Huge gathering at Willen Lake to celebrate Sikh festival has been condemned by Milton Keynes' own Sikh community

The 200 or more people who congregated at Willen Lake were from a religious community in LONDON, the MK Citizen can reveal.

Monday, 19th April 2021, 2:40 pm
Updated Monday, 19th April 2021, 2:42 pm

Photos of the gathering at last week's celebration of Vaisakhi, the start of the Sikh New Year and Punjab harvest festival, caused widespread outrage on social media.

This week officials of Ramgarhia Sabha Milton Keynes, an established Sikh organisation that has been running for three decades, spoke exclusively to the MK Citizen

General Secretary Mr Tarsem Chaggar said: "We understand the importance of community relations and the respect for other cultures and the ongoing government guidelines concerning the current Covid-19 pandemic.

The gathering at Willen Lake last week

He added: "We can assure you that this event was not organised by our organisation and nor would we even plan to arrange any event outside of current Covid-19 restrictions. As responsible citizens we can assure you all Covid-19 restrictions have been in place at our local Sikh Temple in Kiln Farm since day one and will continue to be followed. Covid-19 risk assessments are in place and monitored regularly."

Mr Chaggar said his temple knew nothing about the gathering.

"We condemn this reckless behaviour by some which has impacted negatively on the local Sikh community. This event has been held without our knowledge and hence we cannot be held responsible through no control of ours."

Meanwhile, the Citizen has heard from members of the community that organised the gathering. They are based in West London and travelled to MK because it has wide open spaces.

The gathering at Willen Lake

One member of the community said: "The festival went very well for all the Sikh community because last year we were not able to celebrate due to Covid so everybody was very eager to celebrate this year as it only comes once a year."

He said there was "at least a six metre gap" between different households.

"We have big families...We have seven people in just our household. No-one was going around meeting anyone because everyone understands what is happening out there. We have also lost a lot of people due to Covid in our community so we do not neglect anything at all. We understand the rules and regulations in force.

"And it's not just at Willen Lake where people were celebrating, it was all across the world and in the UK. Places like Brighton, Portsmouth, Windsor and plenty more had people there celebrating as a few of my friends were at those places.

"We made sure when we were leaving the place was left clean and we placed all the rubbish in black bin bags and kept them near the bins.

"Praying was done in the temple in London as most of our community lives around London. At the temple all the safety procedures have been followed people are let in turn by turn to go pray within three minutes and leave straight away."

The man added: "Please, we don’t want us to have a bad name in front of the world...Much help and relief is provided by the Sikh community when there are floods and any other disasters not just in the UK but all around the world, so why would we not follow rules and regulations?

"Police were there and they checked everything and I am sure if we were doing anything wrong they would have stopped us but they didn’t so we were not doing anything wrong at all but only celebrating Vaisakhi. "

A police spokesman said of the gathering: “Officers attended Willen Lake on a number of occasions and engaged with those in attendance.

“Officers found a number of smaller groups gathered who were adhering to social distancing guidance and from what officers observed were following the rule of six or the rule of two households being allowed to gather in public spaces.

“There is no information at this point to suggest that the gathering was an organised event."

The spokesman added: “We will continue to carry out patrols in the Willen Lake area as well as other public spaces, and continue to engage, explain and encourage people to abide by the current coronavirus regulations.

“However where we see people knowingly and wilfully breaching the Coronavirus regulations we will look to issue fines or use other enforcement.

“We would encourage people to do all they can to follow the restrictions in place to stop cases of Coronavirus increasing and also follow the government guidance on social distancing.”