Feeling quite perturbed at the news that 7 out of 10 college going students consume one drug or the other and 67% of rural households have at least one addiction or the other in Punjab, I pondered over the way out. Prevalent ignorance, apostasy, farmer suicides, conversions and rampant corruption had already vitiated the atmosphere. […]

Feeling quite perturbed at the news that 7 out of 10 college going students consume one drug or the other and 67% of rural households have at least one addiction or the other in Punjab, I pondered over the way out. Prevalent ignorance, apostasy, farmer suicides, conversions and rampant corruption had already vitiated the atmosphere. Politicians controlling the drug cartels have biased administration and justice system. What to do under these conditions? The mobile buzzed. It was Satnam Singh Slohpuri giving me some information about the types of drugs in use in Punjab rural areas. He was quite worried about the deadly ‘chitta’ which has been taking lives of the rural youth in a large number. I had heard only of bhuki, gutka, alcohol, opium, heroin, injections etc., but was surprised at this new thing. ‘What is this chitta?’ I enquired. He said, “These are small black balls taken with tea. They act very fast; expensive to buy; damage every organ, kill self respect and will to survive and are difficult in de-addiction.” “Shocking! What can we do to wean away the youth from such addiction? You have quite an experience rural areas, ” I was feeling disgusted and wanted a way out for the youth. “We can sit and discuss out,” he said. I enquired, “What are you doing today?” He was quick to reply, “I am visiting Akal Academy near Moga. Will you like to come along? We will discuss this en-route.” Being my off day, I had time to spare, “Why not?” Meanwhile additional retired Chief Engineer SP Singh came to meet me. I told him the suggestion of visiting Akal Academy in rural area near Moga. He too agreed. I asked Satnam Singh to pick us up. “I will be with you in another half an hour.”

Since he has been visiting entire Punjab, he apprised me of the situation in rural areas, “Punjab has become a den of addiction, corruption and conversions and it is all due to rampant ignorance especially among the poor. Economic imbalance due to fragmented landholdings is quite disturbing. The farmers cannot even earn to have both ends meet; the increasing debt burden forces them to occasional suicides. They cannot put their children in good schools hence remain devoid of good education. The poor education multiplies the problem; they do not get jobs; they try to escape to foreign countries where they are treated very badly even like slaves. Those who remain get into drugs. The communal elements make best use of the situation; the deras make the best of it enticing people using their ignorance. The missionaries lure the ignorant youth to conversions and the apostasy is at its peak.” “What is the way out?” SP Singh enquired. “Value based education at affordable cost or even free,” I remarked as I looked the gate of Akal Academy Puranewala, which we just entered.

As we entered Principals’ office we could listen to the sweet melodious voices. Principal Arvinder Pal Kaur said, “The students are now reciting Gurbani in the morning prayers. You can meet them as the prayer is over.” She took us to the hall as the sound subsided. “What a wonderful group of swans!” SP Singh remarked. We could see over 500 students sitting in well set queues with folded hands; fairies on earth I felt. First row rose and started moving to their classes. I video graphed them breathlessly to make maximum advantage of their movement.

Back in Principal’s room, I enquired about their origin, development and disposal system in economic terms. She laughed and said, “They are not originated here; they are God’s creation originated from the remote rural areas. Only God helps us to guide them, parents develop them
initially; we only polish them to fit in the society well. The disposal has not yet started since the first batch will complete tenth class next year.”

“You must be charging them liberally for polishing,” I enquired. She said, “Our organization functions on no profit, no loss basis. We charge these students Rs 30,000 to 35,000 annually which includes expenses for uniforms, books, examinations and vans”. S P Singh was quick to comment, “This is quite beyond the reach of the rural poor. Only rich must be sending their children here?” She explained, “We are charging only for what we pay to the teachers, transport and school administration and nothing extra. We have very qualified and experienced teachers, which certainly have to be paid higher.” I enquired, “Where do the poor children go?” She said, “These fees amount to be about Rs 2000/- per month leaving the expenses for vans, examination fees, uniforms and books. This is not beyond the reach of an ordinary farmer. However those who cannot afford this much even we have people assisting those children.” SP Singh enquired, “For example?” She pointed towards Satnam Singh, “These people look after the poor and needy.” “Wow! It is a wonderful service,” I remarked. “They are paying for 1300 needy students at various schools of Akal Academies.” I looked at Satnam Singh and said, “You did not disclose this earlier.” “It is better to be seen to be believed. It is the Sikhs helping Sikhs paying through their one tenth of earning (Daswandh)”. I coolly counted the amount for 1300 students; it turned out to be around 4 Crores. How can 4 crores be managed this way? SP Singh remarked, “Wonderful idea. How does it work?” “It is just that an individual adopts one or more children and pays for his fees direct to the school. No via media needed. There is a list on the net of the needy children identified. Those who have been adopted already are tick marked; those who have not been tick marked are shown blank,” he explained. I had a question; “How do you identify the needy?”

