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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Gurdwaras to volunteer groups to NGOs: Who’s feeding protesters at the borders

From farmers of a particular village cooking by their tractor-trolleys to feed themselves and share with the public, to large-scale langars — sewa through feeding runs throughout the protests.

Written by Sukrita Baruah , Sourav Roy Barman | New Delhi |
Updated: December 20, 2020 8:00:06 am
Langars at Singhu; farmers can be seen cooking by their tractor-trolleys to feed themselves and share with the public while several large-scale langars have also come up.(Abhinav Saha)

Along the several-kilometres-long stretches of tractors and protesters at Singhu and Tikri, the site of food being prepared and served is ubiquitous. From farmers of a particular village cooking by their tractor-trolleys to feed themselves and share with the public, to large-scale langars — sewa through feeding runs throughout the protests. And some of the largest langars give an idea of the organisations involved.

* The largest support set-up at Singhu border appears to be by the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee. With their tents close to the stage at the very front of the protest, at any point of time, over a hundred people can be seen lined up to receive cooked food. They have also set up separate night shelters for men and women with a total area of 6,000 square feet, medicine distribution, and other essential supplies such as tarpaulin sheets.

* At Tikri border, the langar organised by the Baba Kashmir Singh ji Bhuriwale sect,located on the Rohtak highway, seven kilometres from the border, is among the largest, catering to thousands every day. While tea is available round the clock, the volunteers, including many who have flown in from abroad, also serve breakfast, lunch and dinner at the tent. The organisation had made news during the lockdown after the Amritsar administration praised it for feeding hundreds of people daily. Anand Jot Singh, a high school graduate from Canada who has been volunteering at Tikri, said supplies are sourced from districts across Punjab, where the organisation has a large presence. While the tent was already overflowing with vegetables and grain supplies, more freshly-arrived items were being offloaded from a mini truck. A senior member of the organisation said donations are all being made voluntarily.

* While other organisations have been focusing on cooked meals, at both sites, international organisation Khalsa Aid has been focusing on providing daily essential items from toothpaste to blankets. “We have not yet sought donations for running protest-related initiatives. In our case, money donated for a particular cause is spent only towards that cause. For example, funds collected to help the Rohingyas in Bangladesh will not be used here,” said Gurcharan Singh, in charge of its makeshift centre at Tikri. At Singhu, they have created a timetable for distribution of items throughout the day — with separate time-slots for essential items such as toothbrushes, soap, mosquito repellent, undergarments and warmers; for tarpaulin sheets; for shawls; for vegetables. They have also, famously, installed foot massaging machines and have set up a night shelter with a capacity for 350 people equipped with fire extinguishers for safety. Professionals are available at its Tikri centre to apply joint pain relieving oil to the elderly.

*A few kilometres into the Singhu border protest, a massive langar has been set up by Dera Baba Jagtar Singh of Tarn Taran and its various branches. According to Baba Joga Singh, a Jathedar of the organisation, supplies have been arriving at all three borders, including Ghaziabad, from various centres of theirs such as in Shahabad Markanda in Haryana’s Kurukshetra district, Gurudwara Jamni Sahib in Punjab’s Ferozepur district, Panjokhra Sahib Gurudwara in Ambala and their primary centre in Tarn Taran. “Everything that is being sent from the centres has been donated in large quantities by people of villages surrounding them. Everyone involved in the donation, transportation, cooking and serving are all performing kar sewa,” he said. Spread around their tent are piles of bags of vegetables, vessels of milk, and even bags of supplies such as nail-clippers.

*At Tikri, the Jamindara Student Organisation, which claims to be active in Haryana and parts of Delhi, is running one of the biggest langars and medical centres. Mann, who identifies himself as the general secretary of JSO, said they are receiving a steady supply of vegetables, milk, rice, flour and pulses from rural Haryana. A portion of the JSO’s sprawling tent, near the main stage at Tikri, also doubles up as a night shelter for many protesters. Mann, who claims to have been associated with the ABVP as well as the SFI during his college days, says JSO has over 25,000 registered members.

*Smaller but still substantial langars have been set up by individual gurdwaras, such as the langar set up by Gurudwara Head Darbar Kot Puran in Ropar, Punjab, who have been at Singhu border since December 4. “Everything we have, we are getting in donation from villagers and city dwellers. We have 25 people from our side on the site at all times, and fresh supplies of ingredients keep coming from our centre. We are here not because anyone has asked us to but because it is our moral duty. We are completely tied to them. We eat from what they give us which is why it is our duty to be with them,” said Avtar Singh, who was overseeing the langar.

*Also running a large centre, with a night shelter, two medical desks and a langar at Singhu border, is International Panthic Dal, a Sikh volunteer organisation which claims to be aligned to Damdami Taksal, which has branches in the UK, Canada, the USA, Australia and the Middle East.

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