Rep. Hanna aware of “consistent persecution that religious minorities face in India”
Utica, NY: Sept. 9, 2015 — Congressman Richard Hanna offered his strong support for human rights in India, especially the cause of 83-year-old hunger-striker and U.S. permanent resident Surat Singh Khalsa, in an August 26 letter to a constituent.
New York resident Baljinder Singh forwarded his correspondence with the U.S. representative to Organization for Minorities of India (OFMI) after Hanna wrote passionately about his “respect for the efforts of men like Bapu Surat Singh, who stand up for those principles in which they believe.” Calling on the U.S. to “encourage foreign governments to adopt fundamental human rights without unduly interfering with the affairs of sovereign states,” he stated: “I believe U.S. diplomats should continue to push India in a direction that expands freedoms and brings the country into the modern era.”
Khalsa, who lives in Lathrop, CA, is conducting a hunger-strike protest in Punjab, India. He has refused to eat since January 2015 in demand for release of Indian political prisoners who have served their sentences and yet remain behind bars. Nine congressional representatives from his home state of California have formally appealed to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to use Khalsa’s human rights campaign as an opportunity to raise related issues with the Indian government.
Khalsa’s family reports receiving regular threats against their safety and his son-in-law, Satwinder Singh Bhola, was stabbed to death in Peoria, Illinois on August 16 under suspicious circumstances that are causing many to suspect a political motivation.
Referencing the brutal murder of Bhola, Hanna acknowledges that “observers have speculated that his death may be related to Bapu’s protest in India and that it was more than a random attack” and promises to “monitor the investigation to ensure that it is conducted in a fair and thorough manner for the purpose of answering exactly why Bhola was murdered.”
“Individual initiative to contact our representatives and bring their attention to the horrifying state-sponsored atrocities suffered by India’s religious and ethnic minorities is crucial to making progress,” remarks OFMI Founding Director Bhajan Singh. “I want to thank Baljinder for reaching out to his congressman and sharing the gratifying results. Representatives like Richard Hanna, who humbly says he works for the people, offer inspiration to continue calling on the U.S government to stand up for the rights of minorities.”
The original letter (as shared with OFMI by Baljinder) is reproduced below:
Thank you for contacting my office in regard to the persecution of Sikhs in India. I appreciate hearing from you.
I have been aware of the consistent persecution that religious minorities face in India, and I respect the efforts of men like Bapu Surat Singh, who stand up for those principles in which they believe. Freedom of religion is one of the core principles upon which the United States was founded, and I believe that it is a value that should be universal. Given our prominent stature in the world, the United States should encourage foreign governments to adopt fundamental human rights without unduly interfering with the affairs of sovereign states.
Ultimately, the wrongful imprisonment of Sikhs is a practice that should be ended immediately. Punishments based on a person’s religious convictions has no place in our world. As India continues to develop, I believe U.S. diplomats should continue to push India in a direction that expands freedoms and brings the country into the modern era. I will continue working with my colleagues in the House to ensure that security in the region remains strong and that India pursues a path of open democratic reform.
You also mentioned the recent murder of Satwinder Singh Bhola, Bapu’s son-in-law, in Peoria, IL. Observers have speculated that his death may be related to Bapu’s protest in India and that it was more than a random attack. Currently the investigation is being headed by the Peoria Police Department, who at this time have yet to announce any suspects. I appreciate you bringing this matter to my attention, and I will monitor the investigation to ensure that it is conducted in a fair and thorough manner for the purpose of answering exactly why Bhola was murdered.
While I am sure you may not agree with every vote I cast representing you, you will always know my rationale for the decisions I make on the House floor. I am committed to open government and transparency, which is why I post updates from Washington and explanations for final passage votes on each House bill on Facebook at www.facebook.com/reprichardhanna.
Please do not hesitate to contact any of my offices in the future if I or my staff can be of assistance. We work for you.