On December 7, 2020, New Jersey-based cardiologist Dr Swaimaan Singh landed in India to provide medical aid to the protesting farmers at the Delhi border for a few days. Almost a year later, Dr Singh is still with them.
Dr Singh now says he will stay put till PM Narendra Modi announces in Parliament that the laws will be repealed. “Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) will sit together and I will also sit with them. Let the laws be repealed in Parliament actually. After that, I will make arrangements to move back. It will take minimum 15 days for us to clear Tikri border area. We will clean the site before leaving. I hope to meet my family after a year in December.”
The 35-year-old is the president-founder of the Five Rivers Heart Association which aims to provide equal healthcare and education to all. The association has doctors from across the globe as its members, said Dr Singh who hails from Pakhoke village of Punjab’s Tarn Taran district. His family had migrated to the US around 25 years ago.
His team has examined over 1 lakh patients so far at the border and Dr Singh said, “I am a permanent resident of America and also have overseas citizenship of India (OCI). I feel that I need to stay to provide medical healthcare to farmers and I will not go back to the US till the time farmers are sitting on roads. We are providing voluntary services, all free of cost, to farmers… Apart from Tikri, Singhu and Ghazipur borders, I do visit various protest sites in Punjab, UP, Haryana etc, wherever the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) deputes me.”
He said his family migrated to the US when he was ten years old. “As of now in our family, we are seven doctors, including my brother and sister. We all contributed donations and I came to India to serve people. I was summa cum laude (topper) in college, scored in the top 1 percent in all of my medical exams. Currently, I’m a board-certified MD. The primary locations of our association’s work are in South America, Africa, North America and India. Every year, we hold medical camps in India and distribute medicines worth nearly Rs 3 crore.”
He added, “I came to India because I was afraid that due to the Covid situation, it could mean trouble for farmers who were on the roads. So as a doctor, I felt it was my duty to serve to give back to society. We have, till date, seen over 1 lakh patients in our clinic at Tikri border for free and given them free medicines. During Covid in Delhi, Haryana and Punjab, our team even gave free home consultations, medicines and oxygen to patients who were unable to afford it. We operated this project for one month or so.”
Dr Singh added, “Since being here, I have not gone back. My family, including my doctor wife and 3-year-old daughter, are very supportive. We live in a joint family in New Jersey with my brother’s and sister’s families, and my parents also stay there… We do have our tough days, but my family is super proud of me that I am getting to serve the country in the manner I intended to as a doctor.”
At the doctor’s clinic at Tikri border, medicines and clean drinking water are available. “We built 2,200 homes, bathrooms, washing machine centre, living facility for women, library, arrangement for langar, milk services, basically anything that is needed at the borders. We have a free grocery store too.”
Though Dr Singh came with sufficient donations from his own big joint family, some people do voluntarily donate to the cause. “We don’t accept any cash. However, we give them a list of things needed at the site and they donate accordingly.”
“We also do medical services in villages around the area. Over 1,000 doctors who are members of Five Rivers Heart Association are part of this project and they provide voluntary services on rotation basis. My team of doctors come from all over the world including countries like Germany, Canada, America, France and all over India, including West Bengal, Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra to name a few.”
Talking about the farmers’ protest, he said, “My general observation was that this will go on till 2024 and everyone was strong enough and willing enough to fight till 2024. However, the PM’s announcement is a positive response and now farmers can think of moving back to their houses. We can fight for MSP while sitting in our states too.”
The doctor lives in one of the 2,200 huts which he got constructed for the farmers and it has been named as California City. He said, “I have many relatives in Punjab but I haven’t visited anyone’s house till now, a few have met me at the medical camps whenever I travel.”
Talking about the type of patients at his medical camps, he said, “The patients changed with time. Earlier, they had diarrhoea, vomiting due to the living conditions, then it became trauma, later mental health/depression/anxiety.” They even organised Covid vaccination camps at the protest site, he added.
He says he won’t leave until the farmers are back home. “I will not leave the morcha until the farmers are back in their homes. My team of doctors, too, is equally committed.”
“The family has farm land and other properties in India, but we lend the farm land to people in need without a fee,” he added.
“Our team of doctors were actually beaten up on January 26 as we were working to help farmers, police officers and others affected. We had been at Nagloi barricades. We had 32 ambulances with us that day. There were no government ambulances, so we were the ones who transported policemen and other officers who were affected,” the doctor said, summing up that “healthcare is a dire need for people in India, our association has decided to work in India only for the time being.”