Police stride through streets in Punjab after Sikh religious summit.

India Charges American Sikhs With Sedition For Attending Religious Summit


U.S. Sikhs call on Congress to “demand India stop bullying our American Sikh leaders”

Police stride through streets in Punjab after Sikh religious summit.

Police stride through streets in Punjab after Sikh religious summit.

Amritsar, Punjab: Nov. 17, 2015 — After mass arrests of organizers and participants in a Sikh religious summit hosted in Punjab, India, authorities have filed sedition charges against several, including four American Sikhs.

A North American Sikh summit representing over 100 gurdwaras and organizations formally appointed five representatives to attend the “Sarbat Khalsa,” a global convocation held on Nov. 10 in the Punjabi city of Amritsar to discuss leadership selection processes and other issues of concern to members of the Sikh religion. Two — Harinder Singh and Resham Singh — now face sedition charges in India for attending the religious congregation. Both are U.S. citizens.

“It’s incomprehensible why peacefully conducting internal religious affairs is treated as a crime by the government of India,” comments Bhajan Singh of US-based Sikh Information Centre. “India’s sedition law is a direct carryover from the colonial-era laws of British India that was originally written and used by the British to silence supporters of India’s independence movement. Now it’s being used to intimidate and control the international Sikh religious leadership.”

Harinder is a prominent voice for human rights in his community and serves as CEO of Sikh Research Institute. Resham is a small businessowner from California, while two other American-Sikhs also slapped with sedition charges by Indian authorities are Surjit Singh, a taxi driver, and Gurbhej Singh, a well-known preacher focused on encouraging Sikh youth to reject drugs, gangs, and follow a religious path. All three work closely with Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritar), a Sikh political party headed by Simranjit Singh Mann, who is also charged with sedition.

It is unknown how the cases against the four American Sikhs will proceed as the U.S.-India extradition treaty prohibits extradition for political offenses.

Indian authorities appear to think the post-event, independent actions of Sarbat Khalsa attendees, after the event, qualify as evidence against those charged with sedition. Accusing the “supporters” of the summit of raising “communal and anti-country slogans while going back to their homes after conclusion of event,” the police report alleges speeches at the event “were also aimed at hurting national integrity.”

Disturbed by mass arrests of the Sarbat Khalsa attendees and indignant at India’s sedition charges against U.S. citizens, Sikhs in the United States blame the arrests on Indian interference in their religion.

“Sikhs in India, the birthplace of our religion, are being totally denied any freedom of religion,” says Balbir Singh Dhillon. Now the president of West Sacramento Gurdwara, he was in 1996 jailed by Indian police for three months while traveling in Punjab as a U.S. citizen. Held without charges, it took appeals from dozens of congressional representatives for India to admit he had committed no crime and release him, but he says his memories of being tortured in custody increase his concern for the imprisoned Sikhs.

“The poor families of these innocent men are living in terror not knowing what future awaits their loved ones,” laments Dhillon. “Is it a crime of sedition to be a Sikh in India? I really hope our congressional representatives do their duty to speak out against these false charges and especially demand India stop bullying our American Sikh leaders.”

The Sarbat Khalsa was announced in response to recent and repeated desecrations of the Sikh scriptures, Guru Granth Sahib, as well as dissatisfaction with the Sikh religion’s leadership, and the Punjab government’s suppression of peaceful Sikh protests. As Congressmen John Garamendi and Patrick Meehan wrote in an Oct. 30, 2015 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry: “This desecration prompted hundreds of peaceful Sikh protestors to demand action. Two demonstrators were killed when police opened fire on a crowd of protestors.”

Reports suggest the religious summit drew as many as 750,000 Sikhs from around the world. Bhajan Singh calls it “a million-Sikh march.” The congregation passed thirteen resolutions that included replacing the Jathedars (priests) of its Takhts (sacred seats of authority) with interim appointees, scheduling another Sarbat Khalsa in April 2016 to select permanent Jathedars, agreeing to seek “Vatican-like status” for Harmandir Sahib (the holiest Sikh shrine also known as the Golden Temple), and voicing concerns about several human rights issues.

Lasting a full-day on Nov. 10, the congregation dispersed peacefully, yet the next day the Indian government reacted with mass arrests of Sikh leadership, including clergy, politicians, and even a journalist.

According to news reports, those arrested were initially “preventatively detained” under Criminal Procedure Code sections 107/151, which allow police to detain anyone suspected of intending to breach the peace. After U.S. citizen Ravinderjit Singh Gogi and his hunger-striking father, Surat Singh Khalsa, were detained under the same law in February, six U.S. representatives protested in a letter to Secretary of State Kerry: “The existence and use of these laws, which India has used to restrict freedom of expression and association, is contrary to democratic principles, and specifically to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which India has ratified.”

