Harvindar Singh Sikligar-a short but extraordinary life
All but 27, Harvindar Singh was a dynamic education counsellor and activist, aspiring to be a leader, who envisioned to ameliorate the conditions of Sikligars through education and training, passed away fighting a rare kidney ailment. WSN editor, who champions the cause of Sikligar education and with whom he was intimately associated, shares his life and pays tribute to the young man which would inspire Sikligars to come out of their shells.
8 years ago, a diminutive Samma Kaur came knocking to my temporary residence in Delhi where I and my wife were camping with my son preparing for his medical entrance. She brought along a shy boy along and said, “I have raised him with great difficulty, snatching money from my husband Mulkaraj Singh for this boy’s education. Now I am giving him to you, to teach him, to train him, to make him a good human being and to carry on his education.” I assured her that if he and she give me the opportunity and the trust, I would do my best. I did all I could for Harvindar Singh.
The First Long steps:
Within one month, he was proficient in English typing. He transcribed the entire book, The Sikligars of Punjab by Sher Singh Sher, learning MS Word and he never looked back. He went on to become the first Bachelor in Social Work, coached and trained by A Little Happiness Foundation – an organisation formed by me and Gurmeet Singh. Harvindar Singh and I dreamt of having an army of social workers who would work for the Sikligars and other poor Sikhs. He was the first education counsellor of the A Little Happiness Foundation. It will not be wrong to say that ALHF was built on his shoulders.
“Dr.Harkesh Singh Sandhu from California, who knew him well, during his medical drive trips to Alwar, Delhi and Punjab, said, “It is really very sad. We have to accept God’s will. The Sahaita Parivar joins me in expressing sorrow with the family.”Dr. Rajinder Singh from Ludhiana and Supreet Kaur Maniktala from Malaysia endorsed all steps to be taken by ALHF to perpetuate his memory.”
He was not always like this. During his childhood days, like all Sikligar children, he used to run away from studies to play cricket, spend his entire day as a wayward child. His mother however, never relented and continued her determination to make his education. He was, however, a quiet thinker. When he saw meaning in what we started in Alwar, he never looked back. He hosted Samandeep Kaur Brar, who came as a volunteer from Canada and stayed for three months in his house. Her deep commitment and association transformed him into a responsible person.
Harvindar Singh’s father had gone as far as Iraq in search of work and spent two years there. His grandfather, Srain Singh since deceased, used to very fondly say, “He is yours, take good care.” Grandmother Bindi Kaur, nearly 90 years, fully active, taking care of the house, tidying up things and filling-in water as water is in short supply for the household needs, did not ever relish the importance of education but was always full of love for Harvindar Singh. Since the children have known her, this grand old lady of the house is always at work. When they settled in Alwar, decades back, she used to walk nearly 15 kilometres every day to fetch firewood for the house. Harvindar Singh wanted to make a documentary of her life, which will now be done by his sister Ravinder Kaur. He was always worried of his younger brother Rajender Singh who did not go to school.
The steadfast loving Harvindar Singh:
Unmindful of the monetary situation of his family, ignoring the harsh winter and heat conditions in Alwar, Agra, Panwari and Delhi, he slogged on day and night. He was the backbone of the three-year residential training and empowerment program of the ALHF in Tarn Taran and Jalandhar. Always willing to learn, he was determined to add the suffix “Dr” before his name by completing his doctoral studies in social work.
“ Get well soon. You have a lot of work to do. You are my diamond. You were born to do Sewa.”
Samma Kaur, mother of Harvindar Singh
Whether he was at home or elsewhere, he loved his family and extended family a lot. Fond of photography, he used to take pictures with a flare as can be seen in this picture of his sister and cousins. Nearer home, he cancelled the engagement of his sister Ravinder Kaur and first cousin Narinder Kaur to ensure that they participate in the ALHF residential training program. He was determined to give exemplary education to the three daughters of his more-than-a-brother, his first cousin Gurmel Singh.
As he went along, he roped in more and more Sikligars into the education programme of the organisation -far and wide. He spent hours with every family convincing them the value of education. Many of the youth leaders painstakingly trained by ALHF deserted him and ALHF, some for their pecuniary ends and some out of jealousy.
