It was almost two years ago, on 16 January, 2015, when 83-year-old Bapu Surat Singh Khalsa started his hunger strike. Commencing this journey in his home in Hassanpur, Punjab more than 700 days ago, Bapu Surat Singh has endured years of force-feeding, all to help free Sikh political prisoners in India.
In a letter to Indian Prime Minister Modi in February 2015, Bapu Surat Singh wrote:
“These political prisoners are suffering for their commitment, belief and ideology of the Sikh struggle. My demand is straight and simple:
1. Treat all Sikh prisoners –under trials and those sentenced in cases relating to the Sikh struggle- as political prisoners and
2. Release all prisoners who have completed their full jail terms and are legitimately due for release, exactly in the same manner, as other prisoners are so released in various other parts of the country.”
To this day, PM Modi has yet to visit or even acknowledge Bapu Surat Singh’s hunger strike. Despite this maltreatment, some political prisoners have been released due to Bapu Surat Singh’s effort. In December 2015, the first prisoner, Waryam Singh, was released after 25 years by the Government of Uttar Pradesh. Starting in early 2016, eight more were released and two others were given temporary parole for the first time in two decades.
Bapu Surat Singh vows to keep his hunger strike until the remaining Sikh political prisoners, who have completed their sentences, are released by the Punjab Government.
It is estimated that Bapu Surat Singh will have been force-fed for over 500 days starting in January 2017. Having been subjected to forceful treatment through a feeding tube inserted in his nose, Bapu Surat Singh has tried several times to remove the tube over the two-year period. Although he has been able to by his own volition, the authorities are quick to insert the tube again and resume the feeding.
This treatment of Bapu Surat Singh begs the question: why doesn’t the Punjab Government release the prisoners on humanitarian grounds? Why does it instead choose to torment and torture an 83-year-old man? The Punjab Government, and more specifically the Badal family, has yet to give a straight answer on this issue.
While the longest hunger striker ended her hunger strike this past year, Bapu Surat Singh continues to tread in Irom Sharmila’s footsteps as the oldest person on hunger strike, nearing #2YearsOfHunger.
The Sangharsh Jaari Hai team, a network of worldwide volunteers, encourage supporters and human rights activists to continue to raise awareness for Bapu Surat Singh’s hunger strike. There are several ongoing campaigns that people can engage in:
1. Donate blood: please donate blood at any donation center near you and either tweet on Twitter or post on Instagram your photo while donating, using the hashtag #SikhBlood
2. Organize an #Art4Justice exhibition in your local gurdwara sahib or any location near you. Volunteers can email you the digital artwork that can be printed out and put on display. (contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)
3. You can also submit your original artwork to be displayed in future exhibitions. The work must be inspired by Bapu Surat Singh’s struggle to free Sikh political prisoners. Please email the work to the same email address listed in (2).
4. Continue to tweet or post photos of support, holding a piece of paper that reads “I Support @bapusuratsingh #freesikhpoliticalprisoners”; please tag @bapusuratsingh on Twitter and sangharsh_jaari_hai on Instagram.
5. Write to your local MP and ask them to: a) write to the Foreign Secretary or Indian High Commission in London to ask how India is dealing with this serious issue
6. Email Amnesty International and Amnesty India and ask them to launch an urgent action to investigate the treatment of Bapu Surat Singh and the immediate release of Sikh political prisoners (email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org)
If any group or city is planning any events to help raise awareness, please contact sangharsh volunteers at email@example.com
Follow Bapu Surat Singh’s struggle on social media:
Facebook: Bapu Surat Singh Khalsa – Sangharsh Jaari Hai