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The Good Samaritan: Dr. Swaiman Singh is Providing Medical Care to Protesting Indian Farmers Near Delhi

The Good Samaritan: Dr. Swaiman Singh is Providing Medical Care to Protesting Indian Farmers Near Delhi

  • Lack of medical facilities and situation on the ground has made the New Jersey-based cardiologist keep his career on hold and stay back, three months and counting.

What was meant to be a short holiday in India last December, has turned out to be a humanitarian mission for a New Jersey doctor. For the past three months, Dr. Swaiman Singh, a cardiologist by training, has been providing free medical checkup and medicine to the Indian farmers protesting near the Tikri border, one of three main protest sites along the outskirts of Delhi. Singh has set up “Pind (village) California,” which provides medical care, supplies and shelter to the protestors.

Those seeking either medical treatment or some solace can avail of the many facilities that Singh has got to “Pind California,” are greeted to a cleaner campus, where trees are planted instead of piles of garbage. There’s a water heater, a filtration system and portable toilets. There’s a supply shop where people can stock up on free hair oil, toothpaste and food, and a library filled with books to help protesters pass the time. A projector screen allows for educational videos to be broadcast to the community.

“We give service to everyone, not just farmers,” the 34-year-old Indian American says in one of the several videos posted on his social media handles. “Locals, policemen, and CRPF men also come here to get treatment. On average 4,000 to 6,000 people get treated at our camp in 24 hours.”

This operation, run by Singh’s organization 5 Rivers Heart Association, started as a makeshift clinic on a fold-up table outside. It has gradually expanded, and now has become a sprawling community center in a former bus terminal. 

Singh was born in Amritsar, Punjab, and immigrated to the U.S. with his family when he was 10 years old. He has spent most of his life in New Jersey, attending school there and completing a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University. He graduated from American University of Antigua (AUA) College of Medicine in 2015, then completed an internal medicine residency at Drexel University College of Medicine and Hahnemann Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is a cardiology fellow at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center/Robert Wood Johnson Barnabas Health in Newark, New Jersey. 

Singh is married to Kulkiran Sarai Samra and the couple have a 2-year-old daughter. His parents and his sister also live in New Jersey, close to Singh’s home. 

Even before he started medical school, Singh was committed to addressing the healthcare problems he saw in his village, Pakhoke in Punjab. “For the past nine years, I’ve had a habit of going around and helping people in and around my village,” he says in a blog on the American University of Antigua College of Medicine website. “That help has taken on a new meaning now that I am a physician,” he says. “I go to my village hospital and do a lot of teaching and guidance on common diseases prevalent in the area. Many people don’t even have basic healthcare and education. The stories I have come across are heartbreaking and have motivated me to take action step by step.”

It was one of the patients he met at his clinic in Punjab who reached out to him in India in January, after he had a stroke during the protest. Singh went to Tikri to help him. Singh has said in several interviews that he intended to stay for just a few days. But once he set a camp with other doctors, and saw the lack of medical facilities for these farmers, he decided to stay back. “I understood I was their ray of hope,” he says. “It just seemed like this is what I had trained to do,” he says. “This was the reason that I became a doctor.”

In a video on his Facebook page, he notes that his is the only super speciality hospital in Tikri. And as a super speciality doctor, he sees “the worst of the worst.”

He has a personal connection to the protesting farmers as well. Everyone in Singh’s family before him and his siblings has been a farmer. “I’m probably the first generation in my family who doesn’t know the ABCs of farming,” he told CNN. 

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Now, three months and counting, Singh and his team have, by default, become part of the protest. He’s had skirmishes with the police, and has been beaten a few times. 

In a video on his Facebook page, Singh talks about seeing his career on hold to help those who need him. He talks about spending “countless hours to do research” to bring change to the field of medicine.” His goal, he says, was to be a doctor, to be “the best” doctor. “But now I am in the middle of a protest, something I never imagined doing,” he says. “And sadly, being a doctor, you only see the pain of the people; people come to you with all kinds of ailments,” he says. “There’s no way we can leave and we are kind of stuck, and we are making an international appeal urging people to come together. 

Since January, Singh has been chronicling the situation on the ground to a growing audience on Instagram and Facebook.

He has posted videos telling protesters where they could get healthy breakfasts of boiled eggs, where they could find public restrooms and why it was important not to abuse medications. He called for donors to fund cleanup crews, as well as pleas for blankets and toothbrushes, and for more doctors and volunteers.

In an interview with CNN, Singh mentioned the pressure he has to return to his home in New Jersey. There’s his family – wife and daughter – also his career – which is currently taking a back seat. Some colleagues have questioned Singh’s decision to abandon his cardiology fellowship in his final year. But all he’s focusing on right now is the plight of the vulnerable and underprivileged who look at him as their only hope. 

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