Lower Mainland Sikhs have organized a weeklong hunger strike at the Vancouver Art Gallery in support of an Indian farmer who’s been without food for more than 50 days.
Head priests from 13 gurdwaras across B.C. began a “chain hunger strike” — meaning they take turns striking each day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. — starting on Jan. 3 to support Gurbaksh Singh Khalsa, who began his hunger strike mid-November (in the Indian state of Haryana) to protest the prolonged imprisonment of seven Sikh political prisoners who’ve been kept in jail after serving their 14-year sentence.
“They’ve all kind of gone well-beyond what’s considered the norm of life imprisonment in India,” said Moninder Singh, spokesman for the B.C. Sikh Gurdwara Council, clarifying that the jailed men are “political prisoners” who were involved in the movement to free Punjab from India.
This isn’t the first time Khalsa and Sikhs across the globe have picked up the protest, either. The hunger strike first started in November 2013, but according to Singh, it came to an end after the Indian government indicated it would finally release the prisoners.
“(But) they never did,” said Singh, “so exactly one year later” Sikhs are returning to the cause, with Khalsa striking in India and communities from Vancouver, to L.A., Montreal, Ottawa, New York City, and as far as London, Australia and New Zealand following suit.
“The community feels they’re being treated as second class citizens in India,” said Singh. “We feel it’s kind of because of the community they belong to.”
“And whether or not you agree with what those political prisoners were doing, that becomes a side issue — the issue now is why are we being singled out?”
“It’s about raising awareness in our own communities.”
However, Singh said that the ongoing issue can’t help but spark the political dialogue again.
“This is just one more thing that is pushing people,” he said. “The political movement is just making sense again.
“If we can’t actually establish ourselves in India, if we’re not going to be treated fairly — then why are we still within the boundaries?”
The Sikh community also met with Vancouver’s Consulate General of India on Dec. 31 and delivered a memorandum addressed to Indian prime minister Narendra Modi.
According to R. Chandramouli with the Consulate, the memorandum has since been forwarded to the Indian government.
“It will reach the Prime Minister’s office in the normal official channels,” he told Vancouver Desi.
Meanwhile, the Sikh community across B.C. is continuing its movement in support of Khalsa and to raise awareness on “the plight of prisoners,” said Singh.
The community also gathered at Holland Park in Surrey Wednesday night to partake in a “black flag” protest — also taking place in many other Sikh communities “all over the world” — in support of Khalsa. The community will then end its weeklong hunger strike Saturday with a march to the Consulate General of India office on Howe Street.