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Bapu Surat Singh Khalsa’s daughter visits California Congressional Offices

May 15, 2015 | By

San Jose, CA: A delegation joined Devinderdeep Kaur Sran on Wednesday to appeal to four U.S. congressional representatives to speak in honor of her father, Surat Singh Khalsa, a permanent resident of the United States who lives in California but has been on hunger-strike in Punjab, India since January 16 in demand for release of political prisoners.

“We visited the offices of Representatives Eric Swalwell, Anna Eshoo, Mike Honda, and Zoe Lofgren to inform them about my father’s hunger-strike,” says Sran. “We wanted to thank Honda and Lofgren for helping free my brother, Ravinderjit Singh Gogi, from being tortured in an Indian jail. We also asked them to support us in standing against human rights violations. I am a constituent of San Jose-based Congresswoman Lofgren, and her office was most hospitable to us. Our visits were generally well-received and we hope they bear fruit.”

An OFMI delegation poses inside Congressman Mike Honda’s office; staff refused to be pictured with Sikhs

An OFMI delegation poses inside Congressman Mike Honda’s office; staff refused to be pictured with Sikhs

Sran was joined by her husband, Kulwant, as well as by activist Damanvir Kaur and Organization for Minorities of India (OFMI) advisors Pieter Friedrich and Steve Macías. “Due to the pressing nature of this issue, we were unable to wait for appointments, so we dropped into the offices and asked staff to provide us with a few minutes of their time so we could deliver a 20-page information packet on Khalsa’s case,” remarks Friedrich. “Staff at Lofgren’s and Swalwell’s offices quickly grasped the urgency and graciously gave us impromptu half-hour meetings. We were deeply disappointed, however, by the reception at Honda’s and Eshoo’s offices, where staff, who were clearly not busy, bordered on hostile and refused to even take a picture with us to document our visit.”

Khalsa traveled to India in January to begin his hunger-strike at his ancestral village of Hassanpur, located near the city of Ludhiana in the northwestern Indian state of Punjab. His demand is for freedom of a large number of Sikh dissidents who were arrested for protesting the 1984 Sikh Genocide and subsequent events, have served their court-appointed sentences and are eligible for release, but remain imprisoned. He was arrested in February along with his son, Gogi, who is a U.S. citizen. Both were held with a preventative law allowing police to detain those suspected of considering breaching the peace, but neither was ever formally arraigned before a judge.

For two months, Gogi was detained in Ludhiana Jail and Khalsa in Ludhiana Civil Hospital before a letter on their behalf from seven California congressional representatives influenced their release. Gogi’s sister, Sarvrinder Kaur (also a U.S. citizen), says she witnessed police torturing her brother in custody. Lofgren and Honda were two of the signatories to an April 15 letter to the U.S. State Department asking Secretary John Kerry to assist Gogi and Khalsa.

Khalsa was force-fed for 56 days, but since his release from police custody on April 23 he has been entirely without sustenance.

Honda, Lofgren, and Swalwell are all members of the American Sikh Congressional Caucus. Eshoo is a member of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, to which Honda and Swalwell also belong. During their visits to the four offices, the delegation highlighted how the California State Legislature passed, in April, a resolution recognizing the 1984 Sikh Genocide.

“Bapuji Surat Singh Khalsa fled India for California because of the 84 Genocide,” notes Macías. “His children and grandchildren are all U.S. citizens because Bapuji wanted a safe haven for them after being wounded when police opened fire on him and other peaceful demonstrators at a protest in the Punjab. He returned to India earlier this year to again take up the torch of liberty by pursuing a peaceful and democratic form of protest and we strongly believe the United States Congress should recognize the nobility of his struggle.”

Khalsa’s family and their supporters plan to continue to approach American elected officials over the ensuing weeks to request recognition of his hunger-strike. “We need more community members to get involved in taking the plight of the Sikhs to their respective representatives,” says Bhajan Singh, Founding Director of OFMI. “It’s sad that there’s a congressional group calling themselves the ‘Sikh Caucus,’ yet they have totally failed to take up this issue of Bapuji’s hunger-strike. The interests of the Sikh community should be the sole agenda of those who claim to represent that community, and when there is such a groundswell of interest in these international human rights issues then their duty is to speak on behalf of the Sikhs.”

Sran says they left every congressional office with three requests: “We asked the representatives to speak on the house floor about my father’s hunger-strike, to join a letter to the State Department asking Secretary Kerry to appeal for my father, and to introduce a resolution in Congress recognizing the 1984 Sikh Genocide.”

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