New Delhi, India – When Dr Swaiman Singh, a cardiologist based in the United States, flew to India for a five-day visit last December, little did he know that his short sojourn would turn into a prolonged mission to save hundreds of lives.
The 34-year-old doctor, who has been living in New Jersey for the past 24 years, put his lucrative practice on hold to visit his homeland after getting distress calls from relatives in his native village, Pakhoke, in the western state of Punjab.
The farmers are demanding the repeal of three controversial farm laws that were passed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in September last year without any debate in parliament.
The leaders of the farmers’ unions say the laws are designed to favour private corporates, who would gain more control over India’s vast agriculture sector and deny them the minimum price for their produce currently guaranteed by the government.
In defence, Modi’s government says the laws would provide the farmers with better marketing options for their produce and break a monopoly of commission agents and government-regulated marketplaces, known as “mandis”.
Multiple rounds of talks between the farm leaders and the government have failed to break the months-old deadlock. The farmers continue to brave the scorching Delhi heat, saying they will not return to their homes until the laws are withdrawn.
Singh was told by the villagers that a family friend died because there was no doctor available to treat him at the Tikri protest site.
“I thought I will come down to see what help I could offer, maybe arrange some doctors at the site and leave,” Singh, who had also volunteered at the Black Lives Matter protests in the US, told Al Jazeera.
“But when I saw the condition of the elderly farmers, my heart just wouldn’t allow me to leave.”
The doctor says he started alone, “bought a small table, a few chairs and medications and started a small camp”.
“The second day, I was joined by another person and then another, till slowly we grew into a full-sized community with a hospital, library and makeshift houses,” he told Al Jazeera.
Realising “that this might be a long fight”, he left his fellowship programme at the Newark Beth Israel Medical Center midway to support the farmers’ agitation.
“For the past six months, we have been providing free medicines and all kinds of medical help to farmers, including COVID testing. We have also started a night shelter, a movie theatre and a library,” he said.