't encountered any prejudice as a result of her faith — but she knows her community has.

"We just want people to see we're here, we're Sikhs, we're peaceful people, we believe in equality," she said.

People coming to dine all sat on the tent floor, representing that all are equal and nobody is above or below anyone else, Sandhu said.

Everyone entering the tent was also asked to remove their shoes and put on a head covering, both done as a show of respect when entering a Sikh place of worship, she said.

Everyone was served a plateful of northern Indian cuisine of vegetable dishes with Roti, a flatbread, cooked by three Sikh community families.

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