Lower Mainland Sikhs protest protracted prison terms in India

Published: December 23, 2013

Local gurdwara members are seated at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Sunday. They went on hunger strike in support of Indian farmer Gurbaksh Singh Khalsa, to raise awareness of political prisoners awaiting release. Submitted photo.

LARISSA CAHUTE
VANCOUVER DESI

Hundreds of B.C. Sikhs and human rights protesters gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery Sunday in support of an East Indian farmer who’s been on hunger strike for more than 40 days.

Gurbaksh Singh Khalsa of Mohali, India has not eaten since Nov. 14 in an attempt to raise awareness of the subcontinent’s many political prisoners awaiting release.

According to Prem Vinning, president of the World Sikh Organization of Canada, eight local gurdwara members, including himself, went on a hunger strike from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., alonside hundreds who gathered for a rally at the art gallery “to show support and solidarity for his hunger strike.”

“Basically what (Khalsa) is saying is people who have completed their minimal sentences, their prison terms, should be released and be allowed to return to their families and rebuild their lives,” he said.

According to Vinning, Khalsa is on strike for six prisoners in particular: Gurmeet Singh, Lakhwinder Singh, Lal Singh, Shamsher Singh, Waryan Singh, and Gurdeep Singh.

But their scenario is similar to many other political prisoners in India — they’re kept imprisoned for much longer than the usual 14-year sentence, with many remaining behind bars for 20 years or more, Vinning said.

Hundreds of B.C. Sikhs gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery Sunday in support of Indian farmer Gurbaksh Singh Khalsa, to raise awareness of political prisoners awaiting release. Submitted photo.

“People are just being kept there and they need to be released after they’ve served their sentence, paid their dues to society,” said Vinning. “They should be released and allowed to lead normal lives.”

According to Vinning, similar hunger strikes and peaceful rallies happened in Sikh communities across the globe on Sunday.

“Just a rally to show support to highlight the issue, that this needs to be addressed,” he said.

lcahute@vancouverdesi.com
twitter.com/larissacahute

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