Protesters from Ontario and Quebec rallied in Ottawa on a chilly Friday to demand the release of Sikhs who they say are being illegally detained in Indian jails.
In a protest on the sidewalk in front of the Indian High Commission, the crowd of about 300 waved flags and signs, chanted and spoke out in anger against the Indian government.
The rally was organized to support Bhai Gurbaksh Singh Khalsa, a Sikh activist who has been on a hunger strike in India since Nov. 14 to demand the release of seven Sikhs who continue to be detained after completing sentences.
The rally marked the 50th day of Khalsa’s hunger strike.
“We need justice,” said Amrita Kaur, 13, who travelled from her home in Montreal for the protest. “The Indian government is keeping these guys in jail because they are Sikh. They don’t want them out.”
Although Sikhs are a religious minority in India, Sikhism has numerous followers elsewhere. As a result, rallies and hunger strikes supporting Khlasa have been occurring all across the world.
Ottawa Sikhs have been staging a “chain hunger strike” since Dec. 22, and will continue to do so for the next few weeks, said Manohar Singh Bal, an organizer of the rally. The strike takes place each day from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in front of the high commission.
“They are mostly symbolic,” said Bal, as he took part in the protest. “It is a message to the Indian government from Canadian Sikhs that we are with this fellow, and that India needs to treat the Sikhs better and address their concerns.”
However, for Bal, this is an issue that affects more than Sikhs.“This is a human rights issue,” says Bal. “No matter where this is happening in the world, if it’s wrong, then it is wrong.”
A representative at the Indian High Commission refused to comment.