He was all embracing, he never retaliated. In my eight years of association, I saw him angry once and that too when someone made a very personal snide against him and his family.
Wherever he went he endeared to those he interacted with. On Facebook, we have tributes to him in Tamil language from friends in Chennai, Coimbatore and Tirupur. Two stalwarts -one a business person Subash Bose and another politician Benjamin Franklin, wrote, “we have lost a brother.” Many who did not meet in life but knew about his life and work, like Harmeet Singh and Sarabjit Singh from New York, Rajpal Singh from California and Taranjit Singh from Mumbai said, “We are very sad. We will do everything to support his family and perpetuate his memory.”Harsaran Singh from Pudducherry with whom he spoke only on the phone said, “I only spoke to him once. I think he was a great soul.”
““I have lost a brother and friend. Neither the Sikligars nor I will get anyone like him for a long time to come.”
Harjinder Singh from Alwar”
His colleagues, supporters and friends Harjinder Singh, Parveen Kaur, Harpreet Kaur, Seema Kaur, Suman Banoth, Harjeet Singh, Ravi Singh, Kamaljeet Singh, Jasvinder Singh could not say more than, “We do not believe that he is not with us. We learnt a lot from him. There is no match of him in the whole Sikligar Samaj. Even our elderly does not have that kind of mind and behaviour. He was a huge example for Sikligars and teenagers. During our association with him, he never made us feel alone. There was not a day when we did not derive strength from him.”
Harjinder Singh from Alwar spent years together in the small dingy room in Agra, with skeleton support to run the centres of Guru Nanak Nagar, Bainpur and Punwari, said, “I have lost a brother and friend. Neither the Sikligars nor I will get anyone like him for a long time to come.”
Sufi singer and education activist from Ludhiana -Jasmeet Kaur loved Harvindar Singh and his family. Always in the fore to further the cause of Sikligar education, she has promised to ensure that womenfolk of Sikligars become bold and take on challenges of life and bring out a turnaround. Jasmeet Kaur handed over the first laptop to Harvindar Singh in Delhi which further strengthened his resolve to work zealously for Sikligar education.
Dr.Harkesh Singh Sandhu from California, who knew him well, during his medical drive trips to Alwar, Delhi and Punjab, said, “It is really very sad. We have to accept God’s will. The Sahaita Parivar joins me in expressing sorrow with the family.”Dr. Rajinder Singh from Ludhiana and Supreet Kaur Maniktala from Malaysia endorsed all steps to be taken by ALHF to perpetuate his memory.
Gurdip Singh Thind, who met him briefly during his visit to Tarn Taran in a message from London said, “Let us live in Guru’s grace. Harvindar Singh was a truly good worker.”
Kulwant Singh from Mumbai and Rajinder Singh from Chennai, who were deeply aware of his work had this to say, “He was a gem of the Sikligar community. It will take us a long time to build another Harvindar Singh” My father Waryam Singh and Mumbai resident Sukhdev Singh expressed deep sorrow at the loss.
During the last 10 months that he was fighting for life, in and out of the PGI hospital in Chandigarh, we received support from all quarters, from people known and unknown. During this period, we also learnt who are the fair-weather friends who pay lip service to the Sikligar cause and who are the genuine friends of the community.
Vietnamese student Trang who had come to serve as a volunteer, could not hold back her tears and said, “He was such a nice individual. I just cannot believe it. At the airport, he so lovingly assisted me in everything. I just feel him around.”
School principals-Brij Raj Singh of Agra Glory, Manoj Yadav of Sri Ram Chandra School, Bainpur and Dulichand of Sri Ram Adarsh Vidya Mandir Punwari, Subash Ji of Sri Gaurishankar Jr. High School, Kasganj, were all in grief as they recollected his interaction and regular intervention on behalf of the Sikligar students of the area. The Sikligar Sikhs of these areas would always reminisce the hard work done by him to persuade their children to take to school.