Along with four American Sikhs and 14 Punjabi Sikhs, authorities in India have registered sedition charges against Sikhs from Italy and the United Kingdom.

India’s sedition law has long faced strong international criticism. Section 124a of the Indian Penal Code, which defines “sedition” as any act or attempt to “to bring into hatred or contempt, or… excite disaffection towards the government.” However, it Amnesty International warned in 2014: “India’s archaic sedition law has been used to harass and persecute activists and others for their peaceful exercise of their right to free expression.” Punishing sedition with up to life imprisonment, Section 124a was infamously used by the British to detain Hindu preacher Mohandas Gandhi; more recently, it has been invoked against people like cartoonist Aseem Trivedi for drawing a cartoon satirizing India’s national emblem and Salman M. for not standing during the playing of India’s national anthem in a movie theatre.


Indian Police Mass Arrest Sikh Media, Clergy, Politicians After Global Sikh Convocation

International Sikh community demands release of all, warning the Indian government wants control over their religion


Indian security forces march through the streets of Punjab after Sarbat Khalsa.

Indian security forces march through the streets of Punjab after Sarbat Khalsa.

Amritsar, Punjab: Nov. 12, 2015 — The preventative detention on Nov. 11 of several key Sikh leaders and a journalist by Indian police at the conclusion of a global convocation of Sikhs called “Sarbat Khalsa” is a cause for concern among some who see it as an indication of government interference in their religious affairs that they fear may result in the torture of those arrested.

“As an American citizen traveling to Punjab in the 1990s, I was arrested, jailed, and tortured for three months by Indian police,” remarks Balbir Singh Dhillon, president of California’s influential West Sacramento Gurdwara. “Held without charges, it took 50 representatives from U.S. Congress speaking out to get my release. My prayers are with our recently arrested Sikh leaders, especially after my firsthand experience with the horrors of Indian police custody.”

Those arrested in Amritsar and surrounding areas of Punjab include Simranjit Singh Mann (president of political party Shiromani Akali Dal – Amritsar), Mokham Singh (president of political party United Akali Dal), Dhian Singh Mand (newly elected proxy priest of Akal Takht, the Sikh religion’s governing institution), and Surinder Singh (a journalist with Talking Punjab who was providing in-depth, on-location coverage of the Sarbat Khalsa). The Sarbat Khalsa, held on Nov. 10, was called in response to repeated desecration of Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh scripture, and the resulting massacre by police of peaceful Sikh protesters.

Many other prominent Sikhs involved in organizing the event were also rounded up. None are charged with any crime, as Amritsar Police Commissioner Jatinder Aulakh says they are “under preventive detention.” Dhillon speculates police may have invoked Criminal Procedure Code sections 107/151, which allow police to arrest people they think are “likely to commit a breach of the peace.”

After the law was used in February to detain U.S. citizen Ravinderjit Singh Gogi and his hunger-striking father, Surat Singh Khalsa, six U.S. congressional representatives protested in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry: “The existence and use of these laws, which India has used to restrict freedom of expression and association, is contrary to democratic principles, and specifically to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which India has ratified.”

The Sarbat Khalsa, according to some reports, drew upwards of 750,000 Sikhs. “It was a million-Sikh march,” states Bhajan Singh of Sikh Information Centre. He says, however, that India-based associates of Bhim Rao Ambedkar Sikh Foundation, an international nonprofit of which he is a board member, were prevented from attending the convention, explaining:

“Over 50 BRASF activists were left stranded on their way to the Sarbat Khalsa when the bus company they’d arranged refused service because police had threatened to revoke their commercial licenses if they transported anyone to the convention. It is incredible that perhaps a quarter of a million Sikhs from every part of the earth gathered peacefully despite persistent government harassment. We estimate that perhaps 250,000 more were prevented from attending, not to mention the millions who watched online.”

Announced in September, the emergency convention had two primary goals, according to Manjit Singh Uppal, who traveled to the event from California as a representative of historic Stockton Gurdwara, the oldest Sikh-American institution. “We need to build a system for our representation so that we can hold another Sarbat Khalsa in six months. Also, we need to decide how we can represent the Sikhs all over the world that live outside of India.”

Thirteen resolutions passed by the assembly focus on revitalizing the Sikh religion’s leadership by removing four of five Jathedars (priests) of its Takhts (sacred seats of authority), replacing them with symbolic interim appointees, and calling for a more intensive Sarbat Khalsa on Vaisakhi 2016, a festival in April.

