Countrys first Sikh museum opened in Derby

BAllBalloons were released to mark the opening of the National Sikh Heritage Centre and Holocaust Museum in Pear Tree.

The first museum in the UK to be dedicated to Sikh history has opened in Derby. Hundreds of people gathered yesterday for the official opening of the National Sikh Heritage Centre and Holocaust Museum in Pear Tree.

The £25,000-plus project is the first in the world to showcase Sikh history from the perspective of British Sikhs. It also looks at the Sikh holocaust, in which more than a million people lost their lives because of their faith.

The idea for a national museum came from the Sikh Community Youth Service in the 1980s. It considered venues from all over the country but chose a former factory in Derby, owned by the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara temple, because of the enthusiasm which had been shown by the city's Sikh community. Gurmel Singh, one of the volunteers who helped to set up the museum, said he expected people from all over the world to visit the centre.

He said: "The people in Derby expressed such an appetite for this centre. All the funds have been donated by the community and they have put in a lot of time and effort to make it happen.

"We want Sikh young people to get a sense of their connection with Britain as Sikhs and the British have been interacting since the 1700s. "I think this will become a major tourist destination for people all over the world."

The museum, which is opposite the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara temple, off Prince's Street, features a collection of cannons, hand-held weapons and coins from the Sikh empire in 18th-century India and also memorabilia from the time of the British Raj. There are soon to be interactive displays and a full educational section with a specialist library of more than 300 books. There is also a collection of material addressing the history of Sikh persecution.

During the 18th century, Sikhs were outlawed by the Indian government and endured barbaric persecution for about 50 years. In the wake of Indira Gandhi's assassination in India by two of her Sikh guards in 1984, thousands of Sikhs were slaughtered. Mr Singh said: "The world is quite rightly aware of the Jewish holocaust but also the Sikhs have had an experience and it's alt an untold story."

The opening was attended by the Mayor of Derby, Councillor Barbara Jackson, and the MP for Derby South, Margaret Beckett. Mrs Beckett, who released 300 balloons at the event and was wearing Sikh dress, said: "I think this is a tremendous thing that we now have in Derby. It's very important for the young people of the Sikh community to know about their origins and for others to learn about it.

"There's a tremendous tradition of working together between the Sikh community and the British people."

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