Sikh Activist Ends Hunger Strike for Release of Detainees

Gurcharan Singh Khalsa at a rally from a internet file photo.

Gurcharan Singh Khalsa at a rally from a internet file photo.

Compiled from news sources

MOHALI, INDIA: A Haryana  based Sikh farmer Gurbaksh Singh Khalsa, who had been on hunger strike for 45 days, demanding the release of six fellow Sikhs who have been jailed since the 1990s during the period of the deadly Sikh separatist movement, has been hospitalized in Shahbad Markanda Hospital for severe stomach pains. His condition is stable though he will remain hospitalized for some time.

He began his protest on November 14, but it has been little reported in the international media. As his health had deteriorated rapidly in the last days, he was implored by other prominent Sikh leaders to end his strike since he had made his demands well known and brought attention to the plight of the detainees he was protesting the release for. He ended his hunger strike on December 27 but declared that he would continue his efforts to secure the release of these prisoners.

Khalsa protested for the release of three prisoners who were arrested in 1995 for their alleged role in the assassination of Punjab’s then Chief Minister Beant Singh in a car bombing and sentenced to life in prison. The others were convicted under a draconian anti-terror law following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The six are held in federal jails in Chandigargh, Punjab, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh.

According to civil-rights lawyer H.S. Phoolka, it is not unusual for life terms to be commuted once 14 years have been served and since normalcy has returned to the Punjab. Punjab government spokesman Harcharan Singh Bains said it was up to the discretion of the state governments to reconsider these cases.

Human Rights Watch, in a statement to CNN, has called upon Indian authorities not to let prisoners remain behind bars beyond their sentences. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in an impassioned address to the Indian Parliament in 2005 – 21 years after their occurrence– issued a public apology for the deadly events that took place then.

Sikh organizations around the US, Canada and the UK had gathered around the condition of Gurbaksh Khalsa and worried for his deteriorating health. The Southhall, London based Sikh Organization for Prisoner Welfare has been making intense efforts to bring attention to the detentions of many Sikhs from that time.