The next Sarbat Khalsa is expected to dwell extensively on the declaration of Resolution 11 that the Sikh community “aspires for Vatican-like status for Harimandir Sahib Complex to ensure every Sikh’s birthright to visit and deliberate at the Akal Takhat Sahib.”

Human rights was a harmonious theme in other resolutions, which denounce police and army officials involved in the Sikh Genocide and declare the Sikh Nation “demands all political prisoners of any movement in India such as Sikhs, Naxalites, Nagas, and others, be released unconditionally.” Invoking the religion’s egalitarian foundations, another resolution “appeals to stop the construction of caste-based gurdwaras and cremation grounds.”

Gogi, the son of 83-year-old hunger-striker Bapu Surat Singh Khalsa, who completed his 300th day without food on Nov. 11 despite repeated arrest and force-feeding by police, spoke about his father’s struggle from the convention stage. An American citizen, he was released from an Indian jail in April after repeated letters from Congress pled for him. Detained for two months without arraignment, he also reports being tortured.

“The recent wave of ideological and political pushback by people like Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh shows how India’s downtrodden masses are using every faculty to struggle against a deeply oppressive environment,” suggests Bhajan. “India’s minorities are exhausted by de facto dictatorships, and genocides, and torture, and they are rejecting the Bharatiya Janata Party’s politics of hate.”

India’s ruling party, the BJP, also shares power in Punjab’s state government. After orchestrating a genocide of Sikhs in 1984, India’s other leading party, the Indian National Congress, finds less popularity in the community, although the BJP is similarly accused of genocidal attacks on Muslim and Christians.

The Indian government, under every party, has long faced unresolved charges by international human rights bodies of torture, extrajudicial killings, creation of mass graves, persecution of religious minorities, and other atrocities. Tales of genocide survivors are common among the Sikh diaspora, which includes thousands who claim refugee status. And now the arrest of so many influential Sikhs at the conclusion of the convention is incensing Sikhs outside India.

“I’m really sorry to see a journalist also arrested for reporting on our Sarbat Khalsa,” says Dhillon. “The Indian government is so desperate to keep control over the management of the Sikh religion. The government in Punjab is politicizing our faith. So they arrested all the top Sikh leaders for nothing but to interfere in the operations of our religious institutions. There’s no religious freedom in India, none at all, not like the United States.”

According to Jago Punjabi, the arrests were planned at a Nov. 10 meeting hosted by Punjab’s Chief Minister, Parkash Badal, with key cabinet ministers and the president of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (the managerial body for the Sikhs set up by the British Empire under its colonial “Gurdwara Act of 1925”), all of whom consulted with Punjab’s Advocate-General, Ashok Aggarwal, and senior police officers about the legality of preventatively detaining Mann and other Sikh leaders.

“The world should not stand by silently as peaceful Sikhs are being arrested, tortured, and killed in Punjab for protesting government interference in their religion,” concludes Bhajan.

He adds, “Congress, especially, has a duty to keep a protective eye out for the many Sikh-Americans who are returning from the Sarbat Khalsa. And as a patron of the American Sikh Congressional Caucus, I call on those representatives to talk about issues like this which so deeply concern the global Sikh community. Religious freedom in India is on the brink of a cliff not just for Sikhs, but for all the country’s religious minorities, who are at risk of a terrifying amount of violence from the State and its associates.”

Harjit Sajjan

Canada Appoints First Sikh Defence Minister While Winding Down Middle-East Combat

“We hope Minister Sajjan’s appointment coincides with a non-interventionist foreign policy,” says Bhajan Singh

Harjit Sajjan

Ottawa, Canada: Nov. 5, 2015 — After Canada’s Liberal Party rode to victory, newly-minted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed Sikh veteran Harjit Singh Sajjan as Defence Minister, making him the only Sikh in the world to hold such a position.

“We congratulate Harjit Singh Sajjan for this historic achievement,” comments Bhajan Singh of Sikh Information Centre (SIC). “As his selection came days after Sikhs worldwide commemorated the 31st anniversary of the Indian State’s genocide against our people, we are reminded of how important it is for a nation’s security forces to understand how to operate in a defensive rather than offensive capacity. So we hope Minister Sajjan’s appointment coincides with a non-interventionist foreign policy and gladly welcome his cooperation with Prime Minister Trudeau’s commitment to winding down Canadian involvement in foreign wars in the Middle-East.”

Sajjan, a decorated Lieutenant-colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces, has served abroad four times — once in Bosnia and thrice in Afghanistan — and previously made history in 2011 as the first Sikh to command a Canadian Army regiment. Elected to parliament as a representative for Vancouver South, he previously worked for 11 years as a Vancouver Police Department detective. His Nov. 4 appointment as Minister of National Defence comes after the Liberal Party, upon coming to power, pledged to end Canada’s bombing campaigns in Iraq and Syria; last year, their predecessors ended the country’s participation in the Afghanistan War.

