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Freedom Fighter:
Bapu Surat Singh





Bapu Surat Singh is an 82-year-old human rights campaigner single-handedly battling the entire Indian Government and establishment. Hailed as a modern day hero, Bapu ji has been on hunger strike since January 16, 2015 to bring attention to the Indian Government’s gross and ongoing human rights violations.

His demand is simple: release all Sikh political prisoners in India ... Especially saince most of them have long completed their sentences. While hundreds of thousands of individuals have shown their support worldwide and continue to stand by his side, the governments of India and Punjab continue to give a cold shoulder.

Sporting a healthy figure and weight at the start of his hunger strike, the government continued its blatant disregard for human life, and now, almost an year later, leaving Bapu ji reduced to a hollow frame. A gradual and painfully visible transformation of his body has taken place since January of this year.

Rather than address the reason for Bapu ji's hunger strike, the government has opted to mentally and physically abuse him and his family through force feeding and harassment.

In February of this year, Bapu ji's son, Ravinder Jeet Singh (a U.S. citizen), was arrested for simply taking care of his father while on hunger strike and held under penal code sections 107 and 151 … I.e., "apprehension of breach of peace and tranquility of an area" and "arrest to prevent the commission of cognizable offences".

While in jail, Ravinder underwent immense physical and mental torture by the authorities, did not receive a single hearing in court but rather four postponements, and then was suddenly released in late April with all charges dropped.

In addition to Ravinder’s arrest, Bapu ji himself has been arrested numerous times since the start of his hunger strike. Forcibly taken to three different hospitals on six different occasions during his peaceful protest, the government has further deteriorated Bapu ji's body by administering undisclosed drugs and force-feeding him.

Recently, a video had been posted anonymously on social media showing Bapu ji being fed in a hospital setting ... ostensibly, to indicate that he has been eating food secretly.

While this blatantly false attempt to discredit Bapu ji's peaceful protest failed, it clearly shows the lengths the government in India will go to hinder this campaign and avoid the real issue at hand.

The Indian and Punjab Governments continue to insist that the Sikh political prisoners in question cannot be released. From a legal standpoint, this is not true.

First, the issue of life imprisonment. In India, life imprisonment can dictate a prisoner to serve a life sentence. However, section 57 of the Indian Penal Code defines life imprisonment as 20 years, or in some cases, less (Singh, 2015).

Second, the issue of the ‘Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) of 1987‘. Widely criticized for its abusive power over Indian citizens and lack of a fair trial or freedom of expression, the majority of Sikh political prisoners remain imprisoned due to this act (Amnesty International 1994).

The act has since been repealed but continues to hinder the freedom of numerous political prisoners in India. In July of this year, the Supreme Court passed a mandate allowing state governments in India to release life convicts, with the exception of those convicted under TADA or by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Because of this exception, it is claimed that most Sikh political prisoners did not qualify for release. However, this exception does not mean the government is powerless to grant the release of the Sikh political prisoners. On the contrary, the government has the power to not only accept interim applications, but also holds the power to grant permanent release on a case-by-case basis. Legally, many of the Sikh political prisoners have served their minimum sentences, some serving an additional ten to fifteen years.

If one is not convinced by the mounting evidence of human rights violations by the government, perhaps it is beneficial to examine its approach in other cases.

First is the case of Punjab Police Inspector Gurmeet Singh "Pinky". He was convicted of murdering an innocent youth in 2001 and sentenced to life imprisonment. Eight years into his sentence, the Punjab Government pardoned Gurmeet Singh, granted early release, and allowed his reinstatement into the Punjab Police.

Second is the case of Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Swaran Dass. Having been convicted of murder, he was sentenced to life imprisonment as well, and was pardoned and granted early release after serving only five years (while his appeal was still pending in court).

The third case involves DSP Jaspal Singh, who was also convicted alongside DSP Swaran Dass of murder, sentenced to life imprisonment, pardoned, then granted early release by the Punjab Government.

Clearly the government possesses the power to grant release and thus far has repeatedly done so for its own employees who have committed heinous crimes at the behest of their political masters.

The obvious question in this matter remains, why aren't Sikh political prisoners treated equally?

