Sandeep Singh: DSGMC and Farm Leaders Denounce United Sikhs Legal Aid Fundraising Claims And Campaign
United Sikhs states that all donations will be used to assist farmers by providing free legal services as needed.
March 1, 2021 | 4 min. read
Non-profit organization, United Sikhs, has attracted major ire from the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) and farm union leadership for its legal aid fundraising campaign allegedly including exaggerated and false claims misrepresenting their involvement in ongoing legal efforts.
After the January 26 Republic Day Tractor Rally, many protestors were arrested by Delhi Police. To ensure the release of these farmers the DSGMC formed a legal panel consisting of approximately 150 lawyers. These lawyers have been providing pro bono legal support, including on bail hearings.
United Sikhs maintains that it has, and continues to, offer free legal assistance to farmers and supporters since the Republic Day Tractor Rally, and has provided a free legal help desk and sought bail for those arrested.
While previous general warnings and public statements have been released by both DSGMC and farm unions regarding an unnamed organization raising funds, the target of that message has now been confirmed as United Sikhs. However, United Sikhs deny that previous statements by DSGMC and farm unions refer to United Sikhs.
United Sikhs claim on their website that they are providing legal aid in “conjunction” with the DSGMC. However, in a video message with a veiled reference to these claims, DSGMC President Manjinder Singh Sirsa emphasizes they are not working in conjunction with any organization on legal aid matters.
“And I want to share this - some organizations are saying that we are supporting (DSGMC), give us money, we need this much money.
First thing, DSGMC never demanded any money from anyone, nor do we need money for our legal aid work. 99.99 percent of the lawyers are working on a pro bono basis.
The second thing is, only five farmers got bail by the efforts of their families or friends. The rest of the farmers were freed with DSGMC's lawyers only. One organization that is asking for money for this legal aid work, I request to them - I am not revealing your name - they have written to be helping the DSGMC, but we have not asked for any help nor need it. No one has approached us with this. We are doing our own work.”
In a Facebook fundraising page titled “Legal Aid for Farmers”, United Sikhs has raised over an estimated $40,000 CAD since at least February 1 to “represent farmers adversely impacted by state and police action since January 26th”. We have not confirmed if more funds have been raised through other means at this time.
United Sikhs explains that these funds will support current and future efforts of providing farmers and supporters free legal assistance by various means, including by maintaining a helpdesk that farmers could contact for legal guidance.
United Sikhs also claim in the fundraiser description that they are “working in conjunction with Kisan (Farmer) Unions to make sure every impacted farmer gets legal aid and representation”.
In a statement to Baaz, Prem Singh Bhangu, President of the United Farmers Front’s legal cell, refuted that claim. “We have no association with United Sikhs. Rather we have condemned their move of collecting funds in the name of the farmers."
Bhangu shared that he met representatives from the United Sikhs and told them not to raise funds in the name of farmers. He also claims that United Sikhs have not provided legal aid to the farmers.
"They have not filed even a single bail for the farmers. The United Farmers Front strongly condemns the United Sikhs’ move of raising funds. Kisan Unions have no association with United Sikhs."
This comes after a public video was released from farm unions warning people not to trust or donate to any organization claiming to provide legal aid support aside from farmer unions and DSGMC.
Bhangu was also recently quoted on March 6, in a Times of India article, reiterating his position on United Sikhs’ misleading legal aid claims and accompanying fundraising campaign.
“We condemned and stopped the organisation from going ahead with it as the United Sikhs has nothing to do with legal aid to those arrested. The organisation never coordinated with the morcha on legal matters, though they are supporting in other ways, including organising a langar.”
Virinder Pal Singh Sandhu, who is heading the DSGMC legal cell, is disturbed by United Sikhs’ allegedly misleading fundraising claims and allegedly taking credit for the legal work of others.
“Till now, 105 bail applications have been approved, of which 97 were filed by DSGMC. The rest of the farmers got bail by hiring private lawyers. Till now, I have not seen even a single lawyer from United Sikhs file a bail application."