“He should concentrate on policy,” remarked retired Brigadier-general Dave Fraser, who tasked Sajjan in 2006 to serve as an intelligence liaison to Afghani politicians. Speaking on behalf of the Conference of Defence Associations Institute, an NGO that promotes informed public debate and discourse on national security and defence issues, retired Colonel George Petrolekas suggested Sajjan should have a “serious conversation” with United States officials about whether or not Canadian troops should play a role in training militants in Middle-Eastern hotspots.

Harjit Singh Sajjan takes his oath of office as Minister of National Defence.

Harjit Singh Sajjan takes his oath of office as Minister of National Defence.

“With his record of diplomacy, negotiation, and intelligence-gathering, Minister Sajjan seems well-suited to guiding Canada’s foreign policy away from expensive and perpetual military intervention,” says SIC Executive Director Pieter Friedrich. “Before him stands the opportunity to play a momentous part in the future of a thriving Canada by steering the country towards a foreign policy of freedom that embraces peace, commerce, and honest friendship as its most effective tools. We saw just last month the tragedy that can result from military intervention abroad when 30 civilians died after the U.S. bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, and in light of that, we hope that Sajjan will draw on the history of his Sikh people to see the higher road.”

Sajjan joins a total of four Sikhs appointed to cabinet positions, including Navdeep Singh Bains (Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development), Amarjeet Singh Sohi (Minister of Infrastructure and Communities), and Bardish Chagger (Minister of Small Business and Tourism). Chagger is the first Sikh woman ever appointed to the Canadian cabinet. Sohi, meanwhile, personally tasted state-sponsored violence against Sikhs. Born in India, he began organizing peaceful protests there in the 1980s to agitate for rural land reform. Arrested for his efforts, the Edmonton Journal reports: “He spent two years in prison, without charge, the victim of torture, malnutrition and solitary confinement, before he was eventually exonerated by a CSIS investigation and an Indian court.”

Stockton Sikhs Partner With DOJ For “Waking in Oak Creek” Special Screening September 28, 2015 Admin

Stockton Sikhs Partner With DOJ For “Waking in Oak Creek” Special Screening

Stockton Sikhs Partner With DOJ For “Waking in Oak Creek” Special Screening Film commemorating Wisconsin gurdwara shootings draws tears, applause from a crowd of students, Sikhs, and community leaders at University of the Pacific

Stockton, CA: “Hate doesn’t discriminate, but love conquers all hate,”” concluded Bhajan Singh in a panel discussion after a special screening of “Waking in Oak Creek” hosted at University of the Pacific’s Janet Leigh Theatre on Wednesday night.

A diverse audience turned out to view the film, which drew tears and applause as it documented the transformation of Oak Creek, Wisconsin after an August 2012 shooting by a white supremacist claimed the lives of six Sikhs. Local Sikh families filled the theatre, rubbing shoulders with students and members of local and federal law-enforcement agencies. As the audience dried their eyes at the conclusion of the film, panelists including United States Attorney Benjamin Wagner engaged in a short discussion and fielded questions.

Stockton Sikhs Partner With DOJ For “Waking in Oak Creek” Special Screening

Other leaders from Stockton Gurdwara, the oldest Sikh-American institution, who attended included President Racinder Singh, Daljit Singh, Manjit Brar, and former president Manjit Singh Uppal.

In response to one viewer’s question about how to prevent similar hate-crimes, Wagner said, “”There are always going to be hate-filled people out there.” One interesting moment in the film was when the former white supremacist talked about how he changed his beliefs when people reached out to him with acts of kindness even though they were people he disliked.” Referring to the AME Church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, he explained that many people who commit racial hate-crimes desire to spark a race-war. ““What people don’t expect,” he said, “”is the kind of unity that results.”

What is Diversity?

“”From the Black Lives Matter movement, the sufferings of Native Americans, Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Aurora, the 9/11 attacks, and now the Oak Creek Gurdwara shooting, we have learned that all life is equally precious,”” said Bhajan Singh, Public Relations Officer for Stockton Gurdwara. Asked how to react after such incidents, he responded, “”When we react to shootings and hate crimes, I think what is missing is consistency. What is diversity and why does it matter needs to be household table-talk.””

