A helping hand

My aim is to encourage Sikh women to be more involved in politics. I wanted to be able to show how we can help to influence decisions that have an impact on our lives.

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“As a Scottish Sikh I can see both sides of the coin.”


It’s a cold winter day but a warm and spicy smell greets you as soon as you open the door. Wednesday is curry day at Dr Bell’s Family Centre in Leith and that is why Asha Devi Singh suggested meeting here for lunch.

Over a delicious plate of chick pea and potato curry with poppadom and coriander relish on the side, Asha explains why she decided to take part in the Opening Doors Shadow Scheme. “My aim is to encourage Sikh women to be more involved in politics,? she says, “I wanted to be able to show how we can help to influence decisions that have an impact on our lives.?

The venue for this interview therefore makes perfect sense. Our food is brought to the table by two volunteers from Sikh Sanjog, the Edinburgh women’s group who are taking part in a pilot scheme to provide Wednesday lunches at Dr Bell’s for a month. As one of the founder members and current Chair of Sikh Sanjog, Asha clearly enjoys bringing together the two cultures that shape her family life.Ashan 1 2

“As a Scottish Sikh woman I can see both sides of the coin,” she says, “and having three generations of my family, I have an understanding of issues affecting both young and old.”

Community involvement comes naturally to Asha who was born and brought up in Glasgow. “Both my grandfather and father were always helping others. I suppose you could say it is in our genes.? Because Asha’s mother could not speak English her seven children quickly learned social responsibilities outside the home, moving effortlessly between two cultures.

“As soon as I came home from school I would start making chapattis on the griddle. At weekends I went with friends to the City Mission, singing Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore. There was never any sense of, ‘No you are not allowed to do that’, from my parents.

“Being a Scottish Sikh does raise some problems for me. We are not asylum seekers or immigrants. We were born and raised in Scotland but what is our identity? I think that is something we have to address.

“I don’t think difference should be a problem. Look round this room, we are all different, we all have our own individuality. But it’s the bigots who mind differences that we should feel sorry for. They are the real minority.?

Asha is one of six people taking part in the Opening Doors shadow scheme which aims to encourage greater ethnic minority representation in both local and national government. Like Subash Punn and Celina Mbwiria (you can read their reports by clicking on Journal of the Week), Asha decided to join Opening Doors after completing the Get your Voice Heard programme run by the Centre for Human Ecology with City of Edinburgh Council.

“What I have discovered is that it is not all that difficult to get your voice heard. At first it seems like something out of your reach, you sit in meetings and don’t like to open your mouth because you don’t think what you have to say is all that significant. Then someone else says it and you think ‘I should have said that’. But once you start to get involved you find that other people are willing to listen to you.”

During the Opening Doors scheme Asha has shadowed Councillor Gordon Munro and now hopes to develop what she has learned by exploring the work of community councils.

Meanwhile, the pilot scheme at Dr Bell’s has been such a success Wednesday will continue to be curry day for the foreseeable future (see more in Out to Lunch in Leith).

[Asha was talking to Fay Young co-ordinator of Leith Open Space Group]

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