By Simran Kaur
”British lawyer Peter Benenson launched amnesty International in 1961.
His newspaper appeal, "The Forgotten Prisoners", was published worldwide
on 28 May 1961 and brought in more than 1,000 offers of support for the
idea of an international campaign to protect human rights. The Irish
Section of Amnesty International was founded at around the same time by,
amongst others, the late Seàn MacBride.” (Lynch and Power). But Why have
the Sikhs forgotten their own prisoners through the past twenty years
AND why have they not been able to establish effective human rights
groups that have grown?
In the last two decades many Sikhs were subjected to torture, which was
brutal and imprisonment involving ad hoc executions in India. Some of
these Sikhs were part of the Sikh Resistance Movement, others were not.
It was a catastrophic situation and unfortunately most human rights
groups could not get a grip on the situation, and were egotistical
enough to pay lip service to collaboration, while wanting a monopoly on
the Sikh genocide. Human rights groups were simply not equipped and
emerged out of nowhere, with no understanding of human rights save the
human emotion to do something.
A similar situation has emerged amongst the human rights groups in
Kashmir. One of the areas the human rights groups never could connect
to, especially the ones who monopolized Sikh human rights in the West,
was the humanitarian disaster that 15 years of occupation did to the
Punjab. Victims of torture and victims of police repression were never
given aid and Delhi and the Indian state did its best to ensure that any
potential aid was blocked. Add to this the general humanitarian help
which people could have coordinated by way of individual contributions
to individual families and you begin to understand why writing letters
to prisoners of conscience could never happen. There were no Sikh
systems in place, and those groups and organizations in the West never
worked unrelentingly to create them despite being subjected to the
scrutiny of Western agencies and non access to Punjab directly. Many
human rights groups and individuals in Punjab struggled alone, even
after the repressive years up till 1997 ended, indeed to this day.
What is quite difficult to reflect on from a personal view is why the
masses globally never considered writing letters to the Sikh prisoners
of conscience, especially when there were vast numbers held directly
from Operation Blue Star in places like Jodhpur. So called prisoners who
were survivors of the Amritsar massacre had been traumatized with the
massacre, and were students who had pledged to honour the Sikh nation,
and in some cases had put their lives on the line. Whilst other so
called prisoners were people were women and children, survivors of the
Amritsar massacre. Some children were as young as three and put in jail
on suspicion of terrorism and yet were the victims of witnessing and
surviving the Amritsar massacre, so called Operation Blue Star. It is
quite difficult to gauge why the Sikhs in the West were unable to
provide proper humanitarian aid in all these years. It is quite
essential that Sikhs not just focus on dissertations on their theology,
on their history, but on this disastrous contemporary history of
repression and analyse the role and trauma suffered further. The use of
agencies, and Delhi as a block by the state didn’t help, nor did the
continuous oppression from 1984 through to the mid 1990’s.
Yet the Sikh masses globally seemed to have been media brain washed,
Gurudwara platforms sabotaged, and general chaos brought in as well as
self induced apathy, which made Sikhs very inward looking, and simply
relying on the Indian press or non investigative local papers to tell
them what was what.
It also made the Sikh masses unaware that they had to do something on an
individual basis and not to rely on Sikh systems and organizations which
were not able to, were unable to, nor wanted to operate effectively. It
is still the case that most Sikhs imagine someone, somewhere is doing
the work through an organisation and the hype of certain groups does not
help. Real, active work is rare if non existent to reach the persecution
survivors in Punjab today.
However we as Sikhs, even in our consciences, never considered it
important to send a letter of prayer to a political prisoner. If it had
been China, if it had been Cuba, Bosnia we might have understood. We in
turn began using the labels of ‘militant movement’ and not see what the
Sikh movement really was : a Sikh Resistance Movement, which like the
French resistance movement did resort to violence, as well as peaceful
methods but ultimately was a resistance to the oppression of the state.
