A long beard, a saffron turban and a kirpan slung across his shoulder, its khakhi strap looking distinct in the kurta — for anyone meeting him for the first time, Gopal Thakur looks like any other Sikh from the region.
It’s only when he speaks that you can sense a distinct accent. The 40-year-old labourer, performing “sewa” at Gurdwara Partakh Darshan on the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) campus, came to Chandigarh from Bhagalpur district in Bihar. Admitted to the PGIMER with severe chest pain last year, Gopal took shelter at the gurdwara and started doing “sewa”. A year on, the man who came here as a Hindu is leaving as a baptised Sikh: Gopal Singh.
Converted to Sikhism to lead a “dignified life”, Gopal says: “I feel good while doing ‘sewa’ at the gurdwara, and being a Singh, I am respected more.”
Gopal is not the only one. Many Hindu and Dalit men, women and even children who had come to the PGIMER for treatment have converted to Sikhism during their stay here. Most are migrant workers hailing from far-flung states, such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir or from the neighbouring country Nepal, who take shelter at the gurdwara in absence of “sarais” for patients and their attendants.
Other than free food and shelter, needy patients and their attendants are given lessons on the teachings of Sikh gurus. The gurdwara has not only changed their life but identity and outlook as well.
From Devi to Kaur
Anandi Devi, aka Pooja Kaur, came to the PGIMER two years back for the treatment of her son, who was hurt in an accident.
“Priests at the gurdwara helped me during my difficult time and allowed me to stay here with my child. I do ‘sewa’ at the gurdwara and for it I am paid `2,000 every month,” says Pooja.
Sitting in another corner of the gurdwara, 19-year-old Rajesh Kumar, who hails from Muradabad, is learning to tie a turban. “I was brought here after meeting with an accident. After undergoing treatment here, I chose to stay back at the gurdwara. Now, I am planning to embrace Sikhism,” he says.
Rajinder Kumar is yet another example of a person who was touched by the love and affection received at the gurdwara. Hailing from Nepal, Rajinder came to the PGIMER way back in 1990. Today, he is settled here.
“I had spine tuberculosis. The gurdwara helped me; people here gave me shelter and funded my treatment. They offered me a job. I got married in the same gurdwara and decided to convert,” says Rajinder.
Teenager girl’s unfulfilled wish
The youngest patient who the HT came across at the gurdwara was 14-year-old Shikha Bhardwaj from Darbhanga district in Bihar. She was suffering from uterus cancer and was undergoing treatment since January this year.
Shikha had enrolled for a visit to Anandpur Sahib to embrace Sikhism and had shared her plans too: “My parents have sold all their property to fund my treatment. We do not have any other place to go. So, we stay at the here. Moreover, I feel good while doing ‘sewa’; it gives me some hope.” Unfortunately, she could not survive cancer.
Baba Tarsem Singh, a “kar sevak” at the gurdwara says: “We saw that many people were getting cured by doing ‘sewa’. Many patients pray here for quick recovery. Looking at people’s faith, we thought of spreading awareness about the importance of a Guru.”
The gurdwara has organised three trips to Anandpur Sahib in the last six months; wherein nearly 100 people embraced Sikhism.