Harvindar Singh Family and the November 1984 Pogrom:
Years back, while presenting the monograph on Sikligar Sikhs, with the able assistance of Harvindar Singh at the seminar organised by the Institute of Sikh Studies, I wrote, “While the Sikhs commemorate twenty-five years of the anti-Sikh pogrom this week, reminiscing 1984, I came across unprecedented pain, anguish and suffering of the Sikligar Sikhs. The death and destruction of Sikligar Sikhs as a class of Sikhs attacked during November 1984 needs a more thorough and detailed study and analysis and I am doing so. I have found that all those Sikligars, who were able to present a picture of strength and portray themselves as strong weapon-keeping Sikhs, were able to protect themselves, whereas others, steeped in poverty and visibly vulnerable in their settlements, were brutally attacked and killed in Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and even in certain parts of Maharashtra, though the numbers in all other areas except Delhi was small.”
When a large number of Sikligar Sikhs were attacked and killed in a well-planned massacre in Block A of Sultanpuri, the others fled and went to Alwar, their original base of the forties, in the first week of November 1984.
I was able to say this authoritatively because I delved deep into the Sikligar Sikh lives in Delhi. Harvindar Singh lost the following relatives to the pogrom in November 1984. Basant Singh (maternal grandfather), Balbir Singh (maternal uncle), Dharam Singh (maternal uncle), Prem Singh (maternal uncle), Sunil Singh (maternal uncle), Balkar Singh (maternal uncle) and Surjeet Singh (maternal uncle). Every time Harvindar Singh visited Delhi, he made it a point to visit each of these and assure them that he would do everything for the education of their children and others similarly affected.
Unbearable, unfillable loss:
To me Harvindar Singh was my man Friday. I nurtured him bit by bit, tutored him, mentored him more than my own children -as they had made their career decisions, leaving me free to work for the poorest of the poor. He imbibed everything, almost unquestionably and sometimes seeking explanations, but never challenging. In his loss, my backbone has been broken. My organisation has been orphaned. When I met him last, distraught at the poor response from Sikligars, despite our herculean efforts, in a fit of anger, I said, “I think I need to close down everything.” In pain, but listening, he said, “Please get me cured soon. Put me back on my feet. I want to work. I want ALHF to be strong and powerful to attain the dream of education for all Sikligars.” I could not say much. I only fondly caressed his forehead whilst leaving him and said, “You will get well, do not worry. We have a long way to go.”
Alas! It was not to be. In the wee hours of the morning of 6 August, at around 3 am, he peacefully passed away, after fighting for life for nearly 10 months, struggling against a rare kidney ailment called HUS, for which there is no cure known to medical science.
His mother Samma Kaur who did not leave him unattended for a single day for the last 10 months, alongside his first cousin Gurmel Singh, repeated ad nauseam, “Get well soon. You have a lot of work to do. You are my diamond. You were born to do Sewa.” It will remain one of my biggest regrets in life that I could not totally fulfil the promise I made to his mother 8 years ago.
However, the journey continues. His sister Ravinder Kaur, fighting tears with bravery and grit, soon after his funeral, came up to me. For a moment, I wondered what she would say. To my utter shock and disbelief, she said, “Veerji, please do not close the centre in Ludhiana. We have to build the Sikligar Sikhs Learning Centre and Academy there. It was a dream of my brother and I am with you in ensuring that the centre becomes a reality. I will work hard, collect every penny required and help fulfil not only my brother’s dream but the dream of all Siklgars to come out of their own petty world through education and training.”
The ALHF Tribute:
ALHF will institute a Harvindar Singh Memorial scholarship fund. Out of this fund, scholarships will be given to one good poor Sikh student -boy and one girl every year.
ALHF-Harvindar Singh Training Institute will be set up in his hometown Alwar with his sister Ravinder Kaur and first cousin Narinder Kaur to be the pioneers to be assisted by others trained by ALHF to pitch in.
At the proposed ALHF academy in Ludhiana, we will build a library in his name.
Not known to many, he loved writing poetry. The family is now scurrying old dairies to look for his writing. His first cousin Sarita Kaur from Delhi, who was also convinced by her to take the education road to success, who admired him a lot, recalled a few lines:
Main voh soch hoon, jo sochay se bhi sochi nahi jaongi
Tum jo sochoge, us soch mein bhi main sochi nahi jaongi
Tum jitni bhi koshish kar lo mujhe girane ki
Main hamesha hi tumhe aage aur sirf aage hi nazar aaongi.
I am that thought you cannot think
What you think, I am far beyond that thought
Howsoever much you try to ground me
You will find me always in the forefront!