56 Days Hungry: Activist Stays Steadfast For Human Rights
By Gurmeet Kaur
15 January, 2015
A human rights activist in North India just completed day 56 of his hunger strike in protest against the government’s mistreatment and illegal detention of political prisoners. His cause and the duration of his strike reminds one of Bobby Sands, the first of ten Irish Hunger Strikers to die in 1981. The ten protested against the British government on revocation of the prisoner-of-war like category for paramilitary prisoners. They survived without food for 46 to 73 days.
Gurbaksh Singh Khalsa started his non-violent protest on November 14, 2014 in Ambala, Haryana. He has not had a morsel of food since. His fast has lasted longer than the human body typically allows, though this week his physical health began to fail him. Doctors fear that he will pass at any moment.
Khalsa is demanding the release of Sikh political prisoners who he maintains have already served their jail terms—all of the seven prisoners he has focused on have served their minimum mandatory sentence of 14 years. Khalsa is also protesting the fact that the prisoners have been subjected to unusually harsh sentences and many were incarcerated despite any evidence or on fabricated cases.
Mr. Khalsa is representing principled protest for human rights and civil rights, and supporters from around the world have recognized his efforts.
Mr. Khalsa engaged in a similar hunger strike in 2013, and this effort received national and international attention. His efforts sparked protests across India and around the world, and he ended that fast when some of the prisoners were allowed temporary parole and on the assurance that the rest will follow. However, there has been little movement on addressing the issue of all the prisoners who have been held unjustly, and Khalsa is now, thus, fasting unto death—a strike he resumed on the one year anniversary of his 2013 strike.
Everyday human rights activists and supporters come in by the hundreds to show their support and offer their prayers. Last month he asked his supporters to show their solidarity by maintaining a fast on December 25. Thousands of people around the globe honored this request. On January 1, 2015, a group of nearly 100,000 arrived by his side to show their respect. On Jan 7th, 2015 as Khalsa completed 55 days of hunger, his supporters organized worldwide protests against India’s unjust incarceration of its political prisoners.
Activists in London, Frankfurt, New York, Seattle, Houston, Atlanta, Brampton, Surrey, and many cities and towns in the northern state of Punjab in India gathered at Indian embassies, consulates or other government offices submitting their petitions in support of Khalsa’s cause.
Despite the popular support and the media attention on the issue, the government has yet to offer a response to the human rights community.
With the ushering of the new year, and as Khalsa enters the ninth week of his hunger strike, it remains to be seen that how the largest democracy of the world responds to the efforts of this human rights champion who has put his life on the line to ensure justice and freedom for the people of India.
Gurmeet Kaur Activist, Author, Environmentalist -A daughter of the Punjab learning to be a Mother
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