SIKHS ARRESTED FOR RAISING FLAG ARE DENIED BAIL -- (Extensions of Remarks - February 15, 2005)
HON. EDOLPHUS TOWNS
OF NEW YORK
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2005
Mr. TOWNS. Mr. Speaker, on January 26, India celebrated its Republic Day, the anniversary of the adoption of its constitution. On that day a group of Sikh activists raised the Sikh flag at a Gurdwara in the city of Amritsar in accordance with Sikh tradition. For this, complaints were issued against 35 Sikhs and 31 have been arrested.
Now eleven of them have had their bail denied, keeping them in detention. The Punjab and Haryana High Court has ruled that speaking out for Khalistan is not a crime, yet they are charged with "sedition" and "making inflammatory speeches" for raising a flag and speaking out for freedom for the Sikh homeland.
Mr. Speaker, what kind of democracy is this? The Movement Against State Repression (MASR) was already reporting that India held 52,268 political prisoners. These activists add 11 to that number.
This is just the latest illustration that exercising your freedom of speech can be a very dangerous thing in India if you are a minority. India has a pattern of repression. It has killed over 250,000 Sikhs since 1984, more than 300,000 Christians in Nagaland, over 90,000 Kashmiri Muslims, thousands of other Christians and Muslims throughout the country, and tens of thousands of Assamese, Bodos, Dalits (the aboriginal people of South Asia), Manipuris, Tamils, and others. The U.S. State Department reported in 1994 that the Indian government had paid over 41,000 cash bounties to police officers for killing Sikhs. One such bounty went to an officer who killed a three-year-old boy.
We must not just sit and watch while a country that proclaims itself "the world's largest democracy" tramples on the most basic of democratic freedoms, such as the freedom to speak out and to hold a peaceful demonstration. That is not the hallmark of a democracy. It is the hallmark of a police state.
The time has come to let India know that we are watching and to let them know that this is unacceptable.
There are steps that we can take to support the rights of all people in south Asia. It is time that we take these steps. They include cutting off our aid and trade with India and putting the Congress on record in support of self-determination for the Sikhs of Punjab, Khalistan, the Christian people of Nagaland, the Kashmiris, and all the people of South Asia who are seeking freedom. Only by exercising their right to self-determination, which is the essence of democracy, can the people there finally live in freedom, peace, and prosperity.