The Untold Story...until now...
This is the heartbreaking story of a truly Chardi Kalla (high spirited) Sikh and the depths of despair he was driven to when, twenty three years ago, he was thrown into prison, the door locked and the key thrown away, leaving him to rot in a form of “hell on earth”.
Gurdeep Singh and SOPW
Gurdeep Singh first came to the attention of SOPW in 2001, when Balbir Singh Bains (Founder of SOPW) who was himself imprisoned under false charges, met him at Tihar Jail in Delhi. Gurdeep Singh had just been transferred from Bidar Jail in Karnataka, where he had served eleven years of a life sentence. The following is Balbir Singh’s account of that first meeting and the subsequent year and a half they spent as inmates:
“Upon seeing Gurdeep Singh, I was initially relieved that I had found another Sikh to talk to and immediately rushed over to speak to him.” Balbir Singh recalls; “When Gurdeep Singh began talking I found it very difficult to understand what he was saying - save the odd word or two. He spoke a mixture of Hindi and Punjabi that I could de-cipher, but then I had to get the other inmates who were versed in Marathi, to translate the language Gurdeep Singh was using to communicate.”
Balbir Singh was dismayed to discover that whilst Gurdeep Singh had been imprisoned at Bidar Jail for over 10 years, he had lost his mother tongue and had resorted to using Marathi, which is the main spoken language in the State of Karnataka. Gurdeep Singh explained (via the inmate interpretator) that there were no other Panjabi/Hindi speaking inmates with him, and he had forgotten how to speak fluent Punjabi.
This upset Balbir Singh, but he wanted to know more about Gurdeep Singh. So he asked Gurdeep Singh to describe the events that led to him spending over eleven years in prison.
Sikh University Students killed in Bidar
After the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the whole of India became a hostile and dangerous place for Sikhs to be. Beginning on 14 September 1988, four days of murderous mayhem resulted in looting, arson and murders of Sikhs, who made up a very small number of the population in Bidar (Karnataka). Many students of the Guru Nanak Dev Engineering College, became victims of the anti-Sikh attacks. It sent shockwaves throughout the Sikh world as students from all over the country were studying at the University.
The Punjab Human Rights Organisation (PHRO) arrived in Bidar some ten days after the attacks and recorded testimony from eye-witnesses and victims. The investigation found that all Sikh establishments in the area had been looted and burnt, Gurdwara’s attacked and desecrated. Five Sikh students from the Guru Nanak University had been brutally murdered as had one Sikh from the Pharmacy College. Hundreds of other Sikh students had been seriously injured.
Of the students who lost their lives, two were brothers and the only children of their parents. These attacks left a deep scar on the Sikhs and the misery of those families is beyond comparison.
The most alarming thing noted by PHRO, was that during those bloody four days, there was an absence of hurry, an intention to insult the Sikh symbols and an attempt to expel Sikhs from Bidar by destroying their properties. The mobs had uniformly cut bamboo sticks and the Police, Administration and Media acted in ‘concert ‘ by turning a blind eye to the horrific events taking place.
In 1990, Gurdeep Singh was implicated in the Bidar and Delhi bomb blast cases, that were deemed to be revenge attacks in retaliation to these Sikh murders. He was given two life sentences, one to be served in Bidar (Karnataka) and one in Tihar Jail (Delhi).
To read the full PHRO report on the Bidar Anti-Sikh attacks, please click on this link:
“Sukh Mai Bahu Sangee Bheae, Dukh Mai Sang n Koe”
In good times, there are many companions around, but in bad times, there is no one at all.
During his trial, Gurdeep Singh’s family begged him to change his plea and to beg for forgiveness. Gurdeep Singh refused, responding that he was a Sikh of the Guru and he will always stand by truth and justice for his people and he had done nothing wrong and therefore had nothing to beg forgiveness for. When they recognised how determined he was, they threatened to have no contact with him. After he was sentenced, Gurdeep Singh’s family took out an advert in the press stating that they no longer acknowledged him as their son and that legally they had no connections with him. We will never know what circumstances drove his parents to disown him so publically. To this day no family have come to visit him or made any form of contact or provided support for him, although a childhood friend of his made weekly trips from Punjab to Delhi to check on his well being.
