For Immediate Release
December 18, 2013

Government of India ignores Sikh activist’s hunger strike and discriminate against the release of Sikh prisoners

The hunger strike observed by a Sikh human-rights activist opened up a string of evidence to substantiate that the GOI is discriminating against Sikh prisoners, denying paroles to many of them and is using its power to suppress the issue from gaining momentum.

MOHALI, Punjab, India: Gurbakash Singh, a Sikh Human Rights activist, is on a hunger strike since November 14, 2013 seeking the release of 6 Sikh prisoners who have completed the minimum mandatory terms of their sentences in jails across India. These 6 individuals were sentenced to life imprisonment by various courts in their respective cases. It is the norm in India to release life-sentence prisoners after they complete 14 years in jail.

Three of the prisoners that Gurbakash Singh is struggling for have completed 18 years in jail, one has been locked up for the last 22 years and two others have served 23 years in prison. Some of these individuals have not been allowed bail or parole. The differential treatment meted out to the prisoners of the minority stands out starkly in contrast to some of the cases where convicts accused of far more heinous crimes were released completely or several times on parole or bail.

The Legal Services Authority of Punjab and Haryana recently compiled information from Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh on prisoners who were awaiting release after completing their sentence (14 years) and the information was published in the Chandigarh edition of The Indian Express, dated Oct. 3, 2013. The article detailed that, “There are 94 such convicts in Punjab, 76 in Haryana and seven in Chandigarh. Many of these convicts are languishing in jails for over two decades, some even for over 24 years.” It further noted that, “The information gathered also shows the arbitrariness of states when it comes to releasing the convicts. While in certain cases, a convict awarded life imprisonment has been released even before completion of 14 years, in others, they were not even granted parole.” The report further emphasized the unequal treatment of Sikh prisoners in Indian correctional facilities.

The hunger strike by Gurbakash Singh began on November 14, 2013 and 22 days into the strike, there was still no acknowledgement of the strike or the recognition of the issues that Gurbaksh Singh was bringing up by the Punjab or local governments. But, on the night of December 5, 2013 at the Sikh temple, Amb Sahib (Mohali, Punjab), where Gurbaksh Singh was observing his hunger strike, 20 – 30 policemen disguised as Sikh devotees marched in to the temple, many of them under the influence of alcohol. They came without an arrest warrant and wrongfully confined Gurbaksh Singh. According to an eyewitness, Manjit Kaur, “Gurbakash Singh Ji was bundled by the Police into a vehicle like a ‘sack of potatoes’. After force feeding and attempting to run multiple forced medical tests, the police released Gurbakash Singh and he continues his hunger strike.

Despite being continuously ignored by the mainstream media and the Punjab, local and central governments of India, Gurbakash Singh continues his hunger strike and is on his 35th day today. His health is deteriorating by the minute now, his potassium levels are dangerously low and his body is melting muscle to survive. He has vowed to eat only when he sees the faces of those 6 prisoners, free and standing next to him. He inspires people around him to unite and stand up against injustice.  With this movement, Gurbakash Singh has endeavored to channel a big change with very humble beginnings.

Following his objective to create an atmosphere where everyone is heard and respected, Voices For Freedom, has started a campaign “SUPPORT THE RELEASE OF LONG TERM SIKH PRISONERS”. Please support us in this battle against discrimination, it is a big uprising in the making, if we do not act fast Gurbakash Singh may not live to see the fruits of his labor.

Jaspreet Kaur
Legal Fellow
Voices For Freedom