image caption: Gurmukh Singh

Charity Funding in India: Questions Raised by Darshan Singh Dhaliwal Case

The case of Darshan Singh Dhaliwal of Kartar Singh Dhaliwal Trust, denied entry at Delhi Airport to attend a family occasion, has raised serious questions caused confusion about the work of Sikh and Indian charities funded from abroad. For decades these charities have been doing excellent work in all parts of India. In addition, wealthy Sikh and Indian philanthropists, who care for the welfare of fellow Indians, have been making generous donations for good causes, especially in the villages and towns of their origin.

Views expressed by ex-MP, S. Tarlochan Singh, on Punjab TV about this case and my own articles supporting Sikh charities over the years, prompts me to discuss the issues raised. Personally, I have always advised that charity work should be open and accountable.

It will take constitutional and legal experts to argue if funding for the welfare of the Indian farmers protesting against what they regard as unjust laws, breaks the rules for funding of just causes in India by people of Indian origin. The state argument can be that while the protest against laws passed by the Indian Parliament is a democratic right of Indian farmers, any direct or indirect funding from abroad can be regarded as interference with the Indian democratic process.

Even if legally defensible, this would be an extremely short-sighted view in the long run if applied arbitrarily by official working under political direction at airports. Historically, from the days of the Indian freedom struggle, NRI&rsquos have always played an important role in legitimate socio-political activism in India due to their unbroken ties with own kith and kin back home. Their massive contribution has always been recognised by successive post-independence Indian governments.

If state officials are given arbitrary powers to harass people and deny entry at airports that will open the door to abuse of such powers for political reasons. It will create uncertainty and apprehension for all those engaged in community welfare and lawful human rights activism for the betterment of the Indian society. Such powers, unless subject to strict and fair process regarding onus of proof by the state, will discourage not only lawful charities but also lawful activism in human rights areas. The impression gained is that that is the political objective. For that reason, it is not just the return of one individual from Delhi airport but the government policy behind it which raises serious concerns.

As an ex-civil servant, I fully appreciate that the work of state security agencies is important. It keeps law abiding citizens safe from criminal activities and terrorism. It pre-empts and discourages illegal activities. British intelligence services during vetting procedures fully understand the difference between lawful social and political activism so essential to the democratic processes and activism which harms the state.

Armed revolt against oppressive regimes as a last resort can be discussed elsewhere as a right of every citizen confirmed by Sikh tradition as well as Western constitutional theorists.

Let us hope democratic sense prevails. At the very least, in this day and age, electronic communication makes it possible to let NRIs know their status in advance before they start their trips to India. Indian authorities should not read anti-India activism too readily in charity and community sewa so integral to Sikhi living and so appreciated globally.

Gurmukh Singh OBE

Principal Civil Servant (Retd)