FBI Special Agent Robert Tripp stated: “”Hate crime is the FBI’s number one civil rights priority.”” Noting their ability to prevent crimes is limited because they cannot investigate beliefs, but only suspicious behaviors, he emphasized the need for building strong and united communities as the best prevention. Audience members agreed as Wagner pointed out: “A lot of hatred comes from misunderstanding and misunderstanding comes from ignorance.” Discussing the duties of law-enforcement, San Joaquin County District Assistant District Attorney Ronald Freitas said, “We are bound by the Constitution that all men and women are created equal.”

Stockton Sikhs Partner With DOJ For “Waking in Oak Creek” Special Screening

The panel included Bhajan Singh, Benjamin Wagner (US Attorney), Eric Jones (Stockton Police Chief), Robert Tripp (FBI Special Agent), and Ronald Freitas (San Joaquin County Assistant District Attorney).

Hosted by Community Leaders

The panel included Bhajan Singh (Public Relations Officer for Stockton Gurdwara), Benjamin Wagner (US Attorney), Eric Jones (Stockton Police Chief), Robert Tripp (FBI Special Agent), and Ronald Freitas (San Joaquin County Assistant District Attorney). Other leaders from Stockton Gurdwara, the oldest Sikh-American institution, who attended included President Racinder Singh, Daljit Singh, Manjit Brar, and former president Manjit Singh Uppal. The American Punjabi Chamber of Commerce was represented by Mike Boparai.

Concluding the night with a meal hosted by the university’’s Dean of Religious Life, Joel Lohr, the audience departed with the words of Pardeep Kaleka, eldest son of Oak Creek victim Satwant Singh Kaleka, echoing in their ears: “”As you leave today, be awake.””

“Waking in Oak Creek” is a documentary produced by Not In Our Town and the U.S. Departments of Justice COPS Office. It depicts how, as the Sikh community in Oak Creek, Wisconsin prepares for Sunday prayers, a deadly hate attack shatters their lives, but not their resilience. After six worshipers are killed by a white supremacist, the local community finds inspiration in the Sikh tradition of forgiveness and faith. Lieutenant Murphy, shot 15 times in the attack, joins the mayor and police chief as they forge new bonds with the Sikh community. Young temple members, still grieving, emerge as leaders in the quest to end the violence. In the year following the tragedy, thousands gather for vigils and community events to honor the victims and seek connection. Together, a community rocked by hate is awakened and transformed by the Sikh spirit of relentless optimism.

satwinder singh bhola

Political Motivation Contemplated in Slaying of Chicago Sikh

Son-in-law of hunger-striking Surat Singh Khalsa stabbed to death

Peoria, IL, USA: August 19, 2015 — Family of Satwinder Singh Bhola (53), who was found stabbed to death in the parking lot of his Peoria, Illinois apartment complex shortly after midnight on Monday, are questioning whether his murder could be related to his father-in-law’s internationally-recognized hunger-strike protest in India.

satwinder singh bholaBhola was the son-in-law of Surat Singh Khalsa (83), a U.S. permanent resident who has been on hunger-strike in Punjab, India since January 16 to demand release of Sikh political prisoners. His wife, Sarvarinder Kaur, just returned to her home in Illinois on August 5 after spending several months in Punjab ministering to Khalsa and serving as his spokesperson. As of Monday, Khalsa’s official Facebook page states: “This is believed to be an act of Indian agencies to force Bapu Surat Singh to give up his peaceful hunger-strike.”

“Satwinder Singh was closer to me than my own son,” says Khalsa about the murder, “but closer still are those Sikhs languishing in prisons. This incident will not affect my resolve or determination for the cause to free Sikh political prisoners.”

Police have yet to identify any suspects, but robbery did not appear to be a factor as the local newspaper reported that Bhola, a convenience store owner who was returning from work, “had more than $2,000 cash in his pocket and other financial items like a blank check that were not taken during the deadly encounter.” He suffered multiple stab wounds, including one to the neck which appeared to be the fatal blow, perhaps implying the attacker’s intent was to kill.

Sikh community leader Bhajan Singh remarks, “My heart is filled with sorrow at this bizarre and bizarrely timed tragedy.” Singh, founder of US-based NGO Sikh Information Centre, urges Peoria police to investigate every possible angle of the case, including potential international dimensions. “While Khalsa’s son-in-law was murdered here in the U.S., his son, Ravinderjit, has personally communicated to me that he is receiving death threats while at his father’s side in India,” says Singh.

He continues: “Surat Singh Khalsa’s protest movement has sustained irreparable damage after the brutal murder of his son-in-law, Satwinder. The culprit, whoever it is, must be apprehended, but his killing appears to possess the fingerprints of agents provocateurs. Such is well within the realm of possibility as the Indian State has notoriously orchestrated false flags, bombings, and assassinations of dissenters. Absolutely the only people that benefit, and greatly so, are the Punjabi and Indian governments who have been deeply embarrassed by the international attention paid to Bapuji’s hunger-strike.”

