Lantos (80) considered a strong supporter of India and the Indian-American community, passed away earlier yesterday after fighting a losing battle with cancer in Bethesda, near Washington. ''The Sikh Coalition is deeply saddened by the death of Lantos. He represented a sizable section of the Sikh population in his congressional district and was an ardent supporter of our fight for religious rights. His loss will be deeply felt throughout the Sikh community,'' a statement released by the organisation said. Lantos, who was first elected in 1980 to Congress, has a history of fighting religious bigotry, the statement said.
Last year, Lantos fully supported the community effort to change the mandatory turban-screening policy put into place by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
In a letter to TSA Administrator Kip Hawley, Lantos wrote ''As a victim of religious persecution myself, I abhor the idea that a US government agency is engaged in a practice that isolates and humiliates ordinary Sikh Americans solely because they choose to wear the turban as an article of their faith.'' The statement added, ''We would like to thank Congressman Lantos for his support and leadership over the years. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, staff and colleagues at this difficult time. Together with all of you, we grieve for the loss of an outstanding statesman, a zealous advocate and a principled politician.'' He was instrumental in chalking up the Indo-US nuclear deal, which he backed to the hilt.