What made a former cabinet minister in Canada take up the cause of improving sanitation facilities in Punjab’s villages? Punjabi origin Herb Dhaliwal says all this became possible due to his drive for public service, his access to higher echelons of power in the decision-making process, his perseverance, and his ability to convince people around him.
Dhaliwal’s experiences in Punjab during his early 20s never really left him. Seeing the deplorable conditions in villages and towns, he wished to contribute towards the development process.
Sharing a childhood experience when he was in his ancestral village, Dingranyan, in Nawanshahr district, he says, “I wanted to ease myself, but since there was no toilet around, I was asked to go to the sugarcane fields outside and carry a jug of water. I was disgusted. Once when I was in Phagwara during the 1970s, I was told that I had to go to the rooftop of my aunt’s house to ease myself and then clean it up. These incidents stayed with me.”
The 62-year-old claims that he has always been a social reformer at heart. “Having stayed in Canada for so long, I developed a fair understanding of the relevance of village life. Canadians mostly come from villages; hence, there is a lot of affection and connect they share with their native villages.
They were willing to donate and we needed funds and active volunteers,” says Dhaliwal, who also got Punjabis in Vancouver, besides Canadian agencies, to contribute to the cause of sanitation in India. He himself donated ` 30,000 for the improvement of his village back in 2005.
His association with Dr Gurdev Singh Gill goes back to his childhood days. With time, the collaboration increased manifold. “There is always room for good work to be done, so when I retired, this was one of the things I wanted to work on,” he said.
He says it is unfortunate that people have to travel 13,000 miles (from Canada) to do what the Indian government should be doing itself.
Dhaliwal was amused when he learnt during one of his visits to Punjab earlier that thanks to their development projects in 16 villages of the state, women now wanted to know if their prospective husband’s village had proper sewerage and toilets before they agreed to get married.