The ruling party of Punjab, Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal), has faced strong criticism from Khalsa and his family for reacting to his peaceful protest by repeatedly arresting the 83-year-old man. His son, Ravinderjit Singh, a U.S. citizen from Northern California, was also arrested, held without trial for nearly two months, and beaten in custody. Their treatment prompted nine U.S. congressional representatives to request Secretary of State John Kerry’s intervention.

In June, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (San Jose) even delivered formal remarks to the House of Representatives, asking her colleagues to “honor the struggle of many political prisoners in India today, including Mr. Surat Singh Khalsa.”

Meanwhile, the SAD party was recently protested during a public relations tour of North America; in New York City, for instance, Punjab’s Minister of Non-Resident Indian (NRI) Affairs Tota Singh was struck by a shoe derisively hurled by an angry Punjabi-American.

Meanwhile, Indian diaspora have cheered legislators in Canada and the United Kingdom for joining U.S. Congress in speaking out about Khalsa. A UK Parliament motion backed by 21 MPs “calls for the release of multiple political prisoners who are held by the Indian state.” Last month, Canada’s NDP and Liberal parties both issued statements praising Khalsa. Calling him a “peaceful protester,” the NDP’s July 24 statement noted that “the Punjabi-Canadian community has expressed concern abut the situation of political prisoners in India” and asks the Foreign Affairs Minister to “raise these cases with the government of India.”

“I grieve for Bapuji’s daughter, Bhanji Sarvarinder Kaur, and the incredible pain she and her entire family must be feeling right now,” says Fr. Joshua Lickter, an Anglican priest who has spent the past few months advocating for Khalsa in California. “I pray that she and her family would be comforted in their time of sorrow and that whomever is responsible for this horrific act would be apprehended and brought to justice.” Expressing suspicion over the motive behind Satwinder’s killing, he notes: “The details surrounding his murder strongly suggest a connection between his death and his family’s peaceful protests against the Indian government.”

Satwinder Singh Bhola leaves behind his wife, Sarvarinder, and three children. Like his father-in-law, Bhola came to the United States as a refugee from political and religious persecution in India.

Patrons of Sikh Caucus Request U.S. Congress To Speak For Surat Singh Khalsa

As patrons of the American Sikh Congressional Caucus, and members of the community the caucus represents, we urge the 42 U.S. representatives who belong to the caucus to recognize and represent the interests of the Sikh-American community by acknowledging the democratic protest of Californian Sikh Surat Singh Khalsa, a permanent resident of the United States who is on hunger-strike in Punjab, India to demand release of political prisoners.

Khalsa, like many Sikhs in the United States, came here as a refugee from political and religious persecution by the Indian State. He quit his job as a government teacher in June 1984 after the government launched an invasion of the Sikh Golden Temple that resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent Sikh pilgrims. After the state-sponsored genocide against Sikhs expanded in November 1984, when the ruling party armed, funded, and guided the systematic slaughter of thousands of Sikh men, women, and children in the streets of India’s capital city, Khalsa began participating in peaceful protests against the government’s policy of genocide. He was wounded when police opened fire on a demonstration outside the Punjab Legislative Assembly in 1986 and subsequently decided to flee India for the United States. He came here legally, and his children and grandchildren became citizens, but he never forgot the atrocities committed against his fellow Sikhs.

In January, Khalsa traveled to Punjab to begin a hunger-strike. His demand is for release of political prisoners who are mostly dissidents arrested for protesting the Sikh Genocide and related events. The prisoners have completed their sentences but are being denied release because of the political nature of their charges.

Since January 16, Khalsa has refused all food. He was arrested and force-fed for 74 days (February 8 to April 23), but after pressure from seven California congressional representatives, he was released without charges and has now been without sustenance for the past month. His family reports from India that he has lost the ability to walk or even talk. In his democratic protest by abstention, Khalsa joins the ranks of other human rights activists in India like Irom Sharmila and Bhagat Singh. His struggle was undertaken as a method of expressing peaceful dissent and exercising the natural human liberty to free expression and consequently we urge you to recognize his honorable choice.

