Punjab, the land of the five rivers and of our Guru’s as well as countless other Peers, Bhagats and Saints, is today gasping for air.
The shortage of water in the State despite having its own rivers is drying up the fertile agricultural land leaving debt ridden farmers helpless and forced into suicide. Drugs such as Cocaine and Opium grown in Afghanistan is smuggled into Punjab via the Pakistan border and given to children as young as 7 years old. The practice of female foeticide (where a child is killed/aborted before its even born only because the sex of the foetus is a female) continues to rise. The practice of Sikhi is dropping from households across Punjab and more and more children are walking away from their rich Sikh heritage and culture.
To help combat this, Khalsa Aid, a UK based Humanitarian Relief Agency launched ‘Focus Punjab’ and ‘PURE’ – Punjab Underprivileged Rural Empowerment. Through these projects, underprivileged children from areas of severe deprivation are sponsored and encouraged to attend school and also Gurbani classes twice a week. There is an ever present threat of the children being lured into the dark world of drugs and amphetamines by individual dealers and various cults which this tries to combat.
Every year Khalsa Aid in conjunction with Gurmat Gian College hold camps for these children across Punjab where they are taught Sikh History, Sikh Philosophy, Shabad Gurbani and made aware of the dangers of social evils. I met with Bhai Sukhwinder Singh, a sewadar from Gurmat Gian College and accompanied him to a camp in Tarn Taran.
Tarn Taran is a district in Punjab where Sikhi was quite influential and well known as one of the few districts in Punjab where the Sikh population were the majority. Today however, Tarn Taran has the highest rate of drug consumption in Punjab with a recent report suggesting 6 out of 10 youths were in “the grip of drugs.”
I visited the school where the camp was taking place. 300 Children from the age of 5 years old right up to the age of 17 were attending the camp. Volunteers from the Gurmat Gian College, many of them in their early twenties, were running the workshops.
After taking a tour of the school and workshops, I was asked to sit in on one of the workshops with some of the elder children. A discussion took place of what they had learnt so far and what they felt were reasons for the problems they faced in the district. According to one teenager in the workshop, the drugs trade was open and flourishing as it had the blessings of the very same people who were meant to stop it. Also the fact that the Pakistan border was a mere 2km away from their village helped the drug traders transport the drugs into the villages.
Many of the teenagers in the room had lost relatives due to the drugs and had seen the consequences of it first hand. Despite this, they received no help from any social, religious or judicial organisations. The camp ran by Khalsa Aid and Gurmat Gian College was the first time somebody had reached out to them.
The positives were obvious to see from the reaction from the children and local villagers. They for the first time saw a light at the end of the tunnel and felt that they could finally overcome the nightmare of a life they were living with a bit of extra help.
Despite the great needs of the children and their families, the local municipal council, the Member of the Legislative Assembly and the SGPC Dharam Parchaar committee with its huge annual budget have all failed to provide the support the families needed.
The money donated by the Sangat to Khalsa Aid and its projects is bearing fruit through camps like these.