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Community Voice

23 January 2005 11th Magh, Nanakshahi

The Sikh Community in Nicobar Needs You
an Appeal from UNITED SIKHS


Presentation Screen Icon Campbell Bay PowerPoint Presentation (2.37MB)
Camera Icon CampBell Bay Gallery

UNITED SIKHS GHANAIA Tsunami Project Team Leader for S India, Navneet Singh, makes this impassioned plea on behalf of Sikhs in the Nicobar Islands:

First, here is what Navneet Singh writes home to his project coordinator, Gurmeet Kaur in Atlanta:

I spent the entire day (about 14 hrs) trying to get the shipments loaded, cleared and based properly into the Indian Naval Ship called "GHARIAL" - the Alligator.

With all the haggling, security clearance and name dropping we got the shipments from Bombay, Indore and Chennai loaded onto an Indian navy ship headed to Port Blair, then to Campbell Bay and then to Car Nicobar. We requested that our shipment be sent directly to Campbell Bay - and it got approved.

Here's the real kicker. Believe it or not, after a 30 minute conversation I said that we will be sending a couple of people to help them unload stuff and directly be there with the ship. We've got clearance and the deputy command of the ship will be taking care of it. I also talked to an official of the Andaman Administration and we've got everything cleared. He was very helpful.

I just wanted to provide a quick update…. I havent eaten a bite all day and I will let you know but I havent checked any of the 60 new emails. Real quickly though, there is no update on the satellite phone…basic financial report has been ready, I am going to send you what I have…. Its just hard to get any time on the computer…. I am receiving shipments tomorrow as well and dont know how the day will go…right now i am out of here to get to airport as Judge Singh is coming and i need to prepare him to leave again on the ship in a few hours…he doesn't know this yet.

Gur fateh

Navneet's impassioned plea:

It was the morning of January 19th, the morning diwaan at Gurdwara Sahib in Chennai had just ended and we were heading to the airport to receive Bhai Esher Singh Ji. He was coming back from Campbell Bay in Gt Nicobar. W were quite anxious to hear from him the situation at Campbell Bay. We, all thought, whatever little was left to do on the islands, we'll just chalk out a plan and work on helping to the best of our ability for the people.

After all, now as a team, we will have a first hand report from Bhai Esher Singh Ji, our project leader, who has returned from Campbell Bay, one of the islands directly affected in the tragedy. Unfortunately, to our dismay, the stories he brought back and the pictures and video interviews that I have personally seen of the people on the islands and especially our fellow Sikhs and Punjabi community members, has caught me dumbfounded big time. See PowerPoint Slide Show (2.37MB) of the rare photos of Tsunami stricken Gt Nicobar taken by Esher Singh.

Appeal

Today, this note goes out to all my team members at UNITED SIKHS on an urgent basis. I am writing this note to inform you, but more importantly let the entire Sikh community know of the true situation here at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, with regards the Tsunami disaster.

This appeal maybe long, but its important that you read it, so you get a better understanding of the situation and you respond in the best way possible, as a humanitarian.

Being here on the ground as a team leader, I had heard umpteen times from relief organizations, government officials and the media for the past 2 weeks that everything was good and dandy on the islands and the government and armed forces of India were in full control and taking care of everyone. Now after hearing the situation from a first hand source and seeing the situation from a third party perspective, I guess i can say that they were right, except for the "taking care of everyone" part. They are doing everything their way and at their own pace and schedule.

The scene here on the islands of Andaman and Nicobar is really sad, depressing and hopeless. There are over 300 families affected, with a little over 70 Sikh families totally ruined - these Singhs and Kaurs have no food, no clothes, no homes, no legal papers, no hope, no future, nothing…nothing…nothing.

Background

For all those folks, who are not fully aware, let me provide a brief background as I know best. Politically, Andaman and Nicobar Islands are Union Territories, ruled by Delhi. The islands stretch about 700 km in Bay of Bengal and have 572 islands out of which only 36 are actually inhabited. `The Andamans' is the name given to the northern part of the archipelago while `the Nicobars' lie to the south. Back in 1969, China made a disputed claim on the islands of Andaman and Nicobar and the islands were also in danger pf encroachment by Indonesia (just 60kms away). The then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi immediately transferred Punjabis, including Sikhs and Hindus (and retired defence personnel) and gave them 14 acres of land and some additional benefits and asked them to immediately occupy land in order to write off any claims by China.

The Tragedy

I saw the videos and listened to their stories. It is easy to believe that most of them actually did find what they were looking for on these islands. Thousands of people who settled here were able to make their way out of poverty, and put themselves into well placed, higher middle class status.

