People helping people is something which spans every culture and every tradition” Randhir Singh Heer
Article written by Suneeta Kaur Seera
- Who is the Randhir?
I’m a nobody. Seriously I am a nobody. (Now I was so shocked hearing Theera say that!) I see myself lower than anyone else. I have no education. I’m an average guy. I’m honest person. I’m loyal. Compassion is a big thing in me, before i even joined the Sikhi path. I’m a caring person. I’m married and i have 3 children. My daughter is 21, then two sons who are 20 and 17.
- Before starting Midland Lungar Seva Society what were you doing before that?
My background, and i’m 44 years old now, ever since the age of 20, i have always been in the security game. I don’t like to use the word bouncer (laughing) I have done this for a very long time now. I had no education. We have a very big family. My father had 4 brothers and 1 sister. I have a lot of cousins. Out of all the cousins, i’m the most uneducated one. I didn’t study at school, i messed about and dossed around. So let me tell you i was the rebel of the family. My granddad used to tell me off, and say just study. But i never did it. I went to college and got kicked out. From the age of 17-19 years old we had a shop in Walsall. My dad used to run it at the time. Unfortunately my Father passed away, and i had to look after the shop but i run it down. Totally down. Then i did odd jobs here and there. Did a bit of driving, delivered a few pizzas and worked in a indian factory with my mum. So she could keep a close eye on me! I got married at 20 years old. After i got married i did a bit of retail security. From then i realised i cant do this for 12 hours just sitting in a portacabin. From an early age i’m someone who can look after himself. Then i got in the security game and started working as a doorman.
Back in them days there wasn’t many Asian doormen. Things were different. Now you see Asian doormen everywhere. It was very rare you see Asian people come clubbing back then. Very rare. Let alone doing the doors. I was working in Cannock at the time. I had a break from security for 3 years and do others things. I started a catering business where i was supplying sandwiches, for shops and petrol stations. Which i still do now. My kids were growing up and i wasn’t spending much time with them. Believe it or not i hate Christmas (laughing) For so any years i was working and my kids were at home. Also i’m a qualified bodyguard! So if anyone needs a bodyguard look me up!!
In 2012 i was looking after Dharmender, Sunny Deol and Bobby Deol the famous actors. I was their bodyguard with some other guys. This was here in UK, when they were doing their film. I was with them for a few months.
When there was floods in India, i went there and tried to do my bit there and i was there for 2 and half weeks. When i came back i thought i want to start to feed the homeless. Even when i was drinking back in the day and when i was a rebel, when i used to come across a homeless person i never looked down at them. I used to bring them some food where ever i was at the time. So i thought i need to do this.
I joined the Sikhi path in Oct 2010 (as in a baptised sikh) i was the only one in my family and friends who did this. A lot of mates like Parma from MLSS i wanted to help as well. When i came back from India i rang Parma who had a few issues back then, the doctors said if he carry’s on he won’t last another 6 months. He was on a litre of vodka a day. I told him i want to feed the homeless. We go back since the age of 5 years old, we went nursery together. Parma had no brothers and sisters so i have looked out for him for a very long time. I wanted Parma involved and give him something to focus on also. We started off in Walsall. The Glebe Centre in Walsall town. I was going getting 15-20 people there. We all put in £20 each and brought some food, then started a feed there. After 2 weeks i thought i like doing this this is a good feeling. I mean you have been to the feeds yourself you know what its like and what feeling you can get for helping people. If this is what it’s like in Walsall which is a small town how bad is it else where. Such as Birmingham, Wolverhampton and the other major cities. I remember speaking to Parma and saying lets spread out a bit. Lets focus on other towns as well. But people kept saying no just stick to Walsall. I’m the sort of person if i’m going to do something i will do it properly. So i said i’m going to help other cities. Previously i was part of Khalsa Aid West Midlands Team. I knew a lot of people due to my previous work.
