India Arrests Hunger-Striking Activist Days After US Congress Members Objected

Bibi Sarvarinder Kaur and Bhai Bhavandeep Singh with Bapu Surat Singh Khalsa at Civil Hospital
Bapu Surat Singh Khalsa at Civil Hospital in Ludhiana

SACRAMENTO, California, USA—Children of a California man on hunger-strike in India report their father, who has refused to eat for the past four months in demand for release of political prisoners, was arrested on June 1 and forcibly hospitalized in Ludhiana, Punjab despite a May 29 appeal on his behalf by six CA congressional representatives.

Video of the arrest shows Surat Singh Khalsa, 82, being placed in an ambulance while supporters chant slogans; his family says he is being taken to Dayanand Medical College & Hospital. Widely known as Baupji (meaning “honored father”), Khalsa was previously arrested in February and forcibly-fed from February 26 to April 23. His re-arrest comes days after a statement initiated by Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose), declaring: “We are seriously concerned about the repressive actions that have been taken against him for continuing to peacefully exercise his right to free speech.”

Mandeep Kaur, one of Khalsa’s six children, spoke from her home in the San Francisco Bay Area, saying: “They will do anything to sabotage the agitation and shift the focus from freedom of political prisoners to Bapuji.” Khalsa, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1988 after being shot by police at a peaceful protest outside the Punjab Legislative Assembly, has found worldwide support for his cause from thousands who are speaking out loudly on social media and at rallies, including at the California State Capitol on May 22.

Father Joshua Lickter, who spoke at the Sacramento rally, remarks, “As a leader in the Christian community, I am outraged to hear that Surat Singh has been arrested again. If India wants the world to recognize them as a democracy, they need to protect the rights of those who desire to peacefully speak out against any perceived inconsistencies within a government that proclaims freedom for all faiths. His arrest violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the General Council of the United Nations in 1948, and it is inconsistent with the democratic ideals India claims to uphold. My prayers go out to him and his family and to all the persecuted minorities in India.”

The May 29 congressional statement, joined by Reps. Anna Eshoo, Mike Honda, Tom McClintock, Jerry McNerney, and Eric Swalwell as well as Lofgren, asks U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to “urge the Indian government to immediately release Mr. Khalsa.” Speaking in support of Khalsa’s cause, the representatives wrote: “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 in India.”

A previous letter issued to Secretary Kerry on April 15 by seven CA representatives protested Khalsa’s treatment and the indefinite detention of his son Ravinder Singh, a U.S. citizen, noting: “It is a fundamental American responsibility to protect our citizens abroad.” Congress’s latest letter warns: “Family members in the U.S. made us aware that the father and son were physically abused and beaten while in prison.” Khalsa and his son were released from two months in police custody shortly after.

Bhajan Singh of Organization for Minorities of India, who collaborated with Khalsa’s family in California to coordinate congressional action, smells hypocrisy in the situation. “The United Nations’ annual hunger report just informed us that India is home to the most hungry people in the world, and we also already know it as a location of brutal pogroms and frequent atrocities against Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Dalits, and women,” says Singh. “With nearly 200 million dying for lack of food, India chooses to arrest a man who is voluntarily starving himself for justice. We must be suspicious of the true source of the extreme poverty and hunger in such a country where the government denies the right to not eat.”


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