Have we as Sikhs stopped seeing our own political prisoners as human
Did we succumb to thinking that it would do no good?
Did we think other people were doing it?
And not realize that as a community in terms of international help we
are prone to hype and very little long term effort?
Did we hope that by closing our eyes and meditating it would be enough?
A letter is a ray of light between four walls.
There may be some problems of some letters getting through, and
censorship will prevail, but as one ex prisoner from Tihar told me- in
the 1980’s when he was locked up, he was not allowed the post.
Accidentally an Amnesty International letter reached him, and it was a
ray of light, by a perfect stranger across the world.
Now to the question of how many prisoners of conscience are left from
the Sikh resistance movement in India?
The question is often raised by the lobby groups who have sought to get
some form of recognition from very ‘capital and arms related members’ of
parliament and the United Nations.
Unfortunately some lobby groups have floated various figures without
really becoming part of the long term help for the situation over the
past two decades. Recently emerging lobbyists in the past couple of
years especially in Britain and the United States are from a new
generation of Sikhs who hope to form collaboration with different
working groups at different levels even if people do not all form part
of the same umbrella. It is not in our interest to discredit statistics
unless we can prove a case that helps our people. This is a negative
cyclical argument that has pervaded the elites - an argument that
actually benefits the Hindu fascism of India. In twenty years it has
offered no protection to human rights activists, never allowed Amnesty
International access to the Punjab, nor any form of humanitarian aid
save at sparse, sporadic levels. And human rights activists who have
sought to establish what has really happened in terms of numbers of
dead, tortured have come under paralysis of fear by the Indian agencies.
Indirect methods of harassment- arrest, other charges being put on
people. Now twenty years later the Hindu right wing fascism of India are
just as casual in their estimates of how many Sikhs have been killed in
Punjab and tortured. A fact is that fascism has won in declining
numbers. One such important piece of information is : how many Sikh
political prisoners of conscience are still in prison in India?
It is a travesty to stay that as many as one hundred are still being
harassed with one TADA charge after another. Indeed Simranjeet Singh
Mann, one of the members of parliament for Punjab, India, who is very
outspoken on India’s violation of human rights, is now facing an old
TADA charge from the early 1990’s where he supposedly made a speech that
advocated Sikh separatism. If he denies the charge- he is discredited in
front of the Sikhs, after having served many years on the grounds of
being a political prisoner of conscience for the Sikh movement. If he
does not deny the charge he faces imprisonment, and as one of the rare
Indian parliamentarians who speaks up against the Indian state’s failure
in human rights and condemns its persecution of minorities, is one
parliamentarian India cannot afford to lose.
It can safely be said that more than 52,000 Sikh prisoners would have
passed through the prisons, been interrogated and mass tortured over two
decades. And this would be a conservative estimate. The numbers of mass
tortured go into over 100,000, though because of the way in which the
state has paralysed human rights in the region, thorough documentation
is difficult to comprehensively census.
Currently by several sources who visit Sikh prisoners of conscience,
there are less than a hundred Sikh political prisoners in India. They
face very contorted and exaggerated numbers of TADA charges. The
repeated TADA charges targeted as soon as any of them clear, mean that
years are drained away from the Sikh lives, and pressures of money to
defend their legal cases keep growing. The Indian state has done this
for twenty years and continues to do this.
There are currently around 38 prisoners of conscience left in Nabha,
several in Tihar, several in Rajasthan, several in Ambala (who come from
very poor backgrounds) to name but a few. Some are very bright, former
students and thinkers, who clearly the state does not want released for
they would make shining examples of Sikh leaders. It is easier for the
state to enable Khalistanis, who no one would have followed in the first
place, back in the Indian state, rather than let out the intelligent,
Examples of this level of terrible endurance include: One prisoner in
Rajasthan, famous ex militant, Daya Singh Lahoria whose nephew of 12 was
killed by the police, and whose wife is in prison in Calcutta for past
One prisoner in Nabha, Gursewak Singh, who spent time with Sant
Singh Bhindranwale, has been locked up for 17 years before charges
against him were cleared, and yet now is about to face a charge from
1983. This level of harassment is very cruel. It would be good if the
Sikhs in the West could do some campaigning for this case. The
solidarity of remaining prisoners is good as is the camaraderie of
survivors. There are prisoners in the US, Canada, UK who too have never
received letters of prayer from anyone in their community.