Soho Gurdwara the Nishkam Centre were already doing this Saturday and Sunday’s. So i went down and i said i want to do the week days. I started off on a Monday. We was doing Wolverhampton and West Bromwich. Then it became everyday. No matter the weather they were there. We are now in 17 locations. From 15 feeds we are now doing 11,000. I have a big team in Delhi as well. Even in the USA. The person who is doing that is my wife’s uncle. He goes out does the feed.
MLSS to me isnt just about feeding the homeless. Langar has been happening for 500 years. It is going to keep happening. It’s about raising awareness also. Even for our lost brothers who have lost their way to help them and also give them an opportunity to do seva. Some of the committee’s when i used to have a bald head they used to look at me and think who this he! It shouldn’t be like that. Theses committees they push people away. Sikhi is meant to be welcoming anybody, doesn’t matter who you are or your past. It is a beautiful religion. But the way our Gurdwara are running they really are pushing people away. I needed to help my brothers do seva. When Parma came out in 4 weeks he stopped drinking. A lot of alcoholics have to go to Rehab. But Parma just stopped, when he realised how lucky he was. Even my brother Pops, he stopped also. Even Manj Saini she wears a dastaar from our Leicester Team. It has changed a lot of people. There is at least 8 people who have taken amrit (baptised sikh) since MLSS has started.
- No one knows what goes on in the background for preparing the feeds, who prepares the food?
A lot of the teams prepare the food themselves so each location prepares it and ready to serve. Also we do not take money donations and that was my rule from the beginning. All i want is the seva. That’s it. We take food donations that are unprepared such as rice, pasta and tinned goods. We have some Gurdwara’s that help. We get Domino’s pizza come out also. But no money donations at all. We simply said at the beginning as we know what people are like. They start gossiping so i made sure no money donations. Believe it or not, we get donations and we don’t take it. I still get slandered. We raised 25k for the Nepal disasters to build houses, even schools that were blown away. That’s only if we are doing projects. The Guru Nanak Langar Bus Project as well with that we had to charity event. I mean the kind donation we had from TSB we are ready to go with that. It’s also raising awareness for Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Its not a MLSS bus it’s a Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s bus. We ripped the seats out and have a bench inside across and there will be a kitchen in there as well. If its raining theres somewhere for them to go. There will be screens for them to see teaching’s of Sikhi. We had delays for the bus but its now on its way.
- Why did you want to join the Sikhi Path?
I always have been religious from a young age. My family background was that my mum and my nani they were Amritdhari (baptised sikh) Its something you cant explain they say when you get Kirpa thats when you know. My mum used to say take Amrit. Then tried to explain to me why and what great feeling it was. I used to brush it off. But honestly it is the most amazing feeling. When you have that spiritual connection with Maharaj its unbelievable. I really don’t care what people say about me. My dream holiday is to go on holiday in Africa to feed the children.
- Was setting up MLSS something always you had in your mind to do?
I have always been a charitable person. I thought about it before. Years ago. But drinking at that time was more important to me. Going out with my friends was more important. If i had done it then i wouldn’t have done it properly. I would of turned up for 2 weeks and then stop going. It was in the back of mind and i knew i wanted and needed to do this. The guy i was in India with Ravi Gill, he mentioned it to me and i remember the weather was really bad. Ravi said to me i volunteer at a soup kitchen in Bedford. I remember saying you know i wanted to do this for along time. I’m going to back to the UK and set something up.
- What was your main struggle when starting up MLSS?
