Coronavirus Pandemic

India Covid Crisis: Sikhism’s selfless service comes to the rescue of poor, needy

Joydeep Sen Gupta/New Delhi
Filed on April 30, 2021
Volunteers upload prepared food at a gurudwara in New Delhi. Photo: AFP

Faith shines a light on humanity, as the creaking health care system goes for a toss.

On a day, the Delhi High Court (HC) rapped the city-state administration for its failure to contain a lethal surge of the second wave of the Covid-19 , and called “it’s a war, not a battle”, a sliver of hope is shimmering amid the deathly silence as a section of the civil society has been working overtime to contain the spread of the raging contagion.

Giani Ranjit Singh, head priest of Gurdwara Bangla Sahib in India’s national capital Delhi, put the selfless act of Sikhism --- a monotheistic and panentheistic religion that originated in the undivided Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent around the end of the 15th century in the Common Era - in perspective during the Covid-19-induced hard times.

“Sewa (service) doesn’t mean counting the number of hours a person works in a day because it does not work, it’s an unalloyed emotion. For instance, we didn’t let anyone volunteer in the preparation of langar (community free kitchen) during the 68-day lockdown restrictions last year during the first wave of the viral outbreak. Our staff used to work in the oppressive heat for up to 18 hours a day.

An extra hour in the kitchen means more rice and daal (lentil) to serve, and more hungry people could be fed. This is the spirit of Sikhism,” he said.

That spirit is on public display in the national capital region (NCR), comprising neighbouring Ghaziabad and Noida and Gurugram and Faridabad in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, respectively, as over 40 million (m) people have been overwhelmed by the fresh viral outbreak that has caught state governments and administration’s off guard and underprepared.

Gurdwara, or a Sikh temple, has emerged as a source of succour for Covid-19 patients in the NCR, as hospitals have run out of beds, oxygen cylinders, ventilators and critical care support.

Vidhya Devi, 70, a Covid-19 patient, was found lying on the backseat of a car outside a gurdwara in Ghaziabad battling for breath while she was connected to an oxygen tank on the street after she was denied a bed in Delhi’s hospitals.

The gurdwara, which has been running oxygen langar, helped Devi to ease her severe difficulties in breathing, as Delhi’s health care system has collapsed due to the virulent scourge.

Sikh aid group Khalsa Help International has been buying oxygen and making them available for critical Covid-19 patients.

Khalsa Help International’s volunteers monitor the flow of oxygen from the tank to a patient’s masked mouth.

Rummy, who is president of the gurudwara and founder of Khalsa Help International, started providing the service last week after Covid-19 cases started spiralling out of control in Delhi and a week-long lockdown was initially announced from April 18 and later extended by another week till May 3.

Rummy said he started humanitarian relief measures after people were found dying on the streets.

Gurdwara Singh Sabha in south Delhi’s Greater Kailash (GK)-1 is also running oxygen langar, where people can come and refill their cylinders.

Manjeet Singh GK, former president of Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC), said their volunteers are getting oxygen from neighbouring Haryana and Punjab, as the national capital has been facing an acute shortage of the gaseous substance and a cylinder is sold in the black market for Dh2,000 upwards.

The DSGMC has opened a 100-bed hospital near Sarai Kale Khan, which provides dialysis for renal disease.

Manjinder Singh Sirsa, president, DSGMC, said plans are afoot to convert it into Covid-19 care in the near future, as it is the biggest for humanity at large.

A facility with 250 oxygen-supported beds would become operational at Rakabganj Gurdwara by Sunday (May 2) or Monday (May 3), he added.

He said talks are in progress with several hospitals for tie-ups to make intensive care unit (ICU) beds available at the Rakabganj facility.

The DSGMC recently started Oxygen at Nizamuddin in south Delhi.

Oxygen langar sewa is also available at Fateh Diwas Park opposite Pacific Mall at Tagore Garden, Rajouri Garden and Kirti Nagar Gurdwaras in west Delhi.

Delhi, which is reeling under the fresh outbreak of the contagion reported 395 deaths on Thursday (April 29), the highest to date.

Data showed on average 16 Covid-19-related deaths were reported on the hour and the positivity rate stood an alarming 33 per cent, or one in three persons found to have contracted SARS-CoV-2, which causes Covid-19.

Amid the cries of India’s Minister for Health and Family Welfare Dr Harsh Vardhan’s head, who has been accused of culpable homicide, for the deaths of hundreds of Delhi residents and across the country from the lethal viral outbreak, Sikhism has transcended petty competitive politics and has been the lifeline for countless poor and needy who have been done by a scourge called Covid-19.

India has reported 18.7 million Covid-19 cases and 208,330 deaths to date, as each day has been setting a new record past 10 days.

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