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What Khalsa Aid can teach you about giving

  • At a time when the students’ protests have been politicised by the government, volunteers of Khalsa Aid India strive to work for humankind, 'irrespective of the tags'
  • The charitable trust’s recent act reiterated their aim to provide selfless service that transcends the realms of faith, religion and community

Khalsa Aid India volunteers handing out tea to Jamia Millia Islamia protesters; and assisting in flood relief work in Kerala.
Khalsa Aid India volunteers handing out tea to Jamia Millia Islamia protesters; and assisting in flood relief work in Kerala.

When Amarpreet Singh watched the videos of police attacks on students of Jamia Millia Islamia on social media on 15 December, he couldn’t stop himself. The next morning, he went to the campus to understand the ground reality. As he entered the campus, he spotted three students, who had suffered hand and leg injuries, sitting on the road in front of the university’s Gate No.7. Moved, Singh got out of his car to check if they had had some tea or breakfast. When he learnt they had no food or water, he decided to offer help. He bought water bottles and cups of tea. Gradually, students started gathering in large numbers to protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. By afternoon, Singh had served tea to at least 2,000 students.

It didn’t end there. Singh and four volunteers—Gurpreet Singh, Nazia Kamboj, Inderjeet Singh and Kulbeer Singh—have been serving tea to the protesters at Jamia Millia Islamia and India Gate this entire week.

“Tea is the basic comfort drink of Indians, especially in extreme cold conditions. It is only an effort to give people the comfort of 2 minutes, since they are out on the streets all day for the protests," says 29-year-old Amarpreet, the director of charitable trust Khalsa Aid India.

Khalsa Aid India works on the principle “Recognize the whole human race as one, to serve humanity". When the Sikhs were at war with the Mughals, Bhai Ghanaiyaji (a disciple of Sikh guru Tegh Bahadur) provided water and first aid to both Sikh and Muslim victims. “We derive inspiration from him and his principles which are enshrined in our holy books and that is our driving force. For us, humanity is the topmost religion. We serve irrespective of caste, class, religion or gender," says Amarpreet.

It is the same sentiment that prompted them to help the students of Jamia Millia Islamia. At a time when student protests are being politicized, volunteers of Khalsa Aid India are striving to help humankind, “irrespective of the tags".

But Amarpreet admits that during such times, it is very difficult to deliver aid without being labelled.

“When we were serving the Rohingya refugees, we were called anti-nationals and Muslim appeasers on social media, but when we told them there were Hindu Rohingya refugees and Muslims alike, then everyone kept quiet," Amarpreet says. “Our aim is to do selfless service that goes beyond the realms of faith or community, a service for the weak and marginalized."

Amarpreet is based in Patiala, Punjab, but he moves around the country with his team—a total of about 23,000 volunteers and 15 employees.

They served water to protesting farmers during the long march in Maharashtra last year. They sent essential packs such as tarpaulin sheets, mosquito nets, medical kits and clothing during the Kerala floods, and renovated three schools there.

When Kashmiri students were attacked on various campuses after 40 paramilitary personnel were killed in Pulwama, Kashmir, in February, Amarpreet received frantic calls from students in Delhi, Uttarakhand and Haryana. “We arranged buses and vans to get 600 Kashmiri students to Punjab first, and then sent them to Kashmir under the protection of Punjab police. Students were so happy to be back home. We could never forget the smile on their faces and the trust they bestowed upon us," Amarpreet says.

Apart from extending help for basic emergency needs, Khalsa Aid India also takes up long-term rehabilitation projects that require heavy investment, especially in places affected by floods or earthquakes. Their credibility is so strong that they have never faced a fund crunch, says Amarpreet. For example, Khalsa Aid India’s budget for the Punjab floods this year was 1.5 crore but they received 18 crore.

Amarpreet belongs to a family that has been involved in social work. After flying at least 100 hours as a trainee commercial pilot at the Patiala Aviation Club, at age 23, he decided to listen to his inner calling.

A graduate in psychology from Punjabi University in Patiala, he got in touch with UK-based Khalsa Aid International to understand the modalities of opening a chapter in India. In 2013, he registered Khalsa Aid India separately as a charitable trust—he does, however, execute some projects, such as building 1,100 houses in Nepal after the 2015 earthquake, with funds from Khalsa Aid International.

Amarpreet remains hopeful. “Our principle of Sikhism that is welfare of all and selfless service is a big concept that was never taken out of the gurdwaras but we are spreading this message worldwide, and along with it, we are spreading love and harmony which would bring positive change one day," he says.

Sonia Sarkar is a journalist covering South and South-East Asia.

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