My main struggle was putting up with all this slander i was getting against me. The volunteers were never were or never have been the issue. I had my own friends change towards me. Can you imagine we are feeding a hungry person who hasn’t eaten all day to someone who needs a jumper to keep warm in. We get slander for that. How bad is that? I was getting told that he is going out feeding the drunks. I was even accused of stealing sholay (chickpeas) from the Gurdwara. The older generation, you can never correct as they think they are always right. When i was trying to explain to them, that Maharaj states there is light in everybody. I even said why are you judging someone for their alcohol issues. Why don’t you come out and see what we do. I mean we may get 100 people but possibly 10 of them may have alcohol issues if that. How do we know what someone has been through. I just put my head down and carried on doing what i can. Even now there is certain committee members (mentioning no names) that don’t like me. But i still say Fateh to them. I still respect them and they still look down at me like i’m a nobody. I’ve had it really bad for 3 and half years, i was accused of taking money. Even bringing my own mother into it who is a baptised sikh. I was told that because of me that homeless people are turning up at the Gurdwara. I have seen with my own eyes how a homeless person is treated, when they go and the way they are served. They keep faraway. What they should do is tell them what Lungar is and talk to them. They were trying to stop MLSS. The way i see it, i’m not doing the work its Maharaj. But i keep explaining to people that Lungar doesnt belong to me. MLSS is just a name but it belongs to Guru Nanak Dev Ji. I am blessed that i was chosen to do this seva and set this up. Lungar has been happening for a very long time. To raise awareness we have to get out. The Basic of Sikhi guys they go out and raise awareness. I mean look how many people are now aware. MLSS is practical. My nephew has Autism and he was clear shaven and now he has a beard and now MLSS has changed him. He goes to all Gurdwara’s and does seva and washes all the dishes. The youngsters come out and now learn a lot more. Give people a chance. Not that you have a beard and a Turban yeah you are okay you do seva. But if you re clean shaven sorry you can’t do it. It’s not about that. That’s where we go wrong. At our feeds we have simran on. It inspires people. I want to help anybody. People don’t see the bigger picture. If it wasn’t for our coordinators or our volunteers MLSS wouldn’t be where it is right now. It isn’t about me. I’ve never said to anyone you can’t do seva. I don’t like people coming and gossiping.
- I remember coming to the feeds and there was an Asian female who had alcohol issues and just wanted to talk, does that happen a lot at the feeds?
Did she tell you her story? (Yes the female did tell me her story which was shocking) The same lady started talking to me and i didn’t realise she was Asian until she called me Paji (brother) i was picking up the litter. I said to her how are you, i mean i am a jolly person so if i can help i will. I started to go and get her some Lungar. She stopped me and said i can’t have any Lungar and started to cry. The female had a drink and because she had a drink she didn’t feel worthy to even have food. This female had lost everything. I said to her come and do seva with us. Her story is so sad. The female said you are the first Singh to speak to me. I have been to Gurdwara’s and i get shunned. Not for food just to go. Her father was religious and he had passed away. Some of the people in the Gurdwara were just looking at her. Its very sad. I will tell you something i have come across so many good homeless people. Their stories are just shocking. We forget they are human. We judge a book by its cover. I get it now. Since i joined the Sikhi path i have realised how horrible some of own Gursikhs can be. I am totally against hate. I don’t hate anyone. I ask myself i mean who am i? Who am i to judge. I try to live my life to be humble. I used to think how can i also get a reward for seva. But others in my life have stated that it’s because you are raising awareness. You are not getting recognised but the whole Sikhi faith is. People are aware of the Sikhi faith now than before i believe.
I was talking to someone recently and he asked me what is Lungar? I explained its a free kitchen open to all. He wasn’t aware of that. I really believe that people should be aware.
- You try very hard to go out of you way to help others and go the extra mile don’t you?
Yes i do. I try my hardest to do what i can. There was an African male and his feet were infected. I said come down tomorrow and i will sort it out for you. I spoke to someone who was a doctor and told him the situation. Go to the chemist get this medication and soak his feet in salt water. Then dry them. I did soak his feet in the street and put ream on them. The man was crying. Kept saying are you doing this for me? My own mum didn’t do this for me. The male came back 2 days later and he could walk. The mood for him changed and that made me happy.
- Out of curiosity did you ever get people say to you what will you get out of it?
