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Disguises, Makeshift Ambulances and Langars: As Delhi Burnt, Sikhs Stepped Up to Douse the Fire

Sikhs, at individual levels, as well as workers of Khalsa Aid, rescued those caught in the violence, ferried the injured...

New Delhi: 53-year old Mohinder Singh Khalsa leads a quiet life in northeast Delhi’s Gokulpuri. His routine is simple – he gets ready each morning and climbs down to the ground floor to run his mobile phone store.

On February 24, the day riots raged in his neighbourhood, the simple act of tying his turban – a daily affirmation of his religious identity – became a solemn commitment to offer a lifeline to those in trouble.

“I was sitting in my shop in the evening. A mob had attacked a mosque in the neighbourhood. Around 10 Muslim families that live in my gali were scared after the attack,” he said. Some people were also holed up inside the mosque. “We managed to get all of them into our house,” he said...

...Jatinder Singh Shunty, a resident of Shahdara and a former MLA, runs an NGO that provides free ambulance facilities. When all the vehicles operated by his NGO were unavailable, he set out himself in his car to take people to hospitals. Over two days, he had transported as many as 14 people to the hospital.

Shunty recounted that on February 24, he received a phone call that a news reporter had been shot, and because all the ambulances were away, he drove his own car and took his son to the spot to ferry the reporter to the hospital.

"The reporter was courageous, he told me what happened without panicking. He was shot in the chest so we got his MRI and CT scan done before taking him to GTB (Guru Tegh Bahadur) Hospital," he said...

...Sikh residents in these areas came to the rescue of many like Mohammed Yusuf, a pharmacist, who found his shop reduced to dust. He said that a worker from Khalsa Aid, a Sikh volunteer-based aid organization, helped him rebuild his medical store.

“I had no faith or courage left. I had lost the ability to think. If a trader loses his trade, he has nothing left. It feeds our families, gives us good lives. There is nothing beyond it,” Yusuf said. He mourned the loss of his shop that he had built over many years.

“Some brother from Khalsa Aid came and found me. Someone told him about my plight. I didn’t believe that they would help me,” he said. He explained that the worker listened to his woes and reassured him that he would be back on his feet again.

“I said it was enough that they had showed concern, but they went beyond. It is amazing what they have done,” he said. Days after the riots, Yusuf is finally managing to smile a little bit.

“God sits up there and watches. These people have taken action,” he said, adding, “They must be a little bit crazy to help out a total stranger like that. My own relatives didn’t even call to ask if we were alright.”

Inderjeet Singh, the Khalsa Aid worker who helped Yusuf, is going through the rubble in another shop, assessing the damage. This 26-year old from Dehradun said he will not leave Delhi until Yusuf and others like him are rehabilitated...

...A community that has suffered indescribable violence at different points of time – during the Partition and the 1984 anti-Sikh riots – has found in itself reservoirs of compassion and empathy.

These men said that Sikhism is rooted in the twin concepts of sewa (selfless service) and simran (to remember God), making it impossible for them to turn a blind eye to human suffering.

“The principles of the Sikh faith and the message from our Gurus have an impact on us. We don’t see people’s faith when we help someone,” Khalsa said.

Shunty recalled a Sikh fable of Bhai Kanhaiya, who would give water to his enemies on the battlefield. When asked by the 10th Guru Gobind Singh about it, he said that he did not see them as the enemy, but only as someone in need.

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