Cardiologist all the way from New Jersey has his finger on pulse of protesters
When Swaiman Singh, 34, a cardiologist from New Jersey, joined the farmers’ agitation in November, he did not anticipate that the agitation would go on for 100 days, and beyond.
“I’d come to India on five days’ leave, and thought I’d arrange some doctors at the site before leaving. But when I saw the plight of our elderly farmers, I just couldn’t go back,” he said.
Singh, who’s been living in the US for 24 years, and had volunteered as a doctor during the Black Lives Matter protest, says he has now left his fellowship programme at the Newark Beth Israel Medical Center midway.
Since late November, he has camped at the Tikri protest site, providing free medical assistance to thousands of farmers. He has also started a night shelter, a movie theatre, and a library to lend support to the agitation. Singh and his colleagues call their camp “Pind California” -- famous in the neighbourhood for providing all kinds of assistance to agitating farmers.
“Our political leaders have made tall claims of turning Punjab into California in the past, but have failed. By working for our community here, we wanted to create a blueprint on how to provide for the people in a democratic set-up. That was the idea behind setting up schools, medical camps, movie theatre, and shelters, among others,” he said.
Singh, who witnessed the violence during the farmers’ tractor parade on Republic Day, said several of his team members were injured in clashes between farmers and police that day.
Under the banner of his non-government organisation, the Five Rivers Heart Association, Singh said nearly 100 doctors are posted at the protest spots on a rotational basis. They also have around 1,000 doctors on call across the world for tele-consultations, and to help with the medical camps that conduct physical therapy and carry out tests.
“The major difference between the protests in the US and here is the way the administration treats protesters; here, the government has cut off the internet, food, water, and sanitation facilities. The gutters are overflowing as there are barely any sanitation workers to maintain cleanliness at these sites. There can be an outbreak of malaria or dengue here at any time, but they don’t care. We have lost over 200 farmers during the agitation so far, and, yet, no one is talking about it,” he said.
The cardiologist says he’s barely met his daughter in the past seven months -- first, due to the pandemic, and now because of the protests. “I recently went home for a day (to his home town in Punjab), and she was angry with me for being away. She did not want to let go of me,” he said. “Of course, work and family life have been affected but we are fighting for a greater cause.”
There are regular movie screenings at Pind California on revolutionary themes, Singh said. “From Bhagat Singh to Subhas Chandra Bose to Chotu Ram, we focus on showing movies that will inspire people to carry on with this revolutionary fight.”
With summer approaching, the team is now working on building bamboo hutments to protect the farmers from the heat and mosquitoes. “If the government thinks that these farmers will tire eventually and go back, they are wrong. Over the past few months, I’ve seen them stand united in their fight to repeal the laws,” he said.