An Interview with Ravi Singh, Founder of Sikh Humanitarian Relief Agency - KHALSA AID
November 27, 2013
Author/Source: Khalsa Press
Khalsa Aid Efforts in Haiti - 2010
Slough, UK (KP) - For the past few weeks a lot of commotion has been made by a handful of individuals on social media about the Sikh humanitarian relief agency Khalsa Aid. Much of the hue and cry is over how the organization prioritizes the dispersion of funds to needy families.
Despite all the detraction, the relatively small charity from UK which was founded by Ravi Singh in 1999, has an impressive record of providing humanitarian assistance in over 10 countries ranging from war torn regions such as Kosovo, Afghanistan and Syria, to areas hit by natural disasters such as Pakistan, Turkey, and Haiti.
For the last several years the organization has started to focus on providing humanitarian assistance to families of Shaheeds, and the underprivileged in India, yet it continues its global focus of providing humanitarian relief as instructed by the Sikh principle of "Sarbat da Bhalla."CONTROVERSY
So, what is behind the current brouhaha? Most of the commotion is being orchestrated via Facebook by a handful of users posting despairingly emotional comments and outbursts targeting the organization’s sevadars rather than providing any substantive information regarding their allegations.
Panthic.org has contacted some of the Khalsa Aid detractors, namely Dr. Avtar Singh of Canada, and Sukhbir Kaur from UK, and requested details of any misappropriation of funds or information on any transgressions by this charity. So far, no details have been provided by any of these individuals other than vague assertions that Khalsa Aid has amassed a large reserve of donations and is not willing to distribute them accordingly. Others have even resorted to calling Khalsa Aid sewadars "traitors" and "thugs" since Khalsa Aid applied for NGO (non-governmental organization) status in India.
Common sense states that social media content which sometimes ranges from the perverse to the ridiculous and is often posted by anonymous individuals using bogus accounts should always be taken with a grain of salt and always independently verified.
While social media has played a dynamic role in various political and social causes across the globe, there is no doubt that unscrupulous individuals and elements are often leveraging it to create strife and contention within the globally dispersed Sikh community, and often targeting those who have worked so diligently promoting a positive Sikh image.INTERVIEW WITH KHALSA AID FOUNDER:
Last week, Panthic.org contacted Khalsa Aid and requested an interview with their key staffers, so we can learn a bit more about the background and operations of this globally active Sikh charity and also allow them the opportunity to clear up any misconceptions about them.
Ravi Singh in Haiti - 2010
The Khalsa Aid organization graciously accepted our request. A series of questions were posed to Khalsa Aid (KA) founder, Ravi Singh by Panthic.org, his answers are published below:
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Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ki Ji Fateh!
When Khalsa Aid first started what was the mission?
KA: To provide humanitarian relief regardless of borders, race or religion.
Has that mission changed at all?
KA: The core central mission remains the same.
Has it expanded to encompass more areas of the world?
KA: Yes it has indeed. We now cover many parts of the world. We continue to respond to disasters and provide aid in any part of the world as the need may arise.
When you have presented about the mission of Khalsa Aid do you openly represent that your mission is to continue to provide international Aid?
Why did Khalsa Aid finally start projects in Punjab?
KA: Khalsa Aid entered Punjab with its intensive experience gained for ten (10) years in other parts of the world. It was deemed that this experience could be utilized to benefit the people of Punjab.
Did you remain outside of Punjab because of the types of commentary that is being made currently?
KA: We remained outside as we wanted to make certain that unlike previous efforts in Punjab after 1984 by others, there would be a minimal chance of failure. The people were not very trustful and wary of any such endeavors.
Now when you present at Gurdwaras around the world do you still represent that money being donated will be spread over all projects by Khalsa Aid?
KA: Yes. Khalsa Aid still presents itself, and will continue to do so, as an international organization which also works in Punjab.
What are you future goals for service within Punjab?
KA: Now that KA is registered in Punjab, our commitment to welfare, health and support to the poverty-stricken families will rapidly expand. We are prepared and planning to employ more staff as the need arises.