Yes, but not directly. I get a lot negativity. But i’m doing this for my next life when i leave this earth. Im preparing for that. Feeding someone that is hungry is important. We don’t know who the person is. It could be Maharaj. He can come dressed as anyone. It can be test who knows. You can’t judge anyone. The beautiful feeling you get when you do feed someone who hasn’t eaten its unreal. You just want to keep helping.
We do get people who are not homeless but we feed anyone we don’t know their situation. We don’t know hats going on in their lives. Our main service users are homeless. But they could be living in a hostel. Lungar is for anyone. We try and give them hope.
- I remember coming out to a couple of your homeless feeds with the Police Sikh Assoc, what hit me was the amount of people who are homeless and really have nowhere to go is the numbers do you think are still on the rise? With the amount of homeless feeds you do?
Yes, the numbers have risen. Most locations have gone up. I mean Wolverhampton has got really busy. In general, in Birmingham we get all different people coming to the feeds. We had a muslim male come to the feed about a month. The male was so vunerable and he was scared of the dark. He had severe mental health issues. He wasn’t eating. Due to it not being Halal. We do do what we can do to help there. We even had a Singh wearing a Turban, he had alcohol issues it is a real eye opener. But my motto is don’t judge and just try and help who you can.
- Can you remember a time where you encountered a situation during feeding the homeless which still sticks in your mind? Whether it’s good or bad?
Yes i do. I have quite a few (laughing)
The good one i can remember that will stick with me forever. There was a polish husband and wife. They were sleeping in a park and she was pregnant. She was standing in the queue at 6 months pregnant. We saw her getting bigger and bigger and we allowed her to jump the queue. The husband didn’t know what to do. I even said when she goes into labour please tell me and ill take you and we will bring the baby home. I even got them a car seat, push chairs and baby clothes. John Lewis helped with that as they are our supporters. One day the male turned up with the baby. I was shocked and i missed the call. I picked up the baby in my arms which was amazing. The male said it is because of you the baby is healthy. The next day we got a few gifts for them. The baby was called John. They moved back to Poland as they were living hostels. But that will stick with me. The male said i want to give you something and keep that close to you as i don’t have any money. So i want to give you this. It was the baby’s photograph. Its in my living room.
The bad one for me was one of the guys was waiting in the queue. He left the queue to go to the toilet, he then came back. He went back to where he was standing and all the other homeless people started to kick off. The male had a nervous break down and he just started screaming and shouting he just went berserk. He wasn’t on drugs or drunk. He was about 25 years old white male. He ran in the middle of the road and lay in the road and said he wants someone to run him over and the bus driver was blowing the horn at him. The other homeless people were also shouting at him. It was a really intense time. The next thing i know he has got up and ran up the car park opposite the feed in Birmingham City Centre. The 5 storey car park. As he ran, some one had called the police. The male by this time had gone to the top. He is now hanging off with the tip of his fingers. Everyone at the feed was looking and were really worried for him. Everyone just froze. My natural reaction was to run and stood under him in case he fell. There was another guy who was with me. I thought he was really going to jump. Luckily the police had pulled him back. I thought thank god! My legs were shaking walking back. Few days later i saw him with a blanket around him. I even said i was worried with what had happened. The male looked at me and started to cry and hugged me. No one asked me if i’m okay. It will stay with me. I mean he still comes to the feeds. I have had service users who have passed away who used to come. I treat them all as an equal.
One other was when i went Calais. we had been 4/5 times at that point. This is where is was really bad. I mean we even took prayer mats for the muslim’s. So last year we went and wanted to see if they needed more help out there. It was a bit cleaner. As we were walking and Ceese this was scary one guy was running we had our passports with us and we thought he was going to rob them. But then i saw another chasing the guy who was coming towards us with a gun. So something big had happened. The guy then held onto my jacket and they were running around me and there was a gun. It was a big gun. I thought if it goes off i’d die. When you are doing charity you don’t expect it as we had no protection. Then he ran off into the bush with the guy. The locals were like do not go after them get out of here. We was warned by police that it isn’t safe. It was a very scary experience. I will never forget it.