On December 17, 2015, Sikh political prisoner Waryam Singh was released by the Government of Uttar Pradesh (UP). He was convicted under the TADA Act in 1990 and endured 25 years in jail. His case clearly demonstrates that permanent release (not just parole) is possible and can be carried out by the state government.

The release of Waryam Singh in UP calls into question the Punjab Government's stance that it cannot release the prisoners. If prisoners in other Indian states can be released, why can't the prisoners in Punjab be released as well?

Waryam Singh's release after 25 years is due to the continued struggle of Bapu Surat Singh. Waryam Singh was one of the longest serving Sikh political prisoners and his release is the first significant achievement in what's now nearing a yearlong hunger strike.

Earlier this year, two other Sikh political prisoners, Gurdeep Singh and Professor Devinderpal Singh Bhullar, were granted transfers because of Bapu ji's struggle, after serving more than 20 years in jails outside of Punjab.

It is this heroic story that will keep the cause alive. Antagonists will always exist in the fight for human rights, but it is the heroes that emerge who bring hope and change for the better. Bapu ji's supporters worldwide wholeheartedly state that if he dies from his hunger strike, the fight will not only continue but strengthen in its resolve.

The day will come when others like Waryam Singh will feel the warm embrace of freedom. This freedom will be possible due to heroes like Bapu Surat Singh and his lionhearted fight for human rights.

The question is not about the release of a few Sikh prisoners, the question is about the inalienable right of a person to live without illegal, extra-judicial and inhumane fetters. The question is about the regaining of liberty after you have completed the full term of one's sentence in prison. The question is about justice, equality and fair play.

The prime question is whether after 66 years of the Indian Constitution, does it give the Sikhs the rights and privileges due to them as compared to the majority community? (Bapu Surat Singh in a letter to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, February 11, 2015)

[Courtesy: The Huffington Post. Edited for]
December 30, 2015

Conversation about this article

1: Kulvinder Jit Kaur (Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada), December 31, 2015, 11:00 AM.

Sad. So much physical suffering to get justice from a State whose judiciary is as corrupt as its lawmakers and administrators ... according to a retired Supreme Court of India judge who has publicly admitted to this complete corruption of the entire state system. When we know of the indifference of the State towards the suffering of all minorities, especially the Sikhs, then why do we subject ourselves to this kind of sacrifice? No doubt all Sikhs value and respect Bapu Surat Singh's suffering and sacrifice but will it bring the desired results? Has it ever? The message has been sent time and again to the Sikh Quom that no matter what they do, the State will not budge and will continue to implement the agenda that suits the State. Time for deep reflection (collectively) by the Sikh quom and an action plan. Perhaps this new year will start this.

2: Harman Singh (California, USA), January 01, 2016, 5:46 PM.

Bapu Surat Singh is a trailblazer. He is selflessly sacrificing his body to breathe life into this question of justice for Sikhs in India. Every Sikh should be publicly supporting his -- really ours! -- cause and image publicly. Support behind closed doors is not enough.

3: Kulvinder Jit Kaur (Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada), January 01, 2016, 9:41 PM.

Harman Singh ji, how do you propose Sikhs support his "cause and image publicly"? Can you please spell out your thoughts on this? We all acknowledge his sacrifice just like we acknowledge the sacrifice of many before him who died for some cause or the other that effected ALL Sikhs. However I am beginning to feel the futility of this method. The Sikhs have never gained an inch, in fact sometimes we have been set back from where we started, through these methods. Perhaps, I am wrong in the way I feel. I would like someone to show us a detailed plan to get our point across to the world and gain justice for the Sikhs.

4: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, USA), January 02, 2016, 10:53 AM.

I agree with Kulvinder Jit ji (Re comment #1) that the cause for which Bapu ji is sacrificing his life is not thought out fully. No one in the Central or State Governments cares for human rights. Through force, they have transferred his body to a hospital where directions seem to have been given to doctors to assure that Bapu ji does not die because of fasting. Doctors have disabled him mentally by injecting medicines and it seems he does not even know where he is and what is his daily routine. Bapu ji is dying for a cause which will be soon forgotten. Sikhs do not die for momentary impulses.

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Bapu Surat Singh "

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