Considering a caucus exists to pursue common legislative goals in service to a specific community, we insist that the most urgent priority of the American Sikh Congressional Caucus must be to speak for Surat Singh Khalsa. His struggle is mobilizing and inspiring the Sikh community all around the world and if the Sikh Caucus claims to represent the interests of the Sikh people, then it cannot continue to ignore this issue. We want the Sikh Caucus to stand up for their constituents who have brothers and sisters that are suffering in India and who are deeply concerned for the welfare of their global community, especially including U.S. permanent resident Surat Singh Khalsa. A number of Sikh Caucus members joined the bipartisan House Resolution 417 introduced in 2013 by Reps. Joe Pitts (R-PA) and Keith Ellison (D-MI), but the caucus unfortunately missed the opportunity to make the resolution part of its agenda despite broad national support for it from the Sikh-American community. We hope you can redeem this opportunity to speak for Surat Singh Khalsa.

We appeal to you speak out so that Khalsa’s self-sacrifice for the sake of the human rights of Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, and the oppressed classes of India will not go unrecognized. Please contact U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry immediately to request he appeal for the release of Indian political prisoners. We suggest that no other issue should take precedence for the Sikh Caucus since, after all, the name only fits if the caucus represents the interests of the community by whose name it calls itself.

Patrons of the Sikh Caucus is a nonpartisan group who want their congressional representatives to boldly speak out about Sikh issues of true interest to the Sikh-American community, both domestic and international and specifically including human rights issues in India, and who urge the Sikh Caucus to request these issues be adopted into the agendas of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.

Affirmed by the following:

Organization for Minorities of India (minoritiesofindia.org | arvin.v@ofmi.org)
Sikh Information Centre (CA)
Fateh Sports Club (CA)
Gurdwara Sahib West Sacramento (CA)
Gurdwara Sahib Stockton (CA)
Turlock Sikh Gurdwara (CA)
Gurdwara Sahib Roseville (CA)
Sikh Temple Riverside (CA)
Gurdwara Dasmesh Darbar Tracy (CA)
Capital Sikh Center Sacramento (CA)
The membership of the American Sikh Congressional Caucus consist of (and we encourage you to call them and ask them to “Speak for Surat Singh Khalsa”):

Judy Chu (co-chair)
John Garamendi (co-chair)
Karen Bass
Ami Bera
Robert Brady
Gerry Connolly
John Conyers
Jim Costa
Sam Farr
Al Green
Raúl Grijalva
Janice Hahn
Rush Holt
Mike Honda
Hank Johnson
Barbara Lee
Zoe Lofgren
Carolyn Maloney
Doris Matsui
Jerry McNerney
Grace Meng
George Miller
Frank Pallone
Bill Pascrell
Gary Peters
Jan Schakowsky
Brad Sherman
Adam Smith
Jackie Speier
Eric Swalwell
Mark Takano
Mike Thompson
Henry Waxman
Chris Van Hollen

David Valadao (co-chair)
Patrick L Meehan (co-chair)
Jeff Denham
Joe Heck
Doug LaMalfa
Devin Nunes
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
Tom McClintock

[If you would like to add your organization to the list affirming this statement, please contact us at 1-888-551-SIKH or pieter@sikhinformationcentre.org.]

100th Anniversary of Armenian Genocide Illustrates Vulnerability of Minorities

 Impunity for state-sponsored ethnic cleansing began with the 20th-century’s first major genocide

“Nationalism of one kind or another was the cause of most of the genocide of the twentieth century. Flags are bits of colored cloth that governments use first to shrink-wrap people’s minds and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead.” — Arundhati Roy

The month of April 2015 marks one hundred years since the beginning of the Armenian Genocide, a multi-year, state-sponsored ethnic cleansing of non-Muslims, especially the 3,000-year-old Armenian community, from the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

As the 20th century’s first systematic and targeted slaughter of a specific people group, the atrocity inspired the coining of the term “genocide.” Blanket impunity for the Armenian Genocide, which left a calculated 1.5 million or more Armenian Christians (as well as members of other minority communities living in the Ottoman Empire), dead at the hands of state actors, set the stage for modern struggles to hold the powerful accountable for their oppression of the weak. Many communities have since suffered similarly horrifying genocides at the hands of the State, most notably the Jewish people subjugated and eliminated by the Nazi regime in Europe.

While the Nazis were punished and are today excoriated for their crimes, more modern genocides perpetrated against minority religious communities in South Asia, especially against Sikhs in 1984 and Muslims in 2002, bear striking similarities to the Armenian Genocide as the perpetrators have received not only impunity but actual reward, promotion, and increased power as a result of dipping their hands in the blood of innocents.

