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California congressmen petition Kerry on Sikh man's fight for justice

June 02, 2015 12:40 IST

Over 250 people participated in a rally to support 82-year-old California resident Surat Singh Khalsa, who has been on a hunger strike in India demanding the release of political prisoners. Ritu Jha/ reports from California.

The family of 82-year-old California resident Surat Singh Khalsa, who has been on a hunger strike in Hasanpur village in Ludhiana demanding the release of political prisoners in India who have completed their sentence, is now seeking the help of their local Congressional representatives.

They have requested United States Secretary of State John Kerry to put pressure on the Indian government to release Khalsa, who has been on a hunger strike since January 16and under house arrest in Punjab since April.    

US Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-19), Congressman Anna Eshoo (D-18), Congressman Mike Honda (D-17), Congressman Jerry McNerney (D-9) and Congressman Eric Swalwell (D-15) have signed a petition dated May 28 asking Kerry to urge the Indian government to abide by international human rights commitments to safeguard the rights of political prisoners.   

“Bapuji (Khalsa’s nickname in the US) cannot walk anymore and is too weak, he may die…it's been over four-and-a-half months,” Pieter Friedrich, executive director of Sikh Information Centre, said.

Friedrich said that on May 22 over 250 people participated in a rally in Khalsa’s honour at the California State Capitol, Sacramento. Khalsa, who is a permanent resident of the US and a resident of Lathrop, migrated to the US in 1988, seeking asylum from religious and political persecution he allegedly suffered following the 1984 Sikh massacre.

Friedrich said Khalsa was unwilling to break his fast because he felt it was the only way he could get the Indian government to listen.

“He (Khalsa) is also speaking for political prisoners in Kashmir who have completed their sentence but are still in jail. Most of them are imprisoned for dissent against the government,” Friedrich said.

He said Khalsa’s family and some community organisations were in touch with Congressmen and have collected over 1,500 petitions asking people to speak on behalf of “Bapuji”.

The letter says the Congressional representatives are concerned at the way Khalsa and his son Ravinder Jeet Singh (a US citizen), have been treated and physically abused by the Indian police. It claims the police have threatened Ravinder with false murder charges if he did not persuade his father to end his hunger strike.

Khalsa's daughter Mandeep said at the rally that her father’s health was failing. “He has fever, urinary infection and has almost lost his ability to speak…He needs to be carried from one place to another. He’s unable able to take a bath on his own and spends most of his time lying down.”

Image: Family members and community organisations brought out a rally on May 22 in support of 82-year-old California resident Surat Singh Khalsa. Photograph: Ritu Jha/

Ritu Jha in California