Other prisoners like Daljit Singh Bittu, a former veterinary science
student, have had 26 TADA cases collapse on him, with three left. Yet
the state persists in putting he and prisoners like him through years of
persecution. Daljit Singh, Bittu, encouraged his fellow Sikhs to give
aid to victims of the Delhi massacre. He is too modest to even talk of
his own life. He says to anyone enquiring ‘write of the great shaheeds,
there far too many great stories to write of, and do not think of mine…’
A fellow student who had not seen Daljit Singh in nineteen years told
the story. They formed a fellowship to help the victims of the
massacres. Once a woman came crying, screaming, her two sons had been
killed before her eyes, her husband killed, and she was gang raped, by
the Indians, as the police stood by. She cried ‘Have all the Sikhs died!
Did they all die! Will we wait for another massacre.’ This source says
that then Daljit Singh went and did Ardas and literally joined the Sikh
Resistance, and his colleagues and friends, inimical heroes like Sukha
and Jinda, who killed General Vaidya for his role in the Amritsar
massacre- all these Sikh boys put their lives on the line for their
Prisoners like Ranjit Singh Kuki, who has served more than 17 years in
jail for the murder of Lalit Maken and his wife, both instigators of the
Delhi massacre, could not get days of bail to see his mother dying of
cancer. Ranjit Singh, Kuki, was once a bright student doing his MSc in
Genetics, who gave up everything for the Sikh Resistance. Yet Kishori
Lal, who has received eight death penalties for his known part in the
Delhi massacres is out on bail so he can get his daughter married.
The last prisoners in Nabha would tell you the worse forms of torture
were used in the 1990’s, and many fellow prisoners suffered 15 years on
charge after charge under TADA. Now some prisoners face lapsed TADA
charges, and years of delay from the Indian courts to have trials. Today
there is a relatively different form of sadness. Not one of the torture
levels as before, but that the Sikh resistance movement finished and
that the Sikhs as a community have forgotten their former heroes. That
the world has forgotten. That they are no longer prisoners who are doing
what they believe in. But are forgotten. Still some of these prisoners
underwent years of underground hiding from police persecution, braved
having no money, no help, for years as they tried to save themselves and
others from the persecution of the state.
One Singh spent seven years in prison for being part of the All India
Sikh Student Federation. There were various charges of conspiracy
against him. Charges of ‘conspiracy’ was often used by the Indian
government when all else failed in trying to subdue the Sikh resistance
movement. Now he spends his days visiting the remaining Sikh prisoners
of the previous two decades resistance movement when he has time. It is
not easy to visit prisoners, but some have not forgotten what prison is
like. Many Sikh groups and their members will laugh off years in prison,
when they compare it in memory to other great sacrifices. And in an
attempt to appear ‘hard’ will laugh off a
few years in prison. But prison is prison, as one ex prisoner, Gurinder
Singh, said to me. ‘The four walls close in on you and you have no life
of your own.’ Some Sikhs are trying to help in the backgrounds and are
footing a substantial bill in trying to get remaining prisoners freed
and trying to help often deprived families who are now without their
breadwinner long term. If anyone wants to help out the families that are
not fully supported contact the newspaper and we’ll find a way for you
to make direct contact with them. Families come with bags of fruit and
milk (two things never provided in the jails), on journeys over 100km to
just see their loved one as often as is allowed.
