Politics

Sikh Youth Raise Awareness of India’s Violation of Prisoners' Rights

Punjab Police again forcibly force-feeds Surat Singh
By Anju Kaur | July 26, 2015
Sikh Youth protest in Washington against India's human rights violation of detaining political prisoners past their sentence terms. The issue was brought to light by Gurbaksh Singh who was on a hunger strike to raise awareness. When he passed away, Surat Singh continued with the hunger strike. He is respectfully known as "Bapu," meaning "father."

Hana Magan Kaur Mangat is the founder of Sikh Kid 2 Kid, a Maryland organization with about 25 members from ages 7 to 17. The 15-year-old organized a protest in Lafayette Park, across from the White House, to expose India’s maltreatment of its prisoners, particularly Sikh political prisoners in Punjab.

“Basically, there was the usual protest with chants but we paused every 20 minutes to explain to passersby what was happening in India,” Hana Magan Kaur told SFP. “Some of us would give speeches motivating everyone. And we had people going out to educate others.

“They saw it as an American struggle, for human rights,” she said of the people they approached. About 100 Sikhs came out to protest for three hours last Wednesday evening, July 22, she said.
 
About 100 Sikhs, mostly youth, protested in Lafayette Park, across from the White House, on Wednesday evening, July 20.
 
Sikh youth reached out to passersby to explain India's human and civil rights violations against its political prisoners.
 
India’s injustices against its prisoners was first brought to international attention by Gurbaksh Singh, who twice went on a hunger strike for the same cause, in 2013 and in late 2014. He passed away from his 64-day hunger strike on Jan. 15. But Surat Singh continued with the hunger strike the next day, according to Organization for Minorities of India, a human rights organization in Northern California. The 82-year-old resident of California, is protesting in his Punjab village of Hassanpur. 
 
Hana Magan Kaur met with Surat Singh, respectfully known as “Bapu,” meaning “father,” during her trip to Punjab last June. She was there to visit historic gurdwaras and attend a Khalsa youth camp in Morinda. At the camp, she and the other campers met a journalist who was arrested for reporting on Surat Singh’s hunger strike, she said. As his condition worsens, reporters and supporters of Surat Singh are increasingly facing arrest and incarceration.
 
During her four-week stay, she noticed that Surat Singh’s story was largely ignored by the Indian press. Nothing is reported in the local news. Sikhs living abroad are more aware, largely through social and online media.
 
“There is a media black out in Punjab,” Hana Magan Kaur added.
 
A Maryland couple, now living in Punjab, took her to visit Surat Singh. 
 
“I asked him: What do you want to tell the Sikh youth?” she said. “Education, is most important, always listen to your parents, and make sure you always stay positive,” he told her. 
 
“He is in the most amazing state of chardi kalaa,” she added. “They are arresting his supporters because they are scared of someone in such a state of chardi kalaa. They can’t mess with him psychologically.” 
 
The American couple was arrested a week after her visit, she said. More and more visitors are being arrested.
 
Hana Magan Kaur, top center with blue chunni, met with Surat Singh, center with orange dastaar,  in June.
 
The Punjab Police is notorious for its brutality and lack of accountability. According to Ensaaf, another Northern California human rights group, the Punjab Police arrested Surat Singh’s son, Ravinderjeet Singh, when he went to meet his father in late January. On Feb. 8, the police also forcibly took Surat Singh from his home and detained him at the Civil Hospital, in Ludhiana, where he was force-fed through a nasal tube that was stitched to his forehead, without anesthesia.
 
According to the Organization for Minorities of India, on Feb. 11, Surat Singh wrote an open letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi: "I will always remember the death dance of India in November 1984, and I cry my heart out recalling the killing of thousands of Sikh youth in Punjab, and I am disturbed at the continuous imprisonment of individuals who have finished their long prison terms."
 
Most of the prisoners were arrested during the 1980s and 1990s for protesting India’s 1984 attack of Darbar Sahib, in Punjab; the 1984 Sikh Genocide sponsored by the ruling Congress Party; and the ensuing Decade of Disappearances when the Punjab Police systematically “disappeared” tens of thousands of Sikhs, the organization said in a news release. Surat Singh has been an activist since then.
 
The Punjab Police beat and threatened to falsely charge Ravinderjeet Singh with murder if he did not persuade his father to drop the hunger strike. He refused. The Indian government prevented the American embassy from contacting Ravinderjeet Singh, a U.S. citizen, for more than two months, Ensaaf said in an April 15 letter to Congressman Chris Smith (R- Freehold, New Jersey), chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Operations.
 
“Given India’s clear disregard for legal norms and due process in this matter, a diplomatic intervention is necessary to ensure that India refrains from further abuse and illegal treatment of Ravinderjeet Singh and his father Surat Singh,” Ensaaf said in the letter.
 
Seven California congressional representatives also sent a letter on April 15 to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asking him for assistance. Father and son were released within two weeks.
 
“Indian jails are full of political prisoners arrested for peacefully dissenting from their government,” said Bhajan Singh, founding director of the Organization for Minorities of India, in a May 22 news release. “We will stand with (Surat Singh) for their freedom."
 
Six members of Congress again wrote a letter to Kerry on May 28 asking him to “monitor” Surat Singh’s situation.
 
“We also request that you urge the Indian government to abide by its international human rights commitments under international law and ensure that these rights are safeguarded for political prisoners and all citizens of India,” they said in the letter. 
 
Sikh Kid 2 Kid also has an online petition asking the American government to get involved: “Hold India accountable for violations of democratic and human rights.”
 
Surat Singh’s health has severely deteriorated. According to online Indian news reports, the Punjab Police again forcibly took Surat Singh from his home and confined him to a hospital where he is allegedly being force-fed. Indian media is denigrating the prisoners’ plight by referring to them as “terrorists” in their reports.
 
Sikh Americans speak out against India's violations against its political prisoners.
 
U.S. Congress members supporting Surat Singh:
 
Rep. Jeff Denham, R–Modesto, California
Anna Eshoo, D–Palo Alto, California
Rep. John Garamendi, D–Yuba City, California
Rep. Mike Honda, D–Fremont, California
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D–San Jose, California
Rep. Tom McClintock, R–Roseville, California
Rep. Jerry McNerney, D–Stockton, California
Rep. Patrick Meehan, R–Springfield, Pennsylvania
Rep. Chris Smith,  R–Freehold, New Jersey
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D–Hayward, California