Society

Steeped in history

The Central Khalsa Orphanage is home to over 300 children. Photo: Parul Singh Sharma   | Photo Credit: de16 pic

As perhaps one of the oldest orphanages in the region, Central Khalsa Orphanage established way back in 1904 in Amritsar has a lot of history associated with it, much like several other places of this city.

Indian freedom activist Shaheed Udham Singh lived here with his brother (who died a few years later) between 1907 and 1919, studying up to matriculation and honing his carpentry skills alongside.

Udham Singh and his classmates were sent from the orphanage for seva to carry the dead bodies of innocent Indians from the site of the infamous Jallianwala Bagh massacre on the Baisakhi day in 1919. This mindless carnage greatly agitated his young mind and 21 years later he went all the way to London and killed Sir Michael O’ Dwyer, who as the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab endorsed General Dyer’s ordering of his troops to fire at unarmed Indians.

Honouring its famous ward, the orphanage later set up the Shaheed Udham Singh Memorial Secondary School and a library on its campus.

The orphanage is currently home to 335 children, including 27 who are blind. (Some widowed, impoverished mothers have also been sending their kids here owing to their inability to raise them.)

“We get children from all over India, from Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka, even Nepal. We take them in from the age of six without any consideration of caste or creed,” assures Sardar Sarabjit Singh, member-in charge of the orphanage that is run under the aegis of socio-religious organisation Chief Khalsa Diwan.

From a rented one-room 108 years ago to a five-acre complex in 2012, the orphanage today houses a secondary school equipped with a playground, Surma Singh Ashram (Home for the blind), Bhai Veer Singh Gurmat Vidyala (teaching a Gurmat Sangeet diploma course including gurbani and Sikh history to both outsiders and orphans), a gurdwara and a guest house.

Food, lodging, books, uniforms, clothes are all provided free of cost to the children. The younger ones have elderly ladies in the role of ‘house mothers’ to take care of them. Beside education, the kids are encouraged to play a sport and pick up a vocational or musical training to make them more employable.

“We support the education of all those children who wish to pursue their studies after Class X. One of our boys is doing LLB. Another alumnus has just joined us back as an art teacher,” says Dr. Balbir Singh Saini, superintendent of the orphanage. In another unique initiative, the blind home at the orphanage houses the holy Guru Granth Sahib in the Braille language. This was made possible thanks to former student Bhai Gurmej Singh, who despite being visually impaired went on to become a world-famous ragi. Ragis are persons skilled in performing ragas at gurdwaras as prescribed in the Guru Granth Sahib.

The orphanage, in fact, has produced several eminent ragis associated with the Golden Temple and other gurdwaras of the world, along with scores of musicians.


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Printable version | Sep 11, 2021 11:30:45 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/steeped-in-history/article3001952.ece

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