‘I Set Up 1st Gandhi Memorial In US, Sent A Trainload Of Relief For Tsunami… But I’m Barred From Feeding Farmers At Singhu’

Billionaire NRI philanthropist Darshan Singh Dhaliwal who championed India internationally and supported many causes was barred from entering Delhi on October 23 for organising a langar for protesting farmers at Singhu border

Darshan Singh Dhaliwal, a noted Indian-American based in MIlwaukee, who has a reputation for his generosity as a philanthropist and has cordial links to the highest offices in USA feels quite let down by his mother country. Dhaliwal, who has been sponsoring a langar (in Sikhism, it is a community kitchen that serves free meals to anyone and everyone regardless of their background or beliefs such as caste, religion, gender, economic status, or ethnicity), was not allowed to enter India on October 23 when he landed there on a flight from Chicago.

Dhaliwal has been sponsoring the langar since January 2020 and has a record of philanthropy in India for the past several years. In 2004, he had sent an entire trainload of food and other provisions to Tamil Nadu in the aftermath of the devastating Tsunami. He has helped over 2,000 Indian families establish themselves in the USA irrespective of what Indian region they came from.

Talking to LokMarg in an exclusive interview, he said that he headed the campaign to install a memorial of Mahatma Gandhi in the Milwaukee County Courthouse. It was the first time that such a memorial was set up. “Many did it after that but I was the first one. I have established some 2,000 Indian families in the US. I have provided scholarships/financial support to over 1,000 Indian students without asking them which region or religion they belong to.”

Dhaliwal, who holds an OCI card, asked, “So why was I being stopped from helping Punjab farmers in distress?” Clearly referring to the fact that he has been a true nationalist and given so much to Indian causes.

In a first person account, he tells LokMarg the complete story that led to October 23 unsavoury incident here:

“Last year in January, while watching TV one day here in the US, I saw how the farmers were protesting at Singhu Border in India amid heavy downpour in cold weather. They seemed to be in a miserable shape. With an intention to provide whatever help I could, I came to Delhi in January 2020 and started a langar and put up tents for the farmers at the site.

“All of these provisions I arranged were from my own hard earned money. While returning to the US, I was accosted by a few security personnel and was detained at the airport for one hour. They asked me why I was doing all this.

“I came back in April 2020 and again detained both ways and was asked the same thing. I told them I had taken a train full of goods to Tamil Nadu when the Tsunami hit the country’s southern coasts. At that time no one stopped me, so why was I being stopped now from helping Punjab farmers in distress? The same thing was repeated when I visited India again in June 2021.

“During my previous visits they would ask me why I was doing this and if I was collecting money from someone to do this. I would ask them to give me one good reason why I shouldn’t be doing it. I told them it is my own money. I haven’t done anything wrong or illegal.

“I made three trips to the Singhu border and never took the stage to speak about the issue or approached any farmer leader because that is not my cause. I was asked to speak at the protest site but I refused. The issue on which they are protesting is between the government and the protesting farmers. The government says the policy is good for farmers; but the farmers don’t like it. I do not know whether they are good or bad/ right or wrong. I do not have the entire knowledge of the issue so why should I even talk about it. All I wanted to do was provide food and shelter to the protesting farmers.

Dhaliwal (centre) says he only wants to provide food and shelter to protesting farmers without taking any sides

“I want to go on record to say that I am the biggest nationalist in the US today. I was the first person to install the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the Courthouse. Many did it after that but I was the first one. I have established some 2000 Indian families in the US. I have provided scholarships/financial support to over 1000 Indian students without asking them which region or religion they belong to. President Bush is a dear friend. I have been close to President Clinton as well.

“I am from a village called Rakhra near Patiala and migrated to the US in 1972. Our family is involved in politics in Punjab. My younger brother Surjit Singh Rakhra was a minister in the Punjab Government and the other brother Charanjit Singh Dhaliwal is a businessman in the US. For the past 10 months, we have been providing langar and shelter and other amenities to the protesting farmers at the Singhu border but not even once did we get involved with the politics of the issue because that is not our intention.

