Son of hunger-striking Surat Singh Khalsa says he was “tortured multiple times” during two-month imprisonment
Ludhiana, Punjab, India: May 6, 2015 – A week after his April 27 release from a two-month imprisonment in Ludhiana Jail, U.S. citizen Ravinderjit Singh Gogi is speaking out in a formal statement delivered on Monday to Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Badal, pleading that his life is in danger and warning: “I want to let you know that in case something like this happens or I face the above situation again, you all will be fully responsible for such actions.”
Gogi was arrested on February 26 while sitting beside his hospitalized father, Surat Singh Khalsa. Despite his release with all charges dropped, Gogi notes: “I have a strong feeling that I am at an extreme risk of being picked up again and falsely charged with even more severe charges…. I am very much concerned as my life is in danger.”
His father, a permanent resident of the United States, began a hunger-strike on January 16 to, in Gogi’s words, “Protest the refusal to release Sikh prisoners who have completed their respective prison sentences.” Gogi, who was arrested along with his father, a journalist covering the protest, and others, was charged with a preventative detention law allowing police to arrest those suspected of considering breaking the peace. “Although, I was in Punjab just to take care of my 83-year-old father, I was charged under section 107/151 and was kept in the jail for almost 2 months,” he says.
Gogi is now with his family at their home in the village of Hassanpur and has not made plans to return to the United States since his father just entered the 111th day of his hunger-strike, is in extremely frail health, and remains determined to continue his protest until death unless his demands are met. A resident of the California town of Lathrop, where he owns a truck-driving school, Gogi says he traveled to India because he was “concerned for my father’s welfare.” He departed the U.S. on January 28, twelve days after Khalsa began his hunger strike. Gogi believes police wanted to use him as a tool to manipulate Khalsa into stopping his protest, stating: “I still remember the day when Mukhvinder Bhullar, the ADCP (Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police) threatened me that if I did not dissuade my father from continuing the hunger-strike, he would falsely charge me with murder and put me away for 15 years.”
Gogi, who copied his statement to Punjab’s Director General of Police, India’s National Human Rights Commission, and the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, says he was tortured in custody. India, which refuses to ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture, has a long history of severely abusing and even killing detainees; according to a 2011 report by Organization for Minorities of India (OFMI) which was catalogued by the U.N. in its Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review: “The use of torture is employed as daily tool by Indian police officers.” Though charged with violating section 107/151, Gogi was never arraigned before a judge.
Summarizing his ordeal, Gogi says, “During these 2 months, I was scheduled for five court hearings, and all were cancelled. I was not even arraigned. This violated standard proceedings for almost all democratic countries, which typically require arraignment within 48 hours. While I was in the custody I was treated as a criminal and was tortured multiple times by the police officials.”
Describing his torture in further detail, Gogi says, “I was even beaten in the judicial custody during a court hearing. On my way to the court appearance on April 13, Assistant Sub-Inspector Richard Masih, the police official accompanying me, took me aside into a detention cell where him and other Punjab Police officers severely beat me with a gun and metal handcuffs also punching on my face, neck, shoulders, and back with a chain wrapped around his fist.”
“I was under extreme pain and a high fever,” he explains. “Despite interventions by U.S. Consuls, my attorney, and family, the police denied me proper medical treatment. I was finally examined by a government doctor on April 20 and yet records of the visit, including x-rays, were never made available to me or my family or the U.S. Embassy. Additionally, the police department never released any statement about the findings of the examination. During this time, I was repeatedly told by police that they will release me if I promise to convince my father to end his hunger-strike. If not, police threatened to slap me with false murder charges.”
At the request of his family in the United States, seven U.S. congressional representatives joined an April 15 letter to the U.S. State Department requesting Secretary John Kerry assist Gogi and Khalsa. Less than two weeks later, Gogi was unceremoniously released on April 27 with all charges dropped and, as he remarks, “without any record or compensation or apology being released by the police department.”
Khalsa remains on hunger-strike. Arrested the same day as his son, he was detained at Ludhiana Civil Hospital and released from police custody on April 23. He was charged with the same preventative detention law as his son, and all charges were likewise dropped, but his family says their father is now under virtual house arrest. His daughter, Sarvrinder Kaur, a U.S. citizen from Chicago who is ministering to her father in Punjab, reported that after they returned home when he was released from arrest, hundreds of police officers ringed the village, over a dozen took up permanent post outside their house, and family members are followed when they leave.
Khalsa’s decision to hunger-strike directly connects to his decision to leave India for the United States. A former government schoolteacher in India, he quit his job in June 1984 in disgust over an Indian Army invasion of the revered Sikh Golden Temple in Punjab that left thousands of Sikh pilgrims dead. That November, the country’s ruling Congress Party organized a genocide against Sikhs, centering in New Delhi and emanating outwards to other regions of the subcontinent. Members of Parliament, the city government, and party officials openly participated in mass killings of Sikhs in the streets at broad daylight. Khalsa began organizing protest rallies, was injured in 1986 when police opened fire on unarmed protesters outside the Punjab Legislative Assembly, and immigrated to the U.S. in 1988. This past month, the California State Legislature became the first in the world — national or state — to recognize the 1984 Sikh Genocide, stating: “Government and law enforcement officials organized, participated in, and failed to intervene to prevent the killings.”
Bhajan Singh, director of OFMI, pondered: “Is India interfering in the domestic affairs of the United States by politically targeting an American citizen and a permanent resident in retaliation for the political actions of their adopted state of California?”