New Delhi: Liberia has felicitated Indian envoy ,Punjabi N R I Upjit Singh Sachdeva for receiving the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman award from the President of India, saying it was a reflection of his efforts in strengthening the bond of friendship between the two countries.
Sachdeva, the honorary Consul General of India in the African nation, has engendered great appreciation and understanding of India through his interaction with officials, the private sector, ordinary citizens and civil society groups in Liberia, a statement from the Liberian government said.
The diplomat, who belongs to Jallandhar town of punjab , is also recognised for playing a pivotal role in protecting the lives of Indians and Liberians during the heat of the 1996-2003 civil wars in Liberia.
THE INDIAN HERO OF THREE AFRICAN CIVIL WARS
He has seen three civil wars in his life-time, and in all three, the 3,000-strong Indian community in the west African country of Liberia, looked up to him for refuge. He has a bullet injury in his chest, received trying to save a fellow Indian in one of these wars.
Yet, Upjit Singh Sachdeva, 44, never says no to a fellow Indian who comes to his doorstep for help. In the civil war of 1992, he had 370 people living in his two-bedroom apartment. They shared one toilet between them. “Of these, 300 were Liberians who moved into my backyard and the rest were Indians who stayed inside,” he reminisced. “My house was in the safe zone controlled by peacekeeping forces, while these people were in the firing zone. When they came to my house, I welcomed then inside. My house was converted into a langar (Sikh community kitchen).
In the morning, we would all have our tea together and if we could find bread, we would share it. If not, we had the tea and waited for lunch.”
Sachdeva was instrumental in the release of 21 Indian peacekeeping soldiers who were held hostage by a warring faction, the Revolutionary United Front, in Liberia’s neighbor Sierra Leone in 2002. He negotiated their release. He also used his contacts in Liberia and negotiated the release of a group of nuns from a mission run by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, who were held hostage by another warring faction.
“In both cases, all told them was that these people were here for peace. If you don’t want peace, I personally will ensure that they would go back,” Sachdeva said. He received the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman this year fir community service. He s India’s honorary consul general in the Liberian capital Monrovia; is the president of his firm Jeety Trading Corporation; a member of the board of trustees, University of Liberia. He is also chairmen of the Shri Gurudwara Sahib Monrovia. Sachdeva moved from Jallandhar to Liberia in 1987 after graduation, looking for a “prosperous life.”
“My business was flourishing when the war struck”, Sachdeva remembered. ” In the twinkle of an eye, I lost all my business. I suffered a loss of about $5 million. I moved to the United States and started a family. In 1992, I realized this was not where I wanted to be and I moved back to Liberia, where the civil war was still going on”.
After the war, his business began flourishing again. In 1996, wart struck again. India’s then honorary consul general of India moved back, citing health reasons. He appointed Sachdeva as the acting consul general.
” The 1996 war was the worst war I ever saw”, Sachdeva said. “It lasted three months. Armed men looted my house six times during this period. Indian families from the area knocked on my door once again and I let them in. This time, there were some 150 Indians living in my house. In my personal; bedroom, there were 30 people sleeping. I myself slept on the floor on a single blanket with a stack of newspapers as a pillow”.
During the exodus out of Liberia, Sachdeva was given a chance to leave, but he chose to stay. He along with other Indians protected the Geeta Ashram and the Gurdwara Sahib from vandalism. After the war ended, Sachdeva was officially appointed India’s honorary consul general in 1998.
In 2003, another civil war hit Liberia. Sixty Indians took refuge at his home.
What motivates Sachdeva?
“I know what it is like to be let down,” he said. “In 1990, when there was civil unrest in Liberia, I, along with three people went to the house of an Indian, looking for refuge. This Indian gentleman pretended that there was no one staying in the house, but I knew he was inside and knocked on his door repeatedly. He was quite for a long
time and in the end just said one sentence: ‘Go away. I can’t help you’. On that day I swore to myself that I would never turn away anyone who comes to my doorstep looking for help”.