April 16, 2015 | By Sikh Siyasat Bureau
Stockton, CA: Eight family members of Ravinderjit Singh Gogi, a U.S. citizen imprisoned in India for the past two months, met the man’s congressional representative on Wednesday afternoon to plead for U.S. Congress to demand Gogi’s release and return to the United States.
“US officials need to be more aggressive,” said Gogi’s sister, Mandeep Kaur, speaking to staff at the office of Congressman Jerry McNerney (D-Stockton). “No U.S. authorities have even gone to visit my brother yet. I do not think any U.S. citizen is safe in traveling to India.”
Gogi was arrested in Ludhiana, Punjab, India on February 26 after visiting his father, Surat Singh Khalsa, in the hospital. Khalsa is a U.S. Green Card holder and California resident who is on a political hunger strike in Punjab. After police first arrested Khalsa and forcibly admitted him to a hospital, they accused Gogi of being “likely to commit a breach of the peace” for visiting his father. Family members say the real reason for the arrest was so police could compel Gogi to pressure his father to abandon his peaceful protest. “Our father is a grown man and that is his decision,” says Mandeep about her 83-year-old father, whose health was declining dangerously as a result of his hunger strike.
Police charged Gogi with Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) sections 107 (“Security for keeping the peace in other cases”) and 151 (“Arrest to prevent the commission of cognizable offences”), which are both preventive laws. However, the family alleges it is a purely political move as the police have also directly told Gogi they will release him if he persuades his father to end his hunger strike. Since Gogi arrived in India on January 28, the family wonders why police should suddenly suspect him of planning to “breach the peace” on February 28 if he had not done so earlier.
McNerney joined six other U.S. representatives — Tom McClintock, Patrick Meehan, Mike Honda, Zoe Lofgren, Jeff Denham, and John Garamendi — in signing an April 15 letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to “bring your attention to the case of Ravinder Jeet Singh and his father, Surat Singh Khalsa.” The letter asks Secretary Kerry to “look into the charges brought against Mr. Singh and Mr. Khalsa,” noting: “It is a fundamental American responsibility to protect our citizens abroad.” The family thanked McNerney’s staff for the letter, but urged them to take further action, including circulating the letter to the entire House of Representatives, urging the State Department to send someone to visit Gogi, and even penning a stronger letter which actually demands the imprisoned American citizen’s release.
“We are thankful for the letter that Congressman McNerney sent in cooperation with other California representatives, but we are not very excited about it because of its weak language. It took Gogi’s representative nearly two months to send this letter, and it fails to call for his release,” said Bhajan Singh after attending the meeting as a spokesman for the American Punjabi Chamber of Commerce. “This is too little, too late, and in light of Gogi’s torture and beatings at the hands of Indian police, it’s obvious the Sikh Caucus falls short.” All six signatories to the letter are members of the American-Sikh Congressional Caucus; Garamendi and Meehan are both co-chairs of the caucus.
Gogi’s 17-year-old son, Sahib Singh, told McNerney’s staff he has been speaking with the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, but they refuse to visit Gogi without proof of torture. “That is happening now,” said Sahib. “My dad is being tortured.”
Sahib mentioned how his aunt, Sarvrinder Kaur, who is still in Punjab, personally witnessed police beating Gogi on April 13. As reported by several news outlets, Gogi was being escorted to a court hearing by police when Assistant Sub-Inspector Richard Masih pushed him into a courthouse holding cell and, with a chain wrapped around his fist, beat the handcuffed man severely on his face, neck, shoulders, and back. Gogi reported experiencing severe pain and showed his sister Sarvrinder the bruises when she visited the next day. He requested but was denied an independent medical examination.
The family is also concerned by Gogi’s inhumane detention conditions. During the meeting at McNerney’s office, Mandeep Kaur said, “He is housed in a room that sleeps 75 but 225 people are in there. They get water for bathing only every four days. When he was first arrested, he was made to sit in a chair for 18 hours a day for interrogation. They have even told my brother they will try to charge him with a murder case. Police in India can do anything they want.”
Gogi is the only brother from a family of six children. Family members who attended the Wednesday meeting at McNerney’s office in Stockton included Mandeep (his youngest sister), Davinderdeep (eldest sister), Birinder (a younger sister), Kanwaldeep (brother-in-law), Kulwant (brother-in-law), as well as three of Gogi’s five children — Manraj, 20, Sahib, 17, and Avleen, 13. Also joining the meeting were Steve Macías, Communications Coordinator for Organization for Minorities of India, Pieter Friedrich, Executive Director of Sikh Information Centre, community activist Damanvir Kaur, and Bhajan Singh.
Meanwhile, Surat Singh Khalsa also remains in police custody. He has not ended his hunger strike begun on January 16, but police began force-feeding him on February 26. Mandeep Kaur says, “They inserted a pipe through his nose. He tried to pull it out and they stitched it to his nose and forehead without using anesthetic. Can you imagine that happening to an 83-year-old man?”
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