United Sikhs says that in recent conversations with Mr. Sandhu, he clarified that his disapproval with United Sikhs’ was in connection with raising funds when DSGMC lawyers were working for free.
However, Virinder Pal Singh Sandhu, shared with Baaz that he stands by earlier comments on United Sikhs’ claims regarding its legal aid work.
“As I told you earlier at least 105 farmers are out of jail on bail. 97 farmers got out with help of the DSGMC panel. The rest got bail with the help of independent advocates. Now [United Sikhs] will have to tell how many farmers they have got released.”
There was one incident where Sandhu’s team engaged with a lawyer associated with United Sikhs, however, it was on false grounds.
“A bail application in FIR NO. 64 for Davinder Singh was filed by our team member Gurtinder Singh. A young lawyer, Neetu Singh, approached him and told him that she wants to be part of the order. Later, we got to know that she was part of United Sikhs. She became part of the order by concealing her association with United Sikhs."
United Sikhs maintains that Neetu Singh is an attorney that appeared for Davinder Singh during his criminal court proceedings, and did nothing to conceal her association with United Sikhs.
United Sikhs have not yet provided answers to Baaz on questions regarding how many farmers they have provided legal support to, what legal costs the money raised to date has been spent on, and why they claim to be working with the farmers’ unions. We will update the story once these details have been provided.
United Sikhs did however reply to questions with a lengthy written statement which we have posted in its entirety here unedited:
“Our legal teams under the International Civil and Human rights advocacy have been providing assitance especially since Januar 26th to families of arrested, missing farmers and protestors. We have recieved requests through our legal hotline and forms. Repersenting these farmers and protestors with pre-trial assistance is one of the early steps in the long process of legal services. We are committed to offering legal services in courts and offering support to families and defendents as they seek justice in the coming months. There are hundreds of farmers and families impacted by state action since January 26th. Many are still being harrased and some of our clients are still recieving threating phone calls. Our legal services are not just for bail services but for the ongoing support needed in this regard going forward for each of these cases. The legal cases take their own time and will need additional effort. While we welcome the pro bono services of the bodies assisting those who have other means to raise funds, United Sikhs are providing unending support in a transparent manner to help those reaching out to us in need. The Legal aid effort is not localized just for the missing protestors but also internationally by writing to the United Nations, to elected congressperson, Member of parliament, and other legal bodies. After the bail comes to te strenuous work of fighting the cases and rehabilitation which will be ongoing process."
United Sikhs also states that, immediately following the Republican Day arrests, lawyers associated with United Sikhs (including those who appear in the photo in this article) rushed to coordinate the provision of legal services to those who had been arrested or to the families of those who had disappeared, including by establishing a helpdesk that people could call for free advice. In addition to Davinder Singh’s case, United Sikhs’ lawyers also claim to have obtained bail in the case of a 19-year-old that was determined on March 4, 2021.
Story Update 1: United Sikhs have updated their legal aid fundraising campaign page to clarify that donations would also be going to the non-legal work of “rehabilitation”, “counseling services”, and writing letters “to the United Nations, to elected Congresspersons, Members of Parliament, and other legal bodies”.
Story Update 2: United Sikhs has deleted the Facebook fundraising page.
Story Update 3: Additional comments and clarifications from United Sikhs, Virinder Pal Singh Sandhu, and Prem Singh Bhangu have been included in the article.
Editor’s Note: We have updated the story with a new video link for Sirsa’s public appeal video, including a more in-depth translation of his appeal. In addition to this, we have also now included the farmer unions’ public appeal video warning the public not to trust or donate to anyone claiming to be providing legal aid aside from farmer unions and DSGMC.
Sandeep Singh hails from Machhiwara, Punjab. As an independent journalist, he has worked with many prominent Indian news organizations. Sandeep has been following the farmer’s protest in Punjab since its onset and traveled with them to Delhi. He spends most of his time at the Singhu border protest site. You can follow Sandeep on Twitter @Punyaab
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