“Today, I learnt that the former chief minister of Punjab, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, is believed to have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, bringing to his attention what happened to me when I landed in Delhi. I would like to emphasise that I have only one purpose and that is to provide food and shelter to the protesting farmers who are holding ground there in spite of all adversities and we will continue to do that no matter what!”

EXCLUSIVE–Nodeep Kaur: You Must Fight To Live With Dignity

Nodeep Kaur, the 24-year-old Dalit labour rights activist who was jailed for raising her voice against Haryana factory owners and farm laws, says her fight against injustice is far from over

It is rare and difficult for a woman to become a full-time activist. When a woman raises her voice for a cause, it is taken lightly. I learnt this at an early age, when my mother used to work in the fields and raised her voice for a rape victim. Later, I saw this at every stage of my life and most recently at the farmers protest on Singhu border. There were so many women who had come there but rarely were they given a chance to express their views on stage.

My mother taught me that if we were to live with dignity, we must raise our voice. I have seen her struggle, and the discrimination and the torture that a farm worker may face at the hands of big landlords. My mother always said the poor must stand unitedly to get their voice heard. Or we would be crushed.

Two years back, in 2019, I came to Delhi to be with my sister Rajvir Kaur. This was a time when protests were being held in the capital against Citizenship Act and NRC (national register for citizens). I felt moved by its social impact and actively took part in the demonstration.

When the lockdown was implemented, my father lost his job. As our financial situation dwindled, I looked for a job to support our family. Some of my friends in Kundli (Haryana) told me that I could find work in the factories there and I went ahead. I again witnessed how the factory owners were exploiting the labour.

In every industrial area, the factory owners keep a bunch of roughnecks who do not let labourers raise their voice. The labour is not supposed to challenge the factory owners for their due legal rights. There were longer hours and many workers had long pending wages. The proprietors used lockdown as an excuse to hold their dues. I knew the unity was important if the labour had to take on the owners. I joined the (Mazdoor Adhikar) Sangthan there.

Nodeep Kaur addresses the media during a press conference

When we started helping labourers get their pending wages, the factory owners were alarmed. During one of the protests they even fired at us. And when the protesters retaliated, the police came to their rescue and protection. Law enforcement agencies unabashedly sided by the rich.

Yet, we were able to get the dues of some 300 labourers paid. The factory owners felt the heat. There are thousands of workers in the area with similar cases. Paying their dues would be a financial and prestige setback for the proprietors. Besides, if it worked in Kundli, then they feared that it will have an effect on other industrial areas as well.

Meanwhile, as labourers we lent our support to farmers protesting against Central laws right from November 26, the day when the protests started. We raised a tent at Singhu border from day one and also organized a labour strike to express our solidarity and support to the farmers. More than 2,000 labourers took off from their work and came marching to the farmers protest site.

We thus came across as a threat to both the local industrialists as well as the state. So in a planned manner, when we were protesting peacefully on January 12, the quick response teams of the company came. While I was talking to them, the police began lathicharge on the protesters, including women. They dragged me. It was natural reaction of my fellow labourers to resist the action. But for this, I was charged with unlawful assembly, trespass, criminal assault, intimidation and even attempt to murder. Clearly, they wanted to create a sense of fear in others and keep the factory owners in good humour. That’s why I believe the arrest was all planned in advance and accordingly executed.

As told to Mamta Sharma

Nodeep Kaur At Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Delhi

EXCLUSIVE–Nodeep Kaur Recounts Her Stay In Prison

Nodeep Kaur says she studied books by Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar and sang revolutionary songs with fellow inmates every day to keep her morale high

The image of a prison in my mind was different from what I saw in person. I had always imagined jail to be a place inhabited by outlaws and criminals. There was fear also in my mind when I was ushered into the barrack for under-trials. But I soon realized that many of the inmates were languishing because they had rubbed the State the wrong way.

