Prime Minister Theresa May hosted a reception at the 10 Downing Street, to celebrate Vaisakhi, one of the most important dates in the Sikh calendar. Guests included Sikh academics and professionals from a range of sectors. The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, James Brokenshire, also attended.
Speaking at the event, the Prime Minister reiterated the British government’s ‘deep regret’ for the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre at a Vaisakhi event at 10 Downing Street on Wednesday, calling it a “shameful scar on British history.”
The event saw a Sikh 'shabbat' (prayer) by students from Nishkam High School.
Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, James Brokenshire kick started the event with a short speech praising the contributions of the Sikhs in the UK.
Mrs May, who was in a skirt-suit, with a garland around her neck, said, “2019 marks the 550th anniversary of the birth of Guru Nanak, the first Sikh guru, in 1469. And I am sure we will see many events to celebrate this later in the year.
“But 2019 also marks the centenary of an appalling event – the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar.
“No one who has heard the accounts of what happened that day can fail to be deeply moved. No one can truly imagine what the visitors to those gardens went through that day one hundred years ago.
“It was – as the former Prime Minister H.H. Asquith described it at the time – “one of the worst outrages in the whole of our history”.
“Jallianwala Bagh is a shameful scar on British Indian history.
“We deeply regret what happened and the pain inflicted on so many people.
“And on the day of the centenary Sir Dominic Asquith – the current British High Commissioner and H.H. Asquith’s grandson – visited Jallianwala Bagh and laid a wreath on behalf of the whole country.
“Our relationship with the Sikh Community is one we cherish greatly – with collaboration and partnership at its heart.”
The PM presented a Point of Light Award to Manjit Gill and also met children from the Nishkam School Trust, who presented her with a gift (a framed Vaisakhi prayer) and a flower garland.
Manjit Gill is the Founder of Binti, a charity that seeks to provide menstrual dignity to girls around the world. Manjit developed an educational programme on menstruation that has reached over 30,000 girls globally over the past five years.
Famous guests included Amar Virdi (a well-known English cricketer) and Kulvinder Ghir (an actor best known for his role in the TV series ‘Goodness Gracious Me’), local politicians, MP and Peers such as Lord Suri and Lord Popat.Theresa May also heard a religious hymn sung by three young people. One of the young children also spoke briefly about what Vaisakhi means to British-Sikhs.
Bhai Sahib Dr Mohinder Singh, Patron of Nishkam High school said, “Vaisakhi is a time for stock taking, what we have been doing the last year and what we can plan for next year. And to be visionary and see what we can do, or to bring about peace within ourselves and peace around us."
Hamoor Kaur, from Nishkam High School said, “I think it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be here in Downing Street in celebrating this with the Prime Minister.”
Amar Virdi, cricketer at Surrey County Cricket Club said, “It feels really special especially as a Sikh, because being recognised as a faith in such a special place, by the Prime Minister, it is a thing to be proud of.”
Mrs May confessed that she has not attended a Vaisakhi Nagar Kirtan so far, but has often visited Gurdwaras in her constituency (Maidenhead) as well as in the UK. She added, “She can not only imagine the warm Punjabi welcome at this time of year – but just how good the food must be.”
Referring to Labour MP Seema Malhotra's Sikh History and Awareness Month, Mrs May added, “Our relationship with the Sikh Community is one we cherish greatly – with collaboration and partnership at its heart. And I am delighted that last week a debate in Westminster Hall focused on the contribution of Sikhs to the UK – following on from the launch of Sikh History and Awareness month by Seema Malhotra MP in April. There were some great contributions made during that debate – and it was a timely reminder of the hard work, compassion, and generosity of Sikhs in communities up and down the country and abroad. That generosity is – of course – very much in evidence at Vaisakhi, and most particularly in the way this is such an inclusive festival with a welcoming hand extended to everyone.”
The event was attended by MPs, Peers such as Lord Popat and Lord Suri, Councillors such as Cllr Reena Ranger and members of the Armed Forces as well as the community.