September 26th, 2015
Yesterday, Panjab police arrived in large numbers and cordoned off Bapu Surat Singh’s home in Hassanpur. An ambulance remained outside until the early hours of the night, increasing the threat that Bapu Ji may once again be forcibly removed and taken to hospital. Since January 16, 2015, Surat Singh Khalsa, an 83-year-old activist, has been on a fast-unto-death seeking release of Sikh prisoners who have completed their full jail terms and are legitimately due for release. What he got in return is a forced confinement at a hospital in Ludhiana where he is being force-fed and subjected to dubious medical procedures – a conduct that is being called inhuman by many.
What is Surat Singh’s demand?
Singh has claimed that there are at least 43 Sikh prisoners across several prisons in the country who have completed their full jail terms, but are still being held in their old age. He demands their release. As reported by scroll “The least the state government can do is work to bring them back to Punjab, making it easier for their families to visit them,” Singh said. “Arrogant rulers may not listen, but people do.”
Why are Singh’s demands being ignored?
Sumedh Singh Saini, the Director General of Police, Punjab, said in a press conference that a list discussed by Surat Singh contained 82 names, some of whom have been arrested as recently as 2014, and that several were undertrials. The Supreme Court had stayed the release of life convicts across the country with an order in July 2014, and in some cases, the prisoners were jailed in other states.
Are Singh’s demands valid?
Jaspal Singh Manjhpur, the lawyer aiding Surat Singh, said that the list discussed by the DGP contained 200 names, of which an estimated 70 to 75 prisoners have indeed served over 15 to 20 years of their jail term. Arjun Sheoran, a lawyer associated with People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), said that the Punjab government’s claim that the state was unable to act because of a Supreme Court stay on release of life prisoners in 2014 was inaccurate and that an interim application could be filed.
Inhuman treatment of Surat Singh
After the first three weeks of his fast getting totally ignored by the govt., over a hundred policemen forcefully shifted Surat Singh from his house to a civil hospital on February 8, where he was placed under preventive arrest. Allegedly, in order to force-feed him, food pipes have been stitched on the activist’s forehead in an unhygienic and unscientific manner, which resulted in an infection.
The country’s largest civil rights organizations, PUCL said that if the allegations are true, they amount to inflicting torture and inhuman, cruel, degrading and illegal treatment, and that the state is denying Surat Singh his right to indulge in a non-violent, democratic act of protesting.
Besides, Surat Singh’s son, Ravinderjit Singh, a U.S. citizen, who visited India to look after his father, was held under Indian police custody for two months under charges of being “likely to commit a breach of the peace”. After his release on April 27, Ravinder says he was tortured multiple times and that his life was in danger. He has alleged that the police blackmailed him to manipulate Surat into stopping his protest.