But on the morning of December 26, when the Tsunami hit, over 35 years of hard-won betterment was tossed in the waves of death for these people. Everything was gone, their homes, their valuables and even their loved ones. Tsunami did more than that, it even took peoples identity. (Unfortunately in India, one survives on reams of paper to keep themselves surviving in the system : identity cards, licences, ration cards, school certificates, cheque books, etc etc. Tsunami took all that away and left these people to play with even more torture.)

There are over 300 Sikh families on the island, who lived on the 10 km to 41 km stretch, all of them had worked hard and owned lots of land and were farmers. They were very well off and owned tractors and trucks and tons of valuables. Now, 70 of them had been fully ruined. 9 of the Sikhs had died and 6 of them are still missing. This is just in Gt Nicobar. There have been casualties in other Nicobar islands. Information is scarce.

Problems Faced

Overall

Life is terrible for the people here on the Islands. When the UNITED SIKHS project leader, Esher Singh went to Campbell Bay, where no other NGO aid agency had been since the Tsunami hit the islands, the Sikhs were in pain and sorrow. They saw him and broke down into tears. What is important to note here is that one cant just turn up at Campbell Bay. One needs special permission from the Governor to be airlifted from Port Blair to the islands, which is a 4 hour flight. The survivors informed us that it took almost over 3 days after the Tsunami before any official came down to their island to see if they were alive. Inf act, there are dead bodies still lying around since the Dec 26th disaster, what more can I say. The people on the island now feel lonely and betrayed.

Problem # 1. Relief camps

The Sikh families are now in relief camps which are over-crowded and cannot handle that many people. There are no proper facilities, there are no doctors, no proper medication, no provisions for female requests or to take proper care of the children.

Problem # 2. No food

People here are at the mercy of the government for food. They have been fed the same lentils, rice and potatoes for every meal. The government is not providing ration or doing anything about it.

Problem # 3. Gurdwara Sahib needs to be re-built

A big source of the strength and hope is the Gurdwara Sahib on the islands, it has been shaken and in fact the base of the Gurdwara Sahib that was built with concrete has broken and needs to be re-built. Guru Granth Sahib Ji was "Agan Bhaet" this week, Tsunami unfortunately destroyed the Guru Granth Sahib Saroops which were found 2 kms away from Gurdwara Sahib. The rear of the Gurdwara Sahib faces the ocean and has no retaining wall, therefore the water comes inside of the Gurdwara Sahib now on a high tide day.

Problem # 4. Homes need to be re-built

The 70 Sikh families have no place they can call home. Everything they owned has been destroyed. With no place for shelter and cover, their lives are left to chance.

Problem # 5. Earning hand - totally cut

The Sikhs whose major source of income was farming have lost everything. The farming lands they owned have been drowned in water. The farms have salt water and have now become non irrigable. It will take over 5 plus years for it to return to its former state.

Road Blocks

1. Time crunch

What many people may not realize is that the islands will be cut off from the entire world for 6 months starting in April. Whatever needs to be done, needs to be done now. There is no waiting time.

2. Money

Unfortunately, no matter what we want to do and how much effort we can dedicate here, to re-build their lives requires money that means a community led financial contribution for the betterment of the entire Sikh community of the islands.

Sikh Community's Needs/Wants

1. Reclaim identity

They need to reclaim their identity and property. They need help with legal paper work. They cannot do anything at all, anywhere in India, until they have their identities given back with government help.

2. Rebuild Gurdwara Sahib

People's source of inspiration has been Gurdwara Sahib. Their community center, their way of connecting, their meeting place is now shattered. Gurdwara Sahib needs Shri Guru Granth Sahib Ji Swaroop alongwith Shandowa Sahib immediately to start the diwaans.

3. Rebuild Homes/Businesses

Sikhs families don't have a shelter at the moment to cover their heads under. 35 years ago they cut through the jungles and built their own homes from scratch. Now they dont have the energy and the capacity to do this all over again. Without a home, there's nothing. They further need help with re-starting their businesses.

Priority - first things first

The Sikh elders and the new generation there voiced their thoughts and did not know where their lives were headed. The community was split on whether to stay or return to Panjab.

1.
Half of the sangat wants to continue living there on the islands and rebuild their lives. However they want full support from the government and locals. They need proper monies for the damage and new allocation of land on the island where they can start their farming again.

2.
The other half says that they want to go back to Panjab. They want to be nowhere else but in Panjab itself. They also request that they be allotted land and homes in Panjab to start rebuilding their lives.

Solutions - Plans in Progress

1. Start a langar for the entire island - confirmed

The UNITED SIKHS team has networked and has won the support of the SGPC to run a langar facility for the entire island every day for the next three months. This feat will be incredible in its own way. True Sikhi spirit shown here as providing langar for over 6000 people in a devastated place is no small feat.