How many employees does KA have in the UK and/or other parts of the world?
KA: Seven (7) in total , four (4) in Punjab and three (3) in the UK.
What are their salaries and how did you arrive at those particular salaries?
KA: All salaries are arrived at by average UK standards. Although the standard salary of CEOs for charities is in excess of £60,000 in UK, I myself only accept £26,000 per annum.
Why do you call yourself the CEO rather than a Sewadar?
KA: It is a legal requirement in the UK.
Do you work on this full time?
What are their job requirements?
KA: Administrative and general administrative support
Why are they called employees rather than sewadars?
KA: The paid workers are called employees as directed under the UK Law.
There are allegations that you have paid representatives within Punjab that make videos or issue statements in support of Khalsa Aid because they have been paid or reimbursed for their endorsement. Is there any such person that has endorsed Khalsa Aid because they were paid?
KA: This is complete fabrication. The testimonials come from people who have first-hand seen the quality and the scale of the work in Punjab. This includes testimony of Bhai Avtar Singh Brahma’s brother. It is indeed deeply saddening that a few individuals even point fingers at Shaheed Beant Singh’s son Jaswinder Singh Maloya. Jaswinder Singh visited Punjab and was deeply moved by the plight of the Shaheed families. He offered his support to Khalsa Aid with no payments being made to him in return.
What outside agencies/services are regularly used by KA and for what purpose?
KA: Khalsa Aid has retained a firm of professional accountants. We do not have lawyers on retainer but seek legal advice as and when needed.
Are services like accounting, taxes and legal representation required for an organization of Khalsa Aid’s size and charitable status?
Is there a way to designate what the funds a person donates is going to be used for?
KA: We always give the individuals the opportunity to decide how their donation is to be used. Donors decide and indeed sometimes themselves send money directly to the families. We run projects like “Sponsor a Child” where the donor can choose to directly sponsor a child’s welfare and education and the “Sponsor a Shaheed Family” where the donor directly sponsors a family.
Khalsa Aid has been accused of using photos and videos of the Shaheed families to elicit sympathy and that this is disgraceful and embarrassing to the families. Why do you show these photos/videos?
KA: Khalsa Aid chooses to show such raw material as these families have been utterly neglected in the last 20 years as if they never existed. Their pain and suffering is an absolute disgrace to the Sikh community and it is about time the reality was shown to the people. Whilst we in the West talk about Human Rights issues, we totally ignore the basic rights of these families who suffered in the frontlines. We therefore strongly insist that we will continue to show such photographs and videos to raise awareness.
If there is a Shaheed parivar that is located and is in need, does KA provide financial assistance immediately and until someone sponsors that family?
KA: Yes we do.
Currently is Khalsa Aid financially supporting any families that are not being sponsored by someone through Khalsa Aid?
KA: Yes. Till about six months ago, the majorities of the families had no sponsors but were being supported by Khalsa Aid through our reserve funds. Only recently has this begun to change with more individual donors coming forward to sponsor the families.
Has Khalsa Aid denied financial assistance to any Shaheed families that are in need that they know of?
How many homes of Shaheeds has Khalsa Aid rebuilt?
KA: Eight complete rebuilds, four pending in the next few months. We also repair and make toilets etc. as the need arises.
How many Shaheed family members has Khalsa Aid arranged medical treatment for?
KA: In the last year we have paid for hospitalization of around 20 families and medicines for many more. This includes the complete medical treatment of the wife of
Shaheed Major Singh Nagoke. We have also arranged general eye clinics that offer diagnosis and treatment.
What other miscellaneous services has Khalsa Aid provided for Shaheed Family members?
KA: A wide range of services from arranging weddings to education to blankets for winters, mobility aids for disabled people, fans and invertors etc. We always endeavor to help in any way we can – especially when it comes to the elderly members of the family.
People have claimed that Sardar Jaswant Singh Khalra was able to find thousands of boys that were killed by police, why has Khalsa Aid only been able to locate 170 families?
