United States-based businessman Darshan Singh Dhaliwal on Friday said that Indian immigration officials have told him to stop organising langars for farmers protesting against the agriculture reforms if he wanted to enter the country, reported The Wire.
Dhaliwal, who is a US national and a Person of Indian Origin, was barred from entering India when he arrived in Delhi on night of October 23-24.
The businessman told The Wire that he had come to India in January, April and October, since he started organising langar, or a community kitchen, for the agitating farmers at the Singhu border.
“Whenever I came to India, the immigration officials would ask me why I was supporting the farmers’ protest and who was funding the langar,” he said. “I took these queries lightly and never shared anything with my family, considering it to be routine questioning by airport staff.”
But when he arrived at the Delhi airport in October, Dhaliwal was made to wait for more than two hours before being told to return to the US.
“When I asked why I was being denied permission to enter India, the immigration officials asked the same questions that they had been asking earlier too – why I organised the langar at Singhu border and who is paying for it” he told The Wire. “They said if I wanted to enter India, I should stop funding this langar.”
Dhaliwal claimed that when he asked again about the problem, immigration officials said they have “orders from the top”.
Dhaliwal has been funding the langar at the Singhu border in the memory of his father since January 6. The businessman said that he has made contributions to the langar entirely on his own.
He had moved to the US in 1972 and owns more than 100 petrol and gas stations in the country.
Dhaliwal had earlier funded langars and relief work after the 2004 tsunami hit Tamil Nadu. He had also given scholarships to over 1,000 students for their higher studies in India and abroad, helped more than 2,000 Indians to set up businesses in the US and donated $1 billion, or nearly Rs 7,491 crore, to build a football ground in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Even after being targeted by immigration officials, Dhaliwal said he remained a supporter of the protest by farmers. “I want to tell everybody that had I been in India now, I would have definitely visited the Singhu border again,” he said.
He told The Wire that the recent events would not dampen his spirit and he will continue to fund the langar.
The incident has drawn criticism from several people.
Dhaliwal’s brother Surjit Singh Rakhra, who is a Shiromani Akali Dal leader, told The Wire that the way the businessman was treated was “sheer injustice”.
“My niece is getting married on October 31 and Darshan’s arrival was eagerly awaited, as he is the eldest among us all,” he said. “It is disheartening.”
Shiromani chief and Former Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal had written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene on the matter. Badal said that the reasons given by immigration officials to stop Dhaliwal was “an affront to the sacred practice of langar started by the great Guru Sahiban”, reported The Indian Express.
He requested Modi to personally invite Dhaliwal as a “goodwill gesture which will send a great positive signal to NRIs” and sought action against the erring officials “who brought a bad name to the country with their action”.
Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee president Bibi Jagir Kaur also condemned the incident. The committee is responsible for the management of gurdwaras in Punjab, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh.
“If the government did not stop such awkward manoeuvres, it would only lead to worsening of the situation,” she said. “The government should not harass the people who are sympathetic to the farmers’ movement, but should move towards resolving the issues of protesting farmers.”
Farm law protests
The three contentious farm laws were passed by the Indian government in September 2020, which sparked off protests by farmers from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh that have continued to rage ever since. Thousand of farmers have been protesting against the laws, seeking their withdrawal, at Delhi borders since November last year.
The central government has claimed the new laws are aimed at making farming more profitable, but the farmers argue that they will bring about corporate dominance of the sector.
The farmers also claim that once the authority of the state marketing boards that provide a shield against exploitation collapses, private entities will dictate the price of their produce.
In January, nearly two months into the farmer protests, the Supreme Court had suspended the implementation of the farm laws.