2. Rebuild the Gurdwara Sahib and reinstate the Guru Granth Sahib Saroop - Confirmed Already

The rebuilding efforts of the Gurdwara Sahib have been confirmed. The base that was broken will be replaced and a permanent retaining wall built to keep out the water from the ocean. UNITED SIKHS has won the support of the PINGALWARA management in Amritsar for the reconstruction of the Gurdwara Sahib. The Guru Granth Sahib's saroop and gutkae ( prayer books) for Campbell Bay have arrived in Chennai. A UNITED SIKHS volunteer, Judge Singh, a housing developer from California, has arrived in Chennai to help in the planning and execution of the construction project.

3. Rebuild Homes - Starting Next Week

Judge Singh will also be overseeing the rebuilding of homes for 70 Sikh families. We only have until April. Therefore, all the raw materials and tools will be bought locally from the mainland and other tools not found here will be shipped from abroad.

4. Building of Two Saw Mills and Setting Up of a Hardware Shop - In Progress

To help restart their lives and give them a source of income, UNITED SIKHS is helping build saw mills for the Sikhs and we will also start a hardware shop where all the raw materials will be be made available to all Sikhs to motivate them to start rebuilding their own homes.

5. Long Term Counseling - Volunteers Confirmed

UNITED SIKHS has already secured volunteers to come serve the Sikh community and provide them long term counselling. These volunteers will be professional counselors / psychologists and help rebuild the people from inside. Emotional counseling is very important at this point.

6. Provide Education and Health Services - Volunteer Professionals Confirmed

UNITED SIKHS has sought the assistance of Sikh medical professionals in the United States to come and serve the Sikh community and others on the island. The team is also in search of educationists who can help teach the uneducated and provide them with alternative sources of income to make their lives better. It is about healing the entire community.

Personal Thoughts

Since the Tsunami, several thoughts have run through my mind, one of them in particular pointed to a question - "Why did God do this in first place, why did he have to create Tsunami? Then I thought, that this must be God's way of bringing together the entire world and doing what he wants best, people helping each other. As He creates. He destroys. However, I questioned God once again, "what now ?, what will happen to those who have survived?" No answer came back.

I am not going to say more, it saddens me. But I'll tell you all this: We can't give up hope, because we are "their" ONLY hope. We cannot leave them to chance. Absolutely NOT. Just think, if they were your own family members, would you leave them to chance ???? NO, we cannot let them down. I know I am not going anywhere, my conscience wont allow it - not after seeing what I saw on the video interviews.

I do request though, if you can please forward at least a glimpse of the situation to the Sikh community and have them read my request. Today, life has given us everything, I know I feel blessed with what I have lived so far, but today with folded hands, I ask all of you to open your hearts and wallets. WE NEED MONEY....this is for each and every one of you...if a drop of your blood bleeds humanity, we must donate...we must give. Money is what we need to be able to make the right judgements and give them what they need...instantly and long term. I assure this, if you don't give, it'll be fine, coz this work cannot and will not stop. We will do this till the last second possible. UNITED SIKHS is determined to make it happen, but we request your support together and to be ONE in this effort. If these things don't happen by April, they will be cut off from the island for 6 months but they wont live that long. The people are depressed and have no hope, if we leave them in this state, people will commit suicide. I am telling you right now.

Their needs are not just for "Now". It's not about giving them something for one month and coming back and saying we did our part. Cosmetic touches wont do anything. It's an entire life - they have gone back 50 years in life and one cannot just do this temporarily. We need long term plans to help them rebuild their lives.

As a Sikh community, it is our responsibility to reach out to them, give them hope, let them know that we care, inform them to not give up and things will be better. We MUST do this. We must give Money, we must play our part and thank the supreme being for what we have. 5000 thousand dollars for you wont mean much, and will be earned back, but for 5 people, an entire Sikh family a home will be raised, a ray of hope will arrive and 5 lives will be saved. Please Please Please DONATE.

Bhul Chuk Maaf. —Navneet Singh alongside Team INDIA.


UNITED SIKHS will update you as we receive reports. For Relief Team updates see:
http://www.unitedsikhs.org/ghanaia/fieldreport.html


Please donate, even if you cannot give a lot. Your contribution will help victims directly.

http://www.unitedsikhs.org/reliefproject.html#donate

You may donate online by clicking above, or by cheque payable to UNITED SIKHS, and mail to a UNITED SIKHS regional office.


For more information on the GHANAIA tsunami project, e-mail us on:
contact@unitedsikhs.org


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