The Principal replied, “It is the academy which identifies the individuals. We ask for applications from needy individuals in the area. We scrutinize the applications and send teams to personally verify the needy students and recommend students for admissions. These students have not to pay anything. Entire fees and expenses of the needy students are paid directly to the institutions by Sikhs helping Sikhs an idea originated by Sardar J S Uppal of Australia. Satnam Singh added, “Now certain missionary organizations have also joined and the aim is to build the aid for two and a half lakh needy students. This can be done if each Sikh capable of paying such a fee from his daswandh adds on. The list can be seen on ‘www.sikhshelpingsikhs.com.” “Wonderful! I will like to be a party to it,” said SP Singh. I too had the same mind.

“What are you here for today? I enquired. Meanwhile 4 children appeared before us. They were introduced as the beneficiaries. S Harpal Singh Cheema the over all in-charge of all these Academies explained further. We shall go to the homes of these four children and verify whether they really deserve to be the beneficiaries. Satnam Singh Slohpuri is represents Sikhs Helping Sikhs. We go all over Punjab and visit the homes of all the 1300 beneficiaries to confirm this. Now we will visit the houses of these four children and later go to other academies, identify the beneficiaries, visit their families and find if they really deserve the benefit and will also confirm if they get the benefit. This appeared to me a very effective method of check s and counter checks.

The van driver who has been carrying the children led us to a village nearby. As we reached on the outer periphery besides a smelling village pond, encircled by animal dung spread around, it appeared to be quite stingy. We found a person standing near a small door of a dingy house with the help of a stick waiting for us. Exchanging Sat Sri Akal, I asked him the reason of having this stick for help. “I have a bone cancer. My right hip is affected at present. I can stand only with the help of a stick.” I felt sorry at asking the question. Sardar Harpal Singh spoke further, “We are from Akal Academy Puranewala. Is your son studying there?” He was quick to reply, “Yes he is my younger son. My elder daughter is studying in college.” Idea came to me that if he can educate his college going girl why does not he afford the younger one? I put the same point to him. He explained, “I had stopped the elder one from going to school as I could not pay for her. Her elder sister saw this and took her along. She is paying all her expenses now. She is with them from school days.” Satnam Singh enquired, “What is the source of your earning?” His wife joined us meanwhile and said, “I do menial work and somehow run the house. He cannot do hard labour. We have no land. There is no other source either.” As we looked into the house it gave out the real picture. We all felt sad. But they appeared cheerful. Showing her small sword she said, “We are Amritdharis. Guru has given us power to survive. We are happy that our daughter is getting education in such a religious atmosphere and that too without paying any expenses”. Harpal Singh said, “Those who get this aid accept to be Amritdharis and have all stood to their word. This has helped in decreasing apostasy in the area as well”. “It is really amazing,” I said while moving to the next village. We saw three families more in the area. These were certainly the poorest. Everyone appeared to be having more problems than the previous.

Next we moved to Akal Academy Kaleke, a very remote area near Bagha Purana. The school was being developed like the earlier school. She told us that the school catered for students from 42 villages. Results of the students have been very encouraging; about 80% students getting more than 80% marks! They had 10 students being aided under Sikhs Helping Sikhs scheme. We met these children as well and visited their villages. This area being remote had more dismal picture to present. All the students deserved this aid; we all agreed. This narration will not be complete without narrating the details of a few visits done then and on later days.

There were sudden winter rains in one of our visits. We found one of a dingy type house badly leaking. The thatched roof of the house could not even hold on in this dripping rain. “What will happen to this when torrential rain comes?” remarked Er. S P Singh. Details were passed on to Sardar Uppal by Satnam Singh. He was quick to pay Rs 1 Lakh from his daswandh for the roof. The construction was later completed under the supervision of a Ludhiana Missionary College.

I found this to be a wonderful use of daswandh. Saving our future through Daswandh is really a great deed. I too have become votary as well a practical donor. If we have such like more numbers, this will leave no cause of worry for our future. It will save our future generation from apostasy, drug addiction and poverty ridden problems like conversions and Dera followings.

~ Dr. Dalvinder Singh Grewal
~ dalvinder45@rediffmail.com, 9815366726