- A lot of males i have come across and i have sat and spoken to who are homeless sitting on floors or in alleyways are Ex Soldiers aren’t they?
Yes they are. There was a guy who had his leg blown off whilst serving our country and he comes to our feeds. You hear his story it will blow your mind. He was very educated. But he lost everything. There is a lot of soldiers who are homeless. By saying hello it makes them happy. Like you do yourself by speaking to them like you, do you engage and ask about them. You don’t know how close they are to the edge. Just take your time to speak to them. Even if its just good morning.
Below is a video in which Randhir spoke to Andrew who is a Ex Veteran and tells part of his story. This was very touching.
- Also you have started to go into prisons as well, how did this happen?
I wouldn’t say we have gone into prisons but we do try and i do know one of the chaplains. I mean he said to me this is first time in prison history where food is brought in. We have been 7 times to prisons. We go in when we are allowed too. Possibly like Christmas week. We do a presentation first and tell them who we are. The food is for everyone. It was surprisingly that they were cheering for us and i was very shocked. Also they have prison jobs and they actually did a collection for us. Like they must get £7 a week we don’t take money donations and even made cupcakes for us. I made contact with the prisons myself. They appreciate the food. We all make mistakes. It can mentally damage you if you keep judging someone.
- Well done on the TSB Community Award did that come as a shock to you?
Thank you. It was a huge shock. I was nominated. A lady called Sukhy she used to do seva with us and stated we are going to put you forward for an award. Not sure who it was, possibly her manager. This was a big thing but i didn’t realise how big it was. Naturally i’m a nervous person. Even Parma was nervous. It was Nitin Ganatra who played Masood in Eastenders and they gave us the award we won for Pride Of Birmingham award. He explained to everyone who we was and bout Sikhi. About 4 weeks after i had a call. They said we want to do a big thing with Pride of Britain and he wanted to use my image in Birmingham City Centre. After i put the phone down i was shocked even telling my wife she was like oh my god. They found the location near Grand Central. I had to keep away from there till launch but people were telling me. Even the homeless guys (laughing)
When i was blindfolded i didn’t realise how big the mural was.
I didn’t know there was a cheque also. Parma knew but he couldn’t tell me. That cheque will go to the Guru Nanak Lungar bus as well.
I was speechless. I had all my family there and even your Police Sikh Association was invited. It was a special moment i had my mum there. I really caused my mum a lot of trouble and worry. This is something she is really proud off. I wish my granddad and my dad could of been there. I miss my granddad, he was a friend also. When i was younger i used to spend a lot of time with him. My granddad was stubborn and when he fell poorly he wasn’t eating and he was in hospital at the time and i had to force feed him a cheese sandwich as he wasn’t eating when the nurses told him. Then i hugged him and left i went home and got ready for work and he had passed away from a heart attack. I was last one to feed him. It was very hard it was 18 years ago. But it won’t leave me.
- You have lost a lot of weight since I last saw you, what’s your secret?
Yeah i had to! I needed to be healthy. I have lost 6 stone. But if i am going to something i will do it properly. Or there is no point in doing it. I go boot camp with my wife also. Go gym regularly and i used to train before as well. I have cut all kinds of junk out of my diet and i eat healthy. I have my shakes as well.
- What’s the message for MLSS?
My mission in the next 5-10 years i want every city to have a street feed. That’s my mission. That’s what i really want to happen. Lungar to be served and raise awareness. Guru Nanak Dev Ji started Lungar by feeding the poor and provide equality. Just come down and volunteer. It isn’t just a Sikh charity. Its for everyone. Help us raise the awareness. I am proud to have interviewed Randhir because i got to know the real Randhir and what he stands for and also his journey which hasnt been easy. MLSS are doing an incredible job.