KA: Yes, he found the evidence of cremation of thousands of Shaheeds, but in majority of the cases the addresses of these Shaheeds were unknown. The task of locating addresses is very difficult. If anyone approaches us with such information, we are very happy to get involved. We also try to take a responsible approach by double-checking and verifying the details and circumstances of the families. We recently traveled to Jammu to help the family of a Shaheed Singh. We are willing to take any steps necessary to find such families and offer our support. Also note that if 10,000 families were taken on today by Khalsa Aid then that will be an annual pension fund budget of £3,6 million (pounds) based on 3,000 rupees a month!
The people most active on Facebook have said that they have just recently learned of what they term dishonest practices. Have any of those people ever been involved in participating in any of the Shaheed parivar fund raisers or made Khalsa Aid aware of any family that is in need?
KA: There has been talk on FB of 10,000 Shaheed families living in poverty. We have always asked for details of these families but received no further information. Bibi Sandeep Kaur of Dharam Singh Trust has given us information about a few families. We have followed up and acted on that information.
Khalsa Aid recently worked alongside the Indian Army in Uttrakhand when trying to get aid those in need, as a group that aligns with Shaheed families why was there a working relationship with the army that attacked Darbar Sahib?
KA: It is not a working relationship – we do not have any such ties with any organizations. It was deemed as necessary at the moment to help the Sikhs yatrees stranded on Gobind Ghat and evacuate them to safety.
When someone goes to an area where KA is providing relief such as Haiti, Uttrakhand or the Philippines what expenses of theirs does Khalsa Aid pay for?
KA: The experienced relief workers have their tickets paid for, the rest of the volunteers raise their own funds.
What is the current yearly budget for Khalsa Aid? What is the projected budget for the future?
KA: As a small organization we don’t have a budget as such. We respond where we can. But as we are rapidly growing and expanding, we are now in the process of setting up the procedures to manage budgets etc.
Has Khalsa Aid created a limit on the amount they will spend on Shaheed Parivars?
KA: No. We will continue to spend as required. We refuse to put limits on providing them with adequate medical and pastoral care.
Does Khalsa Aid choose to help people from around the world before they help Shaheed parivars?
KA: Khalsa Aid is a cross border organization for international relief, the Sangat has knowingly donated for such global aid work. Khalsa Aid chose to work in Panjab, but I can confidently say that no Shaheed Parivaar will ever be knowingly neglected.
Is Khalsa Aid planning on projects in Delhi in the widow colonies?
KA: Yes. We have been looking into our options but we need the right professional alliances. It would be a massive project so we need to do it right.
How many active donors of Khalsa Aid have stopped donating based on the allegations that have been made?
KA: It is too early to provide figures – but we can confidently say that our donors have full faith in us and offer many messages of support every day.
Do you feel that after all the pressure from the Facebook community you should change your focus?
KA: We have a plan in place and we would prefer to work according to our projected vision. We refuse to respond to or change our path due to any pressures. We would not have achieved what we have if we react to any negativity. We are a pro-active organization and will remain so. Khalsa Aid was established as an international organization with no obligation to work in Punjab. From 1999 to 2010 Khalsa Aid did not make any appeal for shaheed parivaar and used our reserves to initiate the projects in 2010. We used our reserves to provide logistics, to pay our staff and the monthly support for the shaheed families. We are in Punjab because we chose to serve the people of Punjab, unlike a lot of other western Sikh organizations who shied away from such work.
The current vicious campaign against Khalsa Aid has been orchestrated by a few individuals and is in no respect constructive criticism of the charity or the work we do. Khalsa Aid has a policy of transparency with accounts available on the UK Charities Commission website. This smear campaign was started as soon as Khalsa Aid was registered in Punjab. The reserves in the Khalsa Aid bank account are not earmarked for any particular project but are to be used as and when deemed appropriate. The Haiti disaster - 2010 was the first “media disaster” for Khalsa Aid and launched Khalsa Aid as a major charity that led to a lot of generous people supporting us.
Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ki Ji Fateh!
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This concludes the Panthic.org interview with Khalsa Aid chairman and founder, Ravi Singh.
Khalsa Aid is headquartered in Slough, UK, more information on this organization is available at www.KhalsaAid.org