California Human Rights Activist Completes 125 Days of Hunger Strike in India

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An extremely frail 82-year-old Californian has completed 100 days of hunger strike for human rights cases. Surat Singh Khalsa launched his campaign to protest the prolonged detention of prisoners who have already completed their terms in India.

File photo of Surat Singh Khalsa writing a note to his supporters

File photo of Surat Singh Khalsa writing a note to his supporters

Surat Singh Khalsa knew that it would be a long, strenuous battle; however, he has remained committed to the cause of human rights despite his old age.

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An extremely frail 82-year-old human rights activist from California has marked 125 days of hunger strike. Surat Singh Khalsa launched his campaign on January 16, 2015, to protest the prolonged detention of political prisoners who have already completed their terms in India.[1]

Khalsa has been refusing to eat to demand the release of political prisoners who have completed their terms. He says that people of various religious backgrounds who have no criminal cases, and have completed their sentences, should be released as per the law of the country. In certain cases, the Punjab & Haryana High Court had specifically asked the Punjab State Government to consider the cases of some life convicts for permanent release; however, these prisoners, along with others who have completed their terms, continue to be detained.[2]

Surat Singh Khalsa traveled to Punjab, India, in December 2014 after learning of prolonged detention of political prisoners. He knew that it would be a long, strenuous battle; however, he has remained committed to the cause of human rights despite his old age.

Khalsa’s hunger strike has attracted support from tens of thousands of supporters in India and abroad. He has been dubbed as the "The Irom Sharmila of Punjab” by the People's Union for Civil Liberties, India's largest civil liberties organization, akin to the American Civil Liberties Union.[3] Irom Sharmila is a civil rights activist who has been on hunger strike since November 2000 to seek equal rights for the minorities of Manipur (India).

Surat Singh Khalsa has been raising voice for human rights since the late 1970s in India. He has courted arrest various times as a form of peaceful protest. In June 1984, he resigned from his job as a government teacher after the Indian Government ordered invasion of the Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple). In 1986, like many other Sikhs, he took political asylum in the United States to flee oppression in India. After settling down, he remained steadfast to seek equal rights for Sikhs and other minorities in India.

In 2011, Surat Singh Khalsa traveled to India to take part in a massive anti-corruption movement led by social reformer Anna Hazare. At that time, he observed an 18 day long hunger strike.[4]

One hundred and twenty-five day hunger strike has taken a toll on Khalsa’s body. His family members who traveled to India from the United States to oversee his health report that he has lost the ability to walk. From the past days, he is also facing trouble speaking. His healthy body has now turned into the skeleton of bones.

In April 2014, a Writ Petition No. 48 was filed with the Supreme Court of India, seeking remission for the four convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, and to make a constitutional law decision on the release of all political prisoners across India. The petition remains pending with the Supreme Court.

1 Tribune News Service, "Of 119 Sikhs languishing in jails, 96 are in Punjab: SGPC list", 4 January 2015. Available from http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/nation/of-119-sikhs-languishing-in-jails-96-are-in-punjab-sgpc-list/26010.html.
2 Case references: CRM-M-No.13343 of 2012, CRWP No.1752 of 2013, CRWP No. 1620 of 2011.
3 PUCL, “Bapu Surat Singh: Punjab’s Irom Sharmila”, 28 March 2015, http://www.countercurrents.org/pucl280315.htm.
4 Tribune news Service, "SGPC aspirant on indefinite fast to support cause", 20 August 2011, http://www.tribuneindia.com/2011/20110821/ldh1.htm#18.

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Prabhdev Singh
Bapu Surat Singh Khalsa - Sangharsh Jaari Hai
since: 01/2015
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