Life in Prison – “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here”
Gurdeep Singh describes the start of his life in prison, like “being abandoned on a strange Island where you are the only one of your kind”. Gurdeep Singh had no support -be it financial, emotional or physical. The kind of adversity he faced, only few men on earth can endure. The crime for which he was accused, falls under an Anti-State category and as such he was treated with hatred and contempt by other inmates and the jail wardens. There were days when Gurdeep Singh felt would be his last, such was the hostility towards him.
As time passed, isolation turned into desperation, Gurdeep Singh, crying, recounted to Balbir Singh: “It was not the prisoner life that was the biggest hardship I faced, but not being able to take care of my everyday needs” these needs were basic things, such as clean under garments, clothes, a toothbrush, soap, a turban to keep his head covered, footwear etc.
“Sometimes inmates would get bail or pass away whilst in prison; I would beg the Prison officers to give me whatever belongings they had left behind. On one occasion, my clothes were so tattered and torn, I was forced to wear the clothes of a man who was a foot smaller than me in height. At over 6 ft tall, I struck an imposing figure, but the trousers would not button up, the bottom part came half way up my calf and I had to tear the cuffs off the shirt, just to get it on. Whilst the other prisoners would laugh at me in my attire, I would take great care of these clothes, for I did not know when another inmate may be released or pass away, as this method was my only way of acquiring ‘new’ clothes” I would also pick up the discarded toothbrushes that other prisoners had thrown away and keep them for my use. Sometimes I would wash the clothes of rapists and murderers just for a broken pair for shoes, I would sweep the floors of the jail, and wash dirty utensils. There were days I would cry in despair at my situation and hopelessness. I truly felt alone. “
Some years into his incarceration at Bidar Jail, three other Sikhs came to be imprisoned alongside Gurdeep Singh. They were Balraj Singh, Amarjeet Singh and Balvinder Singh, who had also been imprisoned on terrorism related charges. These Singhs struggled the same way Gurdeep Singh did in his early years in the harsh environment of Bidar Jail. After some time, these three Singhs, including Gurdeep Singh were approached by a religious group. They were told that if they converted their faith, their religious superiors would ensure that their lives were made comfortable while in prison, their cases would be sent to the appeal boards and they would work on getting them released quickly. Gurdeep Singh wasn’t shocked to hear this, as he had been offered this ‘package deal’ many times over the years, but in the True spirit of a Khalsa, he could not be swayed from the path of Sikhi. Sadly, two of the other Singhs were distraught by the hopelessness of their situation, that they accepted the offer to convert.
Upon hearing this, Balbir Singh was so disturbed by the plight of ours Sikh brothers, that he could not sleep for many nights. From that day to the present time, SOPW has helped support Gurdeep Singh in every way possible, ranging from legal and solicitor fees to clothes and toiletries. We supply him with warm blankets, winter and summer clothing and money for him to purchase the everyday items we take for granted. Most of all, we offer him hope and a voice.
The Future looks Bright, the future is Orange
Editors Note: Whilst documenting this case study the SOPW team struggled to comprehend how one man could have endured so much suffering, so much violence, so much uncertainty and still come through it, shining the light of Guru Gobind Singh Ji. This Singh is the true spirit of a Khalsa, in his eyes; there is a fierce light that is determined to shine where there has only ever been darkness.
To date, Gurdeep Singh has served eleven years in Bidar Jail, nine years in Tihar Jail and from 2010 onwards he has been imprisoned at Gulbara Jail in Karnataka.
SOPW is currently in the process of lodging an appeal for his release. Please keep checking this page where we will add any developments and news regarding Gurdeep Singh as it becomes available.
Finally, the most painful part of this story is that hardly anyone even knows Gurdeep Singh Khera exists, let alone knows how he has spent every day of the past twenty three years.