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Iqtidar Karamat cheema (Dr)
Surat Singh Khalsa and continued struggle for Sikh political prisoners,
Surat Singh Khalsa and continued struggle for Sikh political prisoners,
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Surat Singh Khalsa and continued struggle for Sikh political prisoners,
Dr. Iqtidar Karamat Cheema
The substance of the right of self-determination has taken shape in the U.N. Charter, as well as various other general and regional instruments has defined and recognized this right and freedom as a part of international law. In India, various oppressed ethnic and religious minority groups who struggled against their exploitation, for a more unprejudiced and egalitarian society have been arrested, imprisoned and denied political prisoners’ rights in the Indian jails. India has imprisoned thousands of Sikh political activists in 80’s and 90’s in the various prisons of Punjab and the rest of the country. These Sikh political prisoners were the political activists for the attainment of right of self-determination for the Sikh Nation.
An 82 year old American resident from California Surat Singh is a Sikh activist who is on hunger strike since January 16th, 2015. He wants the government of India to release the Sikh prisoners who are still in jails despite of completing their respective sentences. I raised the issue of his hunger strike and the release of Sikh political prisoners during my briefing to United States Congress on 3rd June, 2015 organized by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and American Sikh Congressional Caucus.
The principle of self-determination is prominently embodied in Article I of the Charter of the United Nations. Earlier it was explicitly embraced by US President Woodrow Wilson, by Lenin and others, and became the guiding principle for the reconstruction of Europe. Indeed, of the religious communities in India, the Sikhs probably possess the strongest sense of their own identity and community. In 1946 Sikhs demanded for a separate Sikh state to protect their economic, religious, and cultural identity. However, the Sikhs finally gave up their demand for a separate State after Congress leaders promised that Sikhs would have a special status in independent India.
However, after the transfer of power in 1947, India was declared as a ‘socialist secular state’, special representation of Sikhs was withdrawn and joint electorate introduced in place of separate electorate. The clause 2 subsection B of the article 25 of Indian constitution curtailed the religious identity of Sikhs, by not recognizing them as separate religious entity and treating them as Hindus. The provinces of Haryana and Himachal Pardesh were carved out of Indian Punjab. Sikh grievances grew during the 1960s as Sikhs began to feel that their religion and their social structure faced the subtle threat of absorption into Hinduism. The Punjab Reorganization Act resulted in Punjab losing close to 75% of its riverine waters to the Hindu-dominated states of Haryana and Rajasthan.
In 80’s the Sikhs started their movement of liberation and for the establishment of a separate country, Khalistan. In June 1984, India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered the Indian Army to attack the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar. Forty other Sikh shrines were simultaneously attacked by Indian Army using massive fire power. On the excuse of apprehending ‘a handful of armed men’ lodged inside the Golden Temple, the Indian Army unleashed a terror unprecedented in post-independence India. Desecration of the Golden Temple likewise resulted in greater support for an independent Khalistan. Later during that year amid the month of November, Sikhs were burnt alive, Sikh ladies got raped, Sikh business and properties flared to cinders in the towns and streets of world’s largest democracy. This planned mass-murder of the Sikhs has rightly been declared as ‘Sikh Genocide’ by various forums in the world including the California’s state assembly.
Following Sikh genocide, the Indian government commenced a sweeping crackdown on Sikhs across the Punjab under the code name ‘Operation wood rose’. The Indian army charged the villages and towns. Sikh males, particularly the youth, were arrested. The Sikh political prisoners were given a minimum sentence of 20 years. Due to dysfunctional judicial system and discriminatory law enforcement, many of them, old and ill, still remain in prisons despite of completing their period of imprisonment. These political prisoners have been pilloried, maltreated and tortured. Even while in Jail they have been segregated from the inmates and even physically beaten whenever they stood up for their rights.
Surat Singh began his hunger-strike unto death on January 16, 2015 at his ancestral village of Hassanpur in Indian Punjab. He has a very legitimate demand that Indian government should release the Sikh political prisoners who have already completed their sentences, but being illegally detained. The Government of India arrested him and forcefully admitted to a hospital where he was force-fed. I met, Surat Singh’s daughter Rupinder Kaur in April this year when she co-spoke with me in a conference at Birmingham City Council organized by a British Sikh lawyer Ranjit Singh Srai. Rupinder Kaur gave a chilling account of how her 82 year old father has been forcibly fed by Indian security forces. She told me that Indian police have isolated him from the Sikh masses and illegally detained and tortured his son.
On 15th April, 2015 seven members of United States Congress who are also the members of American Sikh Congressional Caucus wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asking him to "assist" the release of Surat Singh and his son Ravinderjit Singh. Both were then released from Indian police custody. Ravinderjit Singh upon his release issued a formal statement in which he wrote, “During these 2 months, I was scheduled for five court hearings, and all were cancelled. I was not even arraigned. This violated standard proceedings for almost all democratic countries, which typically require arraignment within 48 hours. While I was in the custody I was treated as a criminal and was tortured multiple times by the police officials. I was even beaten in the judicial custody during a court hearing.”
Surat Singh’s hunger strike has drawn support from across the world from Sikh political and religious spectrum. It has gained a viral international attention, as Sikhs have marched outside the White House and British Parliament in favor of his demands. On 23 July, 2015 the Supreme Court of India permitted the state governments to grant sentence remissions to life convicts and release them. Following the Supreme Court verdict the Sikh activists have demanded that Punjab Government should immediately ensure the release of Sikh prisoners in cases which fell under state purview. However, both the governments at Centre and of Punjab do not seem to be willing to release the Sikh political prisoners. The Indian administration claims its prisons as correctional institutions, despite the fact that Indian jails have become torture cells. There is hardly any observance of the rights of the prisoner. The Indian government till date does not have a national prison policy or legislation on the category of political prisoners. While the government of India continues with the colonial Prisoners’ Act of 1894, the time is running out.
Comment:-   This is not simply a ‘Hunger Strike’This is a ‘ State Torture’against a Human Rights  activist. These tricks are reserved for Sikhs to Demoralise them in INDIA.(without media coverage) Where is the ’ World Human Rights Organisation ? ‘     A.J.S.Chandi.


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