I would say to anyone, who thinks prison is easy, confine yourself in
your house for a week. Make sure the toilet is in your ‘room’ and you
have no so called luxuries. And even if you’re not being tortured. Rest
assured by the second week it will be a test of your endurance. Your
life is never your own, your body is not your own, your safety is not
your own, your time and who you see is never your own. But now fast
forward into years, indefinitely, and your life is never your own. I
would also say that a Sikh resistance movement that has so many victims,
these are people who are still alive and should not be forgotten. In the
safety of your own home you can post one letter, without a return
address, and do your good deed of the day.
Conspiracy under TADA has been used for twenty years to take away the
precious lives, year by year, of prisoners of conscience of the Sikh
resistance movement. And even when the conspiracy charges fail and
remain very unproven- as in the case of Devinderpal Singh Bhullar, a
former young lecturer from Punjab, where one of the three Supreme court
judges, found him not guilty- he still faces execution. For the first
time in Indian Supreme court history Bhullar is to be executed on a
split verdict. Progressive democracies cannot ever move towards
executing prisoners on whom there is no evidence. Out of the 133
witnesses produced by the prosecution not one could identify Bhullar.
The one case of execution pending, is that of the activist, Devinderpal
Singh Bhullar. Whose whole family underwent persecution. Who does not
deserve to be in the cruel situation he faces now for his sacrifices for
the Sikh resistance movement. It is now the case that the Indian
president is deciding what will happen next and a date to be executed is
pending. Devinderpal Singh prays regularly and keeps his brave Sikh
spirit with him. His mother and wife visit him often. People can always
write a letter to him and other prisoners of conscience without having
to give their personal details. Do be aware that letters are subject to
censorship- so only send prayers and letters of well wishing. They do
not need slogans or political theses sent. I was really happy to know
that a letter of prayer I wrote to him reached him. And we must not only
keep up our lobbying efforts but also send our prayers and wishes to
Do not just say a prayer, write a prayer. Send your ray of prayers to:
Davinderpal Singh Bhullar:
Son of Balwant Singh,
Ward no. 8, Jail No. 3,
New Delhi- 64.
I will now leave you with a list that up till now has not been exposed
in the West. It is not the last word, but a start for us to get a grip
situation: The Last Sikh prisoners of conscience of the Sikh Resistance
Movement in India:
Prisoners Lodged in Maximum Security Jail, Nabha.
1) Balbir Singh - in jail since 1992 - serving life sentence.
2) Jasvir Singh- in jail since 1999 - under trial - 4 pending cases.
3) Dilbagh Singh- in jail since 1999 - under trial with cases in Punjab,
4) Daljit Singh (Bittu) - in jail since Apr. 1996 - 3 cases pending at
Ludhiana. (SINCE RELEASED)
5) Paramjit Singh - U.K. citizen in jail since last month - 10th Oct -
arranged in a concocted case dating 1992 pending at Jallandhar. He was
eventually found not guilty, but still has not been released as another
case has been put on him.
6) Lal Singh - in jail since July 1992 - life convict.
7) Amarjit Singh - in jail since 1994 - life convict.
8) Gursharan Singh - in jail since April 1996 - facing 3 cases at
9) Palwinder Singh - in jail since July 1992 - lifer.
10) Baldev Singh - in jail since last year - under trial- 1 case
11) Gulzar Singh - in jail since 1999 - serving 7 years sentence.
12) Didar Singh - in jail since 2002 - serving 5 years sentence.
13) Sukhwal Singh - in jail since 2000 - serving 5 years sentence & 3
cases pending against him.
14) Mangal Singh - in jail since 2001 - under trial ? 1 case
15) Gursewak Singh - in jail since July 1986 - now 7 cases pending against
him in Punjab, Rajasthan and Delhi.
16) Teja Singh - in jail since 1994 - lifer
17) Hardeep Singh - in jail since 2002 - under trial 1 case against him.