“Preventing future genocides requires acknowledging past genocides,” remarked Sikh Information Centre Founder Bhajan Singh, who has spent over 30 years working to secure liberty for South Asian minorities. “The first step to achieving justice is recognizing a crime was committed, and so, 100 years after the terror of the Armenian Genocide began, we must cry out for justice by refusing to forget the blood that was spilled. Like the Jewish Holocaust and the Sikh Genocide, the Armenian Genocide has its own deniers, and the one attribute they all share is a lust for power, control, and supremacy. Although the victims of these genocides come from diverse and distinct communities, one thing that unites us all is our suffering. As we pursue healing through justice and reconciliation, we need to link arms and work together collaboratively to achieve our common goal.”

The Armenian Genocide officially began on April 24, 1915 (known today as “Red Sunday”) with the arrest of approximately 250 of the most prominent Armenian public figures — clergy, journalists, poets, teachers, attorneys, businessmen, and statesmen — from their homes in Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Those arrested were imprisoned, held without charges or trial, and most killed in custody. Red Sunday resulted in the decapitation of the community leadership of the Armenian people.

Some of the Armenian community leaders killed after “Red Sunday” of April 24, 1915.
Subsequently, the ruling party passed the “Temporary Law of Deportation,” using national security as an excuse to label non-Turks as enemies of the state and organize their liquidation. The State began rounding up all Armenians and forcing them to death march hundreds of miles across the desert, usually without food or water, to a network of 25 concentration camps. There they were starved to death or simply slaughtered and then buried, tens of thousands at a time, in mass graves. Armenians who were not deported were murdered by death squads who, according to History.com, “drowned people in rivers, threw them off cliffs, crucified them and burned them alive.” In many cases, Armenian women were raped and forced into harems or taken as slaves, while children were kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam.


The goal of the genocide, which lasted until 1923, was the creation of an artificially homogenous population. That is, the ruling party sought to fabricate the Ottoman Empire as an ethnically-pure land of Turks through the practice of state-sponsored racial and religious supremacy. By the early 1920s, when the killings had mostly ended, the Ottoman Empire’s original population of two million Armenians was reduced to just 388,000. Today, historians, human rights organizations, and governments around the world generally acknowledge the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians. As of the centennial of the tragedy’s genesis, 26 countries have officially recognized the genocide.

On Friday, April 24, 2015, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, Germany (which was allied with the Ottoman Empire in 1915 and many of whose troops peripherally assisted or at least observed the killing) became the latest country to recognize and condemn the atrocity. As Germany’s Bundestag (lower house of parliament) passed a resolution acknowledging the genocide, Bundestag President Norbert Lammert stated:

“Our obligation is to bear accountability. The Germans, from their own familiarity, call upon others to face their own history, even if it is painful; this is the condition for reconciliation between the Armenian and Turkish nations.

“The Germans, who placed alliance with the Ottoman Empire above human lives, had their own guilt in this genocide.

“History compels to remember historical facts. It is inevitable that there can be no real peace as long as the descendants of the victims demand justice.”

To this day and to its great discredit, the government of Turkey refuses to recognize the genocide perpetrated by its predecessor state, the Ottoman Empire. Indeed, Turkish law even criminalizes referring to the events that began in 1915 as “genocide.” While the Armenians of yesteryear were (prior to their elimination) subjected to denials of religious liberty through laws imposing social and political restrictions on non-Muslims, the Turks of today are subjected to denials of free speech.

Remarking on genocide denial, Sikh Information Centre Executive Director Pieter Friedrich said, “An attitude that denies the reality of genocide perpetuates the divide between cultures. Social instability is aggravated and even sparked by the sentiments of people who, for their own selfish political or religious purposes, seek to deny the responsibility of the State to answer for atrocities it sponsors. The future of peace on Earth requires a communal mourning over the deaths and injustices inflicted on innocents by the ruling elite. Commemorating the tragic truth of the Armenian Genocide is the first small step towards achieving peace in a tumultuous world.”

While the Armenian Genocide has gained wide recognition among the world’s nation-states, Sikh Information Centre has found inspiration in the example of the Armenian diaspora to join a number of Indian diaspora groups, including American Sikh Political Action Committee and Organization for Minorities of India, to secure recognition of the 1984 Sikh Genocide and other atrocities in India by Western municipal and state governments.

On March 10, the Central Californian City of Stockton, home to the oldest permanent settlement of Sikh-Americans, passed a proclamation condemning the 1984 Sikh Genocide, with Mayor Anthony Silva declaring: “We commemorate the 30th anniversary of the 1984 genocide as we recognize the ongoing impact of the genocide for the Sikhs around the world and our city.” California’s State Assembly followed suit on April 16, unanimously adopting a resolution to remember the “1984 anti-Sikh pogroms,” making it the first state or national government in the world to formally acknowledge the tragic event.

Sikh Community leaders pose with City Council of Stockon, CA after accepting 1984 Sikh Genocide Proclamation.