The Sikh community in the South Island must be commended for the speed and efficiency with which it rose to the occasion to deal with the situation affecting Indian students following the February 22 earthquake in Christchurch.
Members of the community swiftly rallied around to co-ordinate the evacuation of Indian students studying and residing in the stricken city.
Though there has been extensive damage to business and property interests of people of Indian origin – the most pressing issue was the students who do not have friends or family to support them.
These students could not contact their parents back in India as their cell phone batteries went flat. Also, they did not have easy access to cash due to ATMs not working and hence some of them could not recharge their phones – causing a breakdown in communication with their families in India.
Rajinder Singh, a good Samaritan in Christchurch, has been busy co-ordinating the rescue and relocation efforts of students. Vardeep Singh, Manoj, Tarun Juneja and Arvinder Singh the four students widely reported in the Indian media as missing have been accounted for and are safe.
Most of these students have been safely moved to Blenheim where they have been provided with accommodation, food and it has been ensured that they have made contact with their families and assured them of their safety.
The students pictured in Blenheim are Vikas Sharma, Rajwinder Singh, Surender Singh, Naresh Kumar, Neelima Dhiman, Naveen Kaur, Navneet Kaur, Sharandeep Kaur, Easha, Nancy, Yogesh Bhargav, Bhupinder Singh, Sukhjinder Singh, Raj Kumar, Surender Singh, Mandeep Kaur, Neetu, Sandeep Dhamrait, Harpreet Dhillon, Ganagandeep Kaur, Navdeep Singh, Arvinder Singh, Mamta Saini, Saurav Kumar, Maninder Singh, Gurleen Dhanoa, Amrit Brar, Gagandeep Sethi, Parul Chopra, Surinder Gill, Sukhdeep Singh, Simranjeet Singh, Amanpreet Singh, Birbhan Bhagat, Jaksir and Taranjot Singh.
Five houses have been temporarily rented in Blenheim and accommodation provided to these students. Narinder Singh of Blenheim co-ordinated this commendable effort. Contractors Didar Singh and Mani of Te Puke have also been co-ordinating the relocation of students and have even offered them temporary accommodation and jobs to maintain their cash flows in the interim.
According to Gurpreet Arora of the New Zealand Police, who has been camping in Christchurch since the day of the quake, there has been no lives lost of any person of Indian origin and all the students have also been accounted for.
The local Singh Sabha Gurdwara has also been extensively damaged in this earthquake.
The brick wall on one side totally collapsed and the other sides are also precariously hanging in there and would not survive any after shocks. Due to this the “Prakash” of the holy “Guru Granth Sahib” is not being done but efforts are being made to relocate.
From the looks of it, the whole building will have to be rebuilt from scratch because of the extensive structural damage, according to Surinder Tandon of Christchurch. Member of Parliament Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi has also been camping in Christchurch and co-ordinating relief efforts aimed at the Indian diaspora.
Meanwhile other stories of the generosity of the Indian community have also started to tickle in. Indian dairy owners across Christchurch are reported to have opened their stores to the needy, with many of them handing goods on credit and even free of cost, looking at the need of their regular customers from the community.