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Turbaning the Turmoil: The Sikh Community and COVID

By Thrisha Sajeev

IndiaWhilst shuffling through an overload of information regarding Oxygen Cylinders and beds, little do we think about those doing the ground level work. Though we are aware of it, somehow What's App forwards about ways to shield ourselves from the virus, seem more appealing. Having spared time from his busy schedule for quick talk, Mr. Dalbir Singh, a New Delhi Resident and an active COVID-19 volunteer, gave us an elaborate yet crisp insight into the work done by the Sikh Community in effectively resolving the crisis.

Turbaning the Turmoil: The Sikh Community and COVID

"They (Organizations) tend to perform ground level work. So automatically, when a crisis strikes, they immediately shift focus to that specific situation." Responded Mr. Singh, when asked about the organizations' quick response strategy. Presently, Youth Sanghat a volunteer group in Dwarka has collaborated with Khalsa Aid and Hemkunt Foundation to set up an Oxygen Camp in the locality, with support from their Gurudwara.

These Organizations send out word, through various communication and media platforms calling for volunteers, who would go on to constitute their task force. The volunteers are given some basic medical training, since they'll be performing some of the work of qualified medical professionals. It is only after this training that they get out on the field and work.

Be it the Uttarakhand Floods Relief or aid for the Farmers Protest on the Singhu border, Organizations such as Khalsa Aid and Hemkunt Foundation have been making headlines even before the pandemic struck. In fact, in January 2021, Khalsa Aid was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, the highest honorary award for Humanitarian work.

Apart from these organizations, Gurudwaras too, play a massive role in serving the society during such times. Among other initiatives, the Drive-in Oxygen Langar at Noida, made it to the headlines of various news channels. This initiative is not just innovative but also impactful. "Oxygen Drive-in's are set up just to buy some more time, a provision for the time being, until beds can be arranged," said Mr. Singh. What was initially supposed to be a bed with oxygen facility, eventually took form of a drive in primarily because of the rush, time constraints and large-scale provision of power and utility.

Drive-in such as this was set up, with special focus on Delhi and Maharashtra. With time, it began to branch out into various other places such as Kolkata and Ghaziabad. Mr. Singh says that they aim to further improve their reach within the country and have already started working towards it.

Apart from the Oxygen Langar, Gurudwaras also provide free food delivery services to COVID positive families, that can be availed by filling out a Google Form. Bed facilities and Oxygen Camps have also been set up by Gurudwaras, in several parts of the country.

However, along every path, difficulties ought to be faced. Here as well, troubles were experienced during the course of their initiatives. The country's inadequate or rather unprepared Health Infrastructure seemingly posed as a huge barrier, especially with regard to oxygen procurement and supply. With plants diverting most of their oxygen supply towards hospitals, Oxygen Camps began to run dry. In response to the same, Organizations decided to procure Oxygen Concentrators, in order to reduce the dependency on Oxygen Cylinders.

But the concentrators too came with their own set of problems. In the early stages of its procurement, several Oxygen Concentrators were found not to be of Medical Grade. Nevertheless, it's supply was not stopped because something is always better than nothing. Soon enough, the medical grade requirements were discussed and specified to the suppliers, to ensure the availability of high-quality concentrators.

The free food delivery initiative started by Gurudwaras too faced problems, especially during the Lockdown. The imposed restrictions, hindered the swift and timely delivery of food to affected families. Yet, the organizations and their volunteers continue to work relentlessly, paying more heed to the needs of the people.

Several other Civil Societies, apart from Khalsa Aid, Hemkunt Foundation, Voice of Voiceless and Youth Sanghat, too have been setting up camps and bed facilities for the affected families. ISKCON has set up a 200-bed facility for the same purpose, in Dwarka, New Delhi. Similarly, Mount Carmel School converted their institution into a 100-bed COVID Facility.

What sets them apart from other organizations, are the ideologies that take roots deep in the heart of the organizations. According to Mr. Singh, traits of compassion, kindness and empathy run strong in a Sikh's blood and are an essential component of the Sikh Ideology. Much of the motivation can also be credited to the immense donations that came in from all over the world, which enabled the organizations to procure more resources. "The donations were extremely helpful. Hemkunt Foundation recently placed an order for almost 2000 Oxygen Concentrators that costed them somewhere around 12 crore rupees" Mr. Dalbir Singh answered, when asked about the same.

While all of their contributions and work needs to be lauded, the fact they too are only human must be accounted for. "Honestly, I myself am scared sometimes, to get down on the ground and do work. We're constantly reminded that we too have a family to take care of and it really is worrying. But watching the volunteers work and their contribution to all this, gives me the strength to continue as well." Said Mr. Singh. Fear of contracting the virus and also having to behold the sight of patients dying, can have an undying impact on the social workers. The trauma will one day or another find a way to sink into the volunteering individual, but that day cannot be today.

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