18) Hardayal Singh - in jail since 2002 - 1 case pending.
19) Hardayal Singh Chatra - in jail since 2002 - 1 case pending and life
20) Baljinder Singh - in jail since 2001 - 7 years sentence
21) Zora Singh - in jail since 1994 - lifer
22) Gurdev Singh - aged 83 years old- in jail since 1994 - life sentence
23) Kuldip Singh - in jail since 1994 - lifer
24) Laxman Singh - in jail since 1994 - lifer.
25) Swaran Singh - in jail since 2000 - lifer.
26) Major Singh - in jail since 1991 - lifer.
27) Gurnam Singh - in jail since 1992 - life sentence
28) Nirmal Singh - in jail since 1999 - 7 years sentence
29) Jagtar Singh - in jail since 1999 - 7 years sentence
30) Manjit Singh - in jail since last year - under trial- 2 cases
31) Pargat Singh - in jail since last year - under trial- 1 case
32) Palwinder Singh - in jail since last year - under trial- 1 case
33) Avtar Singh- in jail since last year - under trial for one case.
Central Jail, Jallandhar.
1) Darshan Singh - convicted for seven years since 2001.
2) Narinderpal Singh - under trial since 2000.
There are perhaps 2-3 more people according to our source, who are also
connected to the struggle, for anyone interested in doing humanitarian
letters of prayer, we will find these other people. Central Jail
1) Gurmail Singh - under trial.
2) Bhupinder Singh and Buta Singh - under trial since 1999.
3) Pargat Singh ? convicted for life.
4) Angrez Singh - convicted for life.
5) Swaran Singh - under trial since 2001.
6) Kulwant Singh - under trial.
Central Jail, Amritsar.
1) Resham Singh - under trial since last year.
May be 2-3 persons more.
1) Dr. Sarup Singh - under trial since 2001.
2) Gurnam Singh - 5 years sentence.
1) Surinderpal Singh- convicted for life.
1-2 persons more.
All the following are under trial.
Beant Singh - since August 1995; Jagtar Singh Hawan, Jagtar Singh Tara,
Lakhwinder Singh, Gurmeet Singh, Nasib Singh, Navjot Singh, Balwant
There may be one more detainee connected to the movement.
Ambala Jail, Haryana.
1) Bakshish Singh - under trial since 1999
2) Gopal Singh and Balwinder Singh- 7 years in September.
Connected to attack on Banlara Baba at Ambala
3) Daya Singh- convicted for life
4) Gurdeep Singh- under trial since 1998.
5) Balbir Singh - under trial since 1998.
6) Balbir Singh- under trial since 1998.
There can be one more person.
Tihar Jail, Delhi.
1) Devinderpal Singh Bhullar - capital punishment.
2) Satvir Singh Sunny - under trial since 2001.
3) Parshottam Singh - under trial since 2001.
4) Gurcharan Kaur - under trial since 2001.
5) Lakhbir Singh - under trial since 2001.
6) Gurdeep Singh - convicted for life- In Jail since 1992.
7) Ranjit Singh Gill (Kuki) - convicted for life, in jail since 1986,
served 2 years over life.
There are 3-4 more detainees.
Jarnail Singh- under trial since last year.
Central Jail, Nagpur.
Balwinder Singh - Dharmi Fauji - in jail since June 1984- suffering severe
Jail Maharashtra - still to identify the exact locations.
Nishan Singh and Ravinder Singh - In jail since 1992 - convicted for life.
Kamaldeep Kaur (wife of Daya Singh Lahoria) under trial since 1995- may
released soon on bail.
Daya Singh Lahoria- under trial since 1995.
There are 5-6 people in Jammu jails.
There might be 10 people in some other jails of India. In all there may
be more than 80 persons incarcerated in jails all over India as part of
the Sikh resistance movement.
PLEASE CALL FOR AN AMNESTY ON ALL SIKH PRISONERS OF