This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Youth Ki Awaaz. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

An 83 Year Old Man Is On A Hunger Strike Since January. Our Response? Nothing.

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

By Simran Kaur:

When food pipes are stitched into an 83-year-old grandfather’s forehead while pus collects around, indicating deep infection; visitors are intimated; his son is incarcerated – but public outrage remains muted. What does this say about us as a society?

In Punjab, since January 16, 2015, the taunt-faced and blue-turbaned Surat Singh has been on a hunger strike. His demands are around the attention to prisoners’ rights. His fate, in response to his peaceful agitation? Since February 26, he has been forcefully kept at a civil hospital in Ludhiana, where he is subjected to dubious medical procedures, and heavy police presence has curtailed most from reaching him.


The country’s largest civil rights organizations, PUCL, has issued a statement against such inhuman treatment. But even after all this, the ripples of protest are few. Is this because we have a case of a man and his family who are not aligned with any particular political personalities and are not engaged in any mud-slinging?

As a society, our silence is exhibiting to each other and our children, that we respond more to fake bravado or violence than we do to civilized and principled resistance. Other than PUCL, shows of solidarity by fellow Indians, who are usually quick to quote the valour of Satyagraha and non-violent protests, have been absent. Shows of solidarity by fellow Sikhs, who are often quick to cast other Indians as being callous towards Punjab’s strife, have also been absent.

While the reasons for this cowardly restraint by Sikhs might be complex, the result is simple: a man ready to die for the greater good is suffering and dying with minuscule attention as compared to debates around things like the movie Nanak Shah Fakir in India, or the cutting of cakes for ‘Sikh heritage month’ in the otherwise vociferous communities in Canada and the U.S.

The fact that Surat Singh is no one’s cause, is enough for us to pause and think.

For those who think hunger strikes are weak, perhaps you can show strength to skip meals a few days and reassess? For those who think hunger strikes by devout Sikhs are dangerous, perhaps you can ask yourself what sort of resistance you are promoting when you ignore peaceful protest?

While sipping chai and reading the morning paper about whether comments about Sonia Gandhi’s white skin were offensive to Nigerians—missing the point that they are in fact reflective of the shameful racism of us Indians, ever-reaching for tubes of Fair & Lovely—shouldn’t we stop to turn our gaze to our own fathers and grandfather’s wrinkled skin and think of needles and pipes piercing through their foreheads?

Might we then dash off a letter to the editor of Punjab’s largest English daily, The Tribune—“Voice of the People,” asking why there is no coverage of Surat Singh’s situation? Maybe write a note in support to his family on Facebook? Or simply dedicate one of our many vital Tweets or Instas today to the old man of steel? Or maybe the feminists can speak in support of Surat Singh’s steadfast daughter who has been addressing any media that will listen and sitting in on painful court hearings presided by unsympathetic judges who are treating Surat Singh’s situation without any urgency? Maybe we can sign a petition for his son, who the police in the land of Gandhi have held since February 26 only for supporting his father’s peaceful protest—better yet, start a petition that is not appealing to his adopted country, the U.S., but the country holding him, India?

Surat Singh’s history of non-violent protests—beginning with his resignation from government service as a school teacher in response to the attacks of 1984, or the more recent hunger strikes in solidarity with the anti-corruption protests by Anna Hazare—speak of an honest and heroic track record.

Are we so jaded as a community that we can’t spot a courageous inspiration even when it is right there, wasting away slowly,  since 80 days?

With much more public pomp and show, and a less clear record, the hunger striker Gurbaksh Singh Khalsa got much attention by heavy-weight Sikhs organizations and individuals. Gurbaksh Singh’s strike too furthered an unpopular agenda—prisoners, that too political prisoners, and further, of a minority community. Surat Singh’s letter to PM of India, explaining his protest, states he is simply committed to “fulfil the unfinished work of Bhai Gurbaksh Singh.” Perhaps if Surat Singh had engaged in some mud-slinging, we would have paid more attention?

The disproportionate attention begs the question: are we so feeble-minded as to believe that one hunger strike should have changed a system, and since it didn’t, any subsequent protest is passé? Surat Singh is not only the Irom Sharmila of Punjab, he is the Nand Singh of Punjab, the Darshan Singh Pheruman of Punjab. He is the tens of thousands of Punjabis who courted arrest peacefully in response to Indira Gandhi’s Emergency in the 1970s. And, simply, he is the man who withstood our collective elder abuse and neglect without reproach.

“I call upon you to treat my dying note as a wakeup call,” Surat Singh wrote to the Indian PM. That was on February 11, 2015. The slumber continues.


You must be to comment.
  1. Mansi

    I started reading the article to know about the man and his cause but on the contrary what I got was 90% emotional uprising and finger pointing at communities bit social as well as political.

    I follow Youth Ki Awaaz because it keeps me in touch with a lot of social and political issues at the ground level but I am disappointed that this article focused so less on the old man’s struggle and story.

    The tonality and language might get a lot of readers attracted but it can be just a means to the end. Readers should get affected by the story more and get the details.

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

Similar Posts

By Akshat Vats


By Imran Khan

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below