This year I made two important visits during my trip to Delhi in November – met an Afghan Sikh refugee family and visited the Kisan Mazdoor Morcha camp site at the Tikri border of Delhi.
Afghan Sikh Refugees
Accompanied by my friend’s young son, we took the Delhi metro to Janakpuri and were met at the station by Mindar Singh Khalsa. Flagging down an auto rickshaw, we reached his small rented home.
Mindar Singh Khalsa, his mother, wife, and four children fled Afghanistan in August 2020. Before that they had had to abandon their home and business in Ghazni and were living in the gurudwara premises in Kabul. While I had been speaking on the phone with them while they were in Afghanistan, this was our first face-to-face meeting.
As most refugees fleeing terror they had left behind their all in their home country. Finding livelihood in a foreign land even while not been able to speak its language (they are native Pashtu speakers and do not speak Hindi or Punjabi) has made their challenge multifold. The continuing Corona pandemic has further strained their economic situation.
We sat on the floor covered with carpets and mattresses sharing a delicious lunch of homemade chicken and naans. The conversation soon focused on how they had coped with the Corona lockdowns. While I expected them to tell me that they had sheltered at home, I was surprised to hear that Mindar Singh had done just the opposite. He along with the other Afghan refugees, had all got together everyday at the gurudwara, prepared langar and delivered it to homes who needed it, as well as helped families with the cremations of their loved ones.
While I had heard of such service provided by the Sikh community and had seen it covered widely by the media, personally meeting someone who had been a part of this selfless service moved me deeply. Here was someone who did not have enough for his own needs, but still had found the means to care for those less fortunate. While people were hiding in their homes from the virus, he had ventured out to provide help to those that needed it. This strong ethos of service of the Sikh community has been a beacon of hope in the dark times of the Corona tsunami in Delhi.
Humbled by meeting a family who was starting life afresh in a new country by giving back to the community in the most selfless way we bid goodbye promising to meet again soon.
Kisan Mazdoor Andolan
We now headed to Tikri border camp, to visit the farmers sitting at the Delhi border for over a year, in protest of the Farm Laws. Visiting the protest sites – a place immersed in the energy of a people who had dared to challenge the might of Delhi felt like paying homage at a sacred place.
The daily program of public speeches and inspiring poetry had just ended when we arrived. The makeshift stage set up by the protestors was starting to empty out. Trucks and tempo’s packed with women wearing green dupattas were heading back to their villages.
Alongside the stage, we spotted a garlanded bright orange-colored life size statue of Sir Chotu Ram carrying the body of Sant Ram Singh. A Bengali sculptor Debanjan Roy had made this statue early in the year and it was continuing to inspire the protestors. As I talked to some of the people there they shared their interpretation of the piece with me. For them, the Sir Chotu Ram carried a body of a debt-laden farmer, a common story of Punjab’s agrarian crises.
Towering above the roadside, was a huge mural of a turbaned man painted on the wall of a building. Instead of his facial features, an entire universe symbolizing the universal values that the farm protest was upholding can be seen. Delhi-based graphic artist “OOB graffiti” created this mural many months ago and titled it “Alankar”.
Despite the challenges that the protestors faced every day since they first arrived, their continued motivation and dedication surprised me. Each one was steadfast in proclaiming “Jitange zaroor” (victory is definite). I talked to a number of farmers, from both Punjab and Haryana and heard this over and again from all. Did I believe them then? I had my doubts since the government had so far shown no indication that they even cared about them. But their spirit was in Chardi Kala (rising spirits) even after a year.
Pardhan Lakhwinder Singh Peer Mohammad from Punjab and Neet Maan from Haryana were two of the leaders who explained to me how the laws as they had been framed affected them and society in general.
Today, when they have finally returned victorious to their homes, the world continues to admire their courage, determination and conviction. These farmers and mazdoors, have inspired the world to hold fast to values and fight for our rights whenever needed, no matter how hard it might seem at the beginning.
Just a few days after my visit, Prime Minister Modi announced the repeal of the three Farm laws.
[Picture credits: Alankar by OOB Graffiti at the Tikri border camp Pic.: Sonia Dhami]
[Visiting an Afghan Sikh Refugee family in Delhi Pic.: Sonia Dhami]