Making Space for a Sikh Parade
A cultural street procession creates a common space for good neighbours
The first time the small Sikh community of Badalona requested permission to hold a religious procession through the streets surrounding their temple, their request was denied by the local city council.
The reason? “The lack of time to inform and prepare the neighbours.”
Badalona’s Sikh temple had been established for a decade, but its members and Sikh leaders remained outsiders to the local community. There was little interaction with the people who lived around it. Indeed, the local Neighbourhood Association’s members, many elderly and originally from other areas of Spain, were suspicious of immigrants in general, let alone this ‘new’ religious minority.
The city of Badalona sits on the outskirts of Barcelona with a population of 220,000. Recent years have seen increased diversity in the city as well as high unemployment rates in the working class neighbourhoods where the 10-year old Sikh community has settled. The majority of the men in the Sikh community are construction workers working locally and in nearly Barcelona; in most families, the women stay at home. Both men and women speak the local languages of Catalan and Spanish poorly.
This all sounds like a typical new immigrant scenario until you factor in the Sikh temple at the heart of the newcomer community. Built with a capacity for 300 people, the temple was not only new to the neighbourhood, it was soon attracting new members from Sikh communities in and around neighbouring Barcelona as well.
Prepare the neighbours
In late 2009, the Sikh community decided to try again. They approached the Badalona’s Department for Citizenship and ‘Living Together’ for permission to hold their religious procession. This time, the city council agreed, with one caveat – they had to work with the local Neighbourhood Association to “prepare the neighbours.”
Although the temple and the Neighbourhood Association office were situated on the same block (separated by only a few doors), the two groups had never met. In fact, when the community located its house of worship on the block, the police called the Association to collect information, making the local community more suspicious about the newcomers. Over time, with neither conflict nor engagement, suspicion was soon replaced by disinterest.
To overcome this lack of communication, the city decided to initiate a formal facilitation process to build bridges between the two communities. UNESCOCAT (the UNESCO Centre of Catalonia), a local agency devoted to promoting diversity, was asked to intervene since they had already established a relationship with the Sikh community as part of their work with inter-faith dialogue.
Their objective was clear – to create a relationship of mutual trust and gain the support of the Association leaders regarding the street procession.
Mediation leads the way
The mediation process began with some important strengths. The relationship between Unescocat and the leaders of the Sikh community had already created trust in the dialogue process for the Sikhs; Badalona city council’s involvement legitimized the process; and the two groups had no history of conflict.
The first phase started with a series of meetings meant to get the conversation started. Representatives from UNESCOCAT and the Department of Citizenship and Living Together, sat down with Sikh leaders to hear about their religion as well and why the street procession was culturally important. This led to a public meeting at the Neighbourhood Association where the Sikh leaders led a discussion about Sikhism, and answered questions on a range of cultural issues, including gender (a concern from Association). The event was a success and was even covered by a local television station.
More importantly, the intervention resulted in a strategic decision. The Sikh community and the Neighbhourhood Association submitted a joint application to Badalona city council for permission for the street procession. Further, the application was for a street procession rather than as for a religious event in case the council had to defend it from any political or neighbourhood opposition. With this reassurance, the council approved the request.
Moving forward, it was important to include local community in the organization of the parade itself. Neighbourhood Association leaders were invited to participate and were accompanied by a Sikh youth during the parade. Information leaflets were developed and handed out to explain the celebration. The parade ended with formal thanks to the neighbourhood, as well as to mediators and politicians who were also asked to speak publicly.
The parade was a great success, attracting Sikhs from around Catalonia. Approximately 1000 members of the Sikh community joined the procession, many carrying ceremonial daggers of the faith While the large number did surprise many locals, they were quickly converted by the Sikh tradition of offering everyone food as a gesture of welcome. Many politicians and government officials were present –including a number who had been opposed to the parade.
In 2011, the Sikh community of Badalona was once again joined by fellow residents for another celebratory parade through the neighbourhood.
Making it Work for You:
- Cultural events create opportunities for celebration within communities; they also create space for sharing your community’s culture and values with others
- However diverse, cultural groups have a common interest in building resilient, successful communities through open communication, collective voice and shared decision-making.
- Know your neighbour! Don’t wait for conflict to initiate a community facilitation process.
- Is there a community leader, group or public official that you can invite to your next strategic planning meeting?
For this Good Idea contact:
Centre UNESCO de Catalunya - Unescocat
Cap de l'àrea de consultoria
+34 93 4589595