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.
Bhola 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.