The former prisoner fasting for others' release
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On Tuesday, the 41st day of Gurbaksh Singh Khalsa's "fast" demanding the release of six former Sikh militants, his weight read 60 kg. Singh, 48, says he was 76 kg before he began his fast. Sitting in a tent outside Amb Sahib Gurdwara, Singh has been surviving on a little helping of prasad each day after a visit to the gurdwara. A government doctor who checked him found all other parameters stable.
The six former militants he wants freed have completed 15 or more years in jails in Chandigarh, Karnataka and Gujarat out. Singh, himself charged with militant activities and arrested a number of times, had only a handful of people with him in the beginning. By now, he has garnered the support of several Sikh hardliners as well as politicians, both Akalis and Congressmen. After initial resistance, the state government too is now supporting his cause.
One of the prisoners, Lal Singh, was granted parole this week while the government has started the process of paroling three others lodged in a Chandigarh jails. Supporters see this as Gurbaksh's success and the Akal Takht has asked him to end the fast since his demands "have been met".
His supporters say he has spent more than three years in jail, including 16 months in Burail Jail in Chandigarh, where he came in contact with some of the convicts in the assassination of former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh.
"He saw these convicts had been languishing there for 18 years. He was moved and after he got bail, he told me he needed to do something to secure the release of former militants who had completed their terms," says Harpal Singh Cheema, an advocate who spent time in Nabha Jail.
Last August, Gurbaksh Singh sent the Punjab governor an "ultimatum" to expedite the process of premature release of the six prisoners. On November 14, he started his fast.
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