Whoever stands up before the powerful or tries to be the voice of the people, he or she runs the risk of arrest and charges that a judge will find difficult to grant bail for. I feel fortunate that my case was highlighted and concerned citizens raised their voice in my favour. My lawyers too worked diligently. Else, I could be just another labour activist languishing in prison.

I found to my dismay that jails officials disallowed any book to be delivered from outside. Also, you cannot get a pen or a notebook to write down. So whatever books I could get hold of in the jail, I read most of them. There were books on Ambedkar and penal laws. Ironically, I could see it there that the reality of laws in paper and on the ground was so different.

I would talk to other inmates and discuss their cases. I saw that even women had been charged with acts like POCSO and rape. These charges make chances of a bail dismal. There was gloom.

During our protests, I had picked up many songs that talked of revolution, justice and hope. I would sing those numbers with the fellow inmates. It lifted the atmosphere. In a short time, it became a routine. Every evening, ginti band hone se pahle (before the final roll-call) we would all sing together. Thus, talking to inmates, reading, reciting poems or talking about what was happening in the protests outside helped me sail through that time.

Nodeep Kaur during her visit to Gurudwara Rakab Ganj Sahib, New Delhi

Punjab and Haryana High Court granted me bail last week (February 26). But achieving bail is not an end in it itself. The fight is far from over, and it is a long fight ahead. My bail doesn’t mean that the condition of the labourers has improved. Workers’ demands have not been met by the factory owners. Many other innocent people are in jail and even today caste and religion divides our society. My fight will continue for a just society.

I will continue to support farmers at the Singhu border and also raise voice for labour rights. My parents have supported me in my fight. Even when I was in jail, they said they want me to continue my fight for the people. Those who fight for the rights of others, leave behind a legacy.

I came to know that some famous personalities highlighted the issue of my arrest and false charges. It may have helped the case, but it is the support that I got from the people makes me humble and proud.

Read Part I – Nodeep Kaur: You Must Fight To Live With Dignity

As told to Mamta Sharma

‘Choking Water Supply At Singhu Was Mindless, Heartless’

Wazihul, 19, describes the humanitarian and health crisis caused by hasty barricading of farmers protests sites at Singhu and Ghazipur borders. But protesters were not disheartened, he says

I am an engineering student and I feel strongly about the ongoing farmer protests, which is why I ensure that I extend my support to them whenever and wherever possible. Sometimes I go to the Ghazipur Border, which is closer home and sometimes to the Singhu Border, to express my solidarity with the farmers. Post the turn of events on Republic Day and in anticipation of the Chakka Jam on February 6, the government decided to barricade the farmers wherever they were positioned.

The hasty barricading was done using nails, concrete and barbed wires at the Ghazipur site and blocking even water tankers at Singhu. Clearly, not much thought was put into it. Which is why for many days the farmers couldn’t make use of portable toilets at Singhu Border. This was no less than a humanitarian and health crisis.

Barricading the protest site triggered a crisis

Even the policemen on duty and the public which had come in to extend support to farmers, were using whatever few facilities were functional. I leave it to your imagination to understand the situation created by the heartless and mindless decision. Women were having the most difficult time because of the lack of public facilities. Some were forced to relieve themselves in the open.

In times like these, when the pandemic hasn’t yet subsided (and even otherwise) hygiene is of paramount importance, the basic facilities should have been taken care of.

One of the things which I noticed was that the langar sewa, a lifeline of sorts for the protesting farmers, was also affected because of the protest sites being turned into literal fortresses. Perishable grocery items were difficult to reach because of the bandobast.

ALSO READ: ‘Providing Food To Farmers Is Sacred Act’

Earlier, we could access the main protest site directly, but later we had to take a long detour to reach the spot. Needless to say that this path was full of mounds of waste materials and one needed to be extremely careful while entering and exiting the protest site.

