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Sikh Community Fights to Stop Meat Plant Next to Its Temple

Protesters from the Sikh community had filled the City Hall room where the Council was making its vote while more people stood outside with placards objecting to the new meat plant.

A Sikh community has appealed to the High Court in Bradford, West Yorkshire in the U.K. to stop the building of a meat processing plant next to the Guru Gobind Singh Gurdwara, one of the oldest Sikh temples in England. Pakeezah, an ethnic food retailer that sells halal meats, is seeking to expand one of its stores by converting a car workshop into a wholesale meat plant — and it just so happens that this new facility would be right next to the Sikh temple.

Many in the Sikh community are vegetarians and have vehemently objected to the expansion, which was approved by a narrow margin by the Bradford Council in August.

Dispute About the Building of a Meat Plant for Pakeezah, an Ethnic Food Retailer

Protesters from the Sikh community had filled the City Hall room where the Council was making its vote while more people stood outside with placards objecting to the new meat plant. Kuljeet Singh, a lawyer representing the Sikh community, stated that the sound of carcasses being cut up would upset worshippers at prayer. He emphasized that a meat plant in such close proximity to the temple would “seriously undermine” the “purity and sanctity of the Gurdwara … and that will have an effect on the right to worship of Sikhs.”

A spokesman for the Bradford Gurdwaras board of representatives also said that letting the Pakeezah expansion proceed would “set a precedent for other places of worship.”

Pakeezah director Tariq Haq said that the meat plant — which will not be a slaughterhouse — would cause neither smells nor noise and that good relations with neighbors were key for him. “I’ve grown up with Sikhs all my life. When I found out there were concerns we went straight round to the temple,” hesaid in August.

Nonetheless, one counselor, Imran Khan, who objected to building the plant, commented that

“I’m a proud Muslim but I would find it very difficult to pray with someone chopping a pig up literally 20 metres away from me. To me, that would be offensive. I think what we need to realize is, for the Sikh community this is the same thing.”

Another councillor, Keith Dredge, thought the plant should not be stopped on the grounds of religious freedom:

“My beliefs dictate that people can believe what they want and worship what they want and I don’t wish to interfere with that in any way, shape or form. But I don’t feel that this would impact on the worship at the Sikh temple.”

The Sikh community is calling for a judicial review against the Council’s ruling. As a result, work on the meat plant could be halted for up to a month.

The Sikh Community Raises Concerns About Religious Sensitivity

As Govinder Singh Dhaliwal, general secretary at the temple, says: “We were left with no other choice. We feel very offended by this attack on our religious sensitivity and must fight for our cause.” More than 200 members of the Sikh temple have filed formal extensions about the proposed meat plant with the Bradford Council and expressed disappointment that their requests have so far been rejected.

As the Bradford Gurdwara says on its webpage, the construction of a meat plant so close to the temple could sully its sanctity as a place of worship. The objections to having a meat plant so nearby are not only for dietary reasons but philosophical and theological ones, as well:

A Gurdwara is a place of worship, for quiet contemplation, prayer and meditation. All meals served at a Gurdwara are strictly vegetarian as Sikhi teaches compassion and respect for all life including the lives of animals. The approval of a meat processing plant being built in the immediate vicinity of a Gurdwara, that will be processing lamb, sheep, cow and chicken carcasses seven days a week, is not only disrespectful but also extremely hurtful to the whole community.

Guru Gobind Singh Gurdwara president Kaldeep Singh Duway also expressed concerns that “if we let this one through now it will set a precedent for all places of worship,” whether a church or mosque or synagogue.

Back in August, Haq had told the Telegraph & Argus that winning the approval to build the meat plant had turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory. “The decision doesn’t feel like a victory because people are upset. But we want to do everything in our power to make a plant that won’t affect the temple.”

Therein lies the dispute. Based on what the Sikh community says, any sort of meat plant will affect their temple adversely. In an effort to reach a compromise, inter-faith representatives from the Diocese of Bradford and the Muslim Council of Mosques have met with Sikh leaders. Muslim Council of Mosques spokesperson Zulfi Karim described the meeting as positive but said that more needs to be done.

Bradford has recently been the site of an example of inter religious and cross-cultural cooperation. The city’s Muslim community has helped to fund the restoration of Bradford’s 132-year-old synagogue. According to the 2011 census, the city’s Muslims outnumber its Jews by 129,041 to 299. The renovation of the temple has made it possible for the temple’s 45 members to continue to worship in the synagogue. As Karim comments,

“You look at those who killed Lee Rigby, supposedly in the name of Islam. The question is: what makes these young men so radicalised, so angry, so intolerant? I really, really deeply, strongly feel that the way forward is interfaith dialogue – perhaps through food, perhaps through visiting a synagogue or other places of worship.”

Can a similar spirit of cooperation help to resolve the dispute between the Sikh community and Pakeezah about the meat plant? The temple is already there: where else could the meat plant be built?