Even though the farmers and their supporters were disappointed with the measures in place, they were certainly not dispirited. In what can be said to be an extremely impressive step, as far as marks of protest go, the farmers planted various saplings of flowering plants as well as vegetables etc. Talk about keel ka jawab paudhon se dena (a fitting response by planting saplings to defy steel spikes).

Farmers planted saplings in response to spikes and barricades

The whole world is watching us and I feel that the way the government is treating the farmers is not in good taste. I hope the farmers remain optimistic and the government, a bit considerate and the matter gets resolved soon in favour of the farmers.

‘Providing Food To Protesting Farmers Is A Sacred Duty’

Farmer Harpreet Singh Mattu, 50, from Mehakpur in Jalandhar, Punjab, tells LokMarg whey he set up a 24×7 langar, with assistance from his brother Balwinder Singh in California, US, to feed protesters at Delhi-Singhu border

I feel these protests are a landmark moment in our lives and it is our contribution towards the life of future generations, so that can have an easier life than us. With the introduction of these three farm bills, the government has shown us that there is no need to build consensus before bringing in a new law.

Sahi kahoon to inhone loktantra se lok hi khatm kar diya (The truth is that the BJP has taken away people’s will out of democracy). If the farm bills are, as the government says, beneficial to the farmers, then why didn’t they bring it to the table before; people would have breathed easy.

Mattu (left) at the kitchen set up near Singhu border protest site

Apart from registering my voice at the protests, I am also doing sewa of other farmers by organising a langar. My brother, Balwinder Singh, who lives in California, US, called me before the protests started and said, “Let’s do it for our brothers. Let’s start a langar so that no one goes hungry in this biting cold during the protests.”

My brother is the pradhan at Gurudwara Sahib Riverside, California, which had orgnaised largescale langar (food distribution) in their area during pandemic to people who had been isolating. Since the idea originally took root in his mind, we kept the logo of California Gurudwara at our langar sewa.

I believe human hearts are all the same everywhere. The pandemic has shown us that we are all in this together and thus we have to help each other in times of need. Providing langar to people is a sacred duty. Even during the pandemic the Sikhs ensured that no one went hungry.

Mattu with his teammates at the protest site

Slowly more people have started joining us. In the beginning I brought along three trucks (my own) full of food, utensils etc. About a dozen halwais (cooks) and four assistants accompanied us so that we could work in shifts and get ample rest.

We can’t do sewa of some people at the cost of others. We take full precautions for coronavirus and keep sanitising the kitchen. Cleanliness is a way of life for the Sikhs, as you must have seen all Gurudwaras are spotlessly clean and no one thinks cleaning is beyond them. A lot of people volunteer for us and we have managed to feed thousands of people since December 2, when I first went to Delhi.

ALSO READ:  Langar In The Times Of Covid-19

Here, we make sure that the food is always served hot and that there is variety too. I must really thank the farmers from Haryana who give us fresh vegetables and milk for the langar. Also, people behave in a disciplined manner and ensure that everything is disposed of properly.

I wake up at 4 am to get things started. The first thing to go up on the fire is tea and we make nearly 13 huge containers of tea every day so that our farmer brothers can start their day with a warm cuppa. From 4 in the morning I work non-stop till 9 am. After that I take a small break and get back to work at 10:30 am, only work till 8 pm when I call it a day. Then I go to sleep. That is my routine here.

With his son early in the day at kitchen

I did take a day break to visit my hometown to attend the funeral of a fellow farmer’s father and also to check up on my own father who has not been keeping well. That was the only time I missed the sewa here. We have to manage both family and country and farmers are really good at multitasking.

I now wish to bring mobile washrooms to the protests site in Delhi. I have customised another truck of mine into mobile washrooms. It is important to take care of hygiene any way but more so in times of a pandemic. I hope the government also sees and understands what the farmers are trying to say and take away these bills in the interest of the nation.

Mattu with his team at Singhu border