India protests swell over Sikh radical's execution

Published: March 28, 2012
Sikh organisations, politicians and rights groups have joined in calling for the sentence to be commuted. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

Sikh organisations, politicians and rights groups have joined in calling for the sentence to be commuted. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

AMRITSAR: Protests escalated in India on Wednesday against the planned execution of a Sikh radical for his role in the assassination of a state chief minister by a suicide bomber in 1995.

Balwant Singh Rajoana was scheduled to be hanged Saturday morning at Patiala Jail in the northern Sikh-majority state of Punjab, in what would be the first execution carried out in India since 2004.

Sikh organisations, politicians and rights groups have joined in calling for the sentence to be commuted, although Rajoana himself has made it clear he would not appeal for clemency.

A strike call by Sikh groups and opposition parties saw many businesses shut down Wednesday across Punjab, while hundreds of protestors wearing saffron turbans gathered at Sikhism’s holiest shrine, the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal was in New Delhi where he was expected to meet with President Pratibha Patil and seek her personal intervention.

Security has been tightened across Punjab, with 60,000 police personnel and 15 companies of paramilitary forces put on alert, and special orders prohibiting large gatherings.

Rajoana was sentenced to death in 2007 for his role in the 1995 assassination of the then Punjab chief minister, Beant Singh, who was killed by a suicide bomber along with 15 other people.

Rajoana had acted as a standby assassin in case the initial attempt failed.

Radical Sikh groups had held Beant Singh responsible for abuses allegedly carried out by security forces in the suppression of a violent Sikh nationalist insurgency in Punjab in the 1980s.

Rights watchdogs Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both called for Rajoana’s execution to be suspended, saying it would mark a major step backwards for India.

“The death penalty is always wrong and the Indian government should immediately stop this execution,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“Beyond that, executing Rajoana would merely continue the cycle of killing and retribution between the Sikh community and the Indian state that has long divided communities.”

India’s last execution took place in 2004, when a former security guard was hanged for the rape and murder of a 14-year-old schoolgirl.

India has hundreds of condemned convicts awaiting execution, including the killers of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, and Pakistani national Mohammed Ajmal Kasab — the sole surviving gunman from the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

A complex and lengthy appeal process means those given capital punishment often sit on death row for many years.

In most cases the death sentence is commuted to life imprisonment.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • BlackJack
    Mar 28, 2012 - 3:58PM

    This sentence definitely does not conform to the ‘rarest of rare’ criteria which the Indian judiciary uses to decide on applying capital punishment. The circumstances were extra-ordinary under Beant Singh and the number of murders and missing people under his regime indicate that getting rid of him possibly saved many lives. Rajoana also surrendered and confessed his crime (he is unrepentant – but you can’t execute someone for that). I will not argue that taking a life (even Beant Singh) is a forgivable crime, but sending Rajoana to the gallows is a bit extreme. Further, this will re-kindle the dying embers of the ill-will from that terrible decade (1985 – 95), which is easily avoidable in this case.


  • Tejwinder
    Mar 28, 2012 - 6:02PM

    A common man who has always stood against the Indian System, has always faced severe consequences. This is one similar case. Former CM Beant Singh, who was responsible for the killings of thousands of innocent Sikhs, was assisinated to save Sikh Community, because at that time anti Sikh Genocide was at such a scale, that if no one would have been retaliated to it, then may be there would have been no Sikhs today. It is never some inter-community issue. Its a fight of a common man Bhai Balwant Singh Rajoana, who does not believe in double faced Indian Judiciary System. And that is the only reason, that he has rejected to file a mercy plea in front of the system. Across the Globe, millions of people are supporting this cause of halting the execution awarded to him. Can’t people see? When justice is denied again and again and endurance goes overhead, then such acts are born. People call him Terrorist, but he is a Hero for them, who were the victims of Beant Singh’s orders. He (Balwant Singh Rajoana) had always stated in his letters that he had no personal enmity with Beant Singh (Former Pb CM), but its his acts, that created the platform for his assasination. 16-18 innocent people were also killed in this assasination and everyone regrets it, but not the killing of Beant Singh. Because thousands innocents were killed beacuse of Him. So he was a killer too ! And this impotent Judicial system has always been biased. Minorities are denied justice and rights in India. Its not only in Punjab, but J&K, NE states, Southern States. Media Black out by Govt. is the biggest hinderance, that people dont know about these issues, because Govt. fears that common man will wake up and they might lose their Ruling chairs. But incidents like this (Rajoana Bhai Sahab’s execution) have already waked up those, who were asleep in conscience. No one has the right to kill anyone in my view , its all in the Hands of God, but to save humanity, if that killing had to be done, it was justified. And if killing those, who are responsible for the killings of thousands is what the Indian System calls Terrorism, then I must say, there are a lot of terrorists in Punjab. Save Humanity. Peace.


  • BlackJack
    Mar 28, 2012 - 7:28PM

    While my views are available in the comment above yours, I think your arguments are emotionally charged and not based on facts – for example if there was a media black out you wouldnt be reading about this in Pakistan; your rant covers everything in India from the majority community to the Govt to the judiciary. Surprisingly, half the people who are arguing for Rajoana are non-Sikhs, and there is a lot of sympathy across the nation for the extenuating circumstances under which this extreme step was taken. The problem before the Indian state is that of setting up a precedent – if you decide to commute Rajoana’s sentence, then why not Afzal Guru? Why not Nalini (Rajiv Gandhi’s killer/ conspirator)? Why not Ajmal Kasab? And the list goes on. Did you have someone who died in Bombay that day? Do you think Ajmal Kasab is an evil human being – because I don’t; he is a poor brainwashed unfortunate idiot who was put to evil use – . My point is that Indian judiciary cannot really be blamed for the lack of convictions in the anti-Sikh riots of the 80s – you need to reform the political system and its corrupt nexus with the police to address this issue; second, murder is a crime and needs to be punished – we are not ruled by a tribal “eye for an eye” system; My complaint is against the powers-that-be who don’t have the guts to make a humanitarian decision in this case, and the ruling itself which is extremely harsh and a sign of the political climate more than inter-faith relations.Recommend

  • BlackJack
    Mar 28, 2012 - 7:54PM

    My comments have been unnecessarily censored. Disappointed with this approach by ET – especially when the post actually discusses a media black-out!


  • jamesmessiah
    Mar 28, 2012 - 10:02PM

    Quadri and Balwant, two sides of the same radical coin .


  • Salman
    Mar 28, 2012 - 11:29PM

    @jamesmessiah: not the same case.Balwant singh not only killed CM of punjab but also 17 other inocent people


  • roma
    Mar 29, 2012 - 1:27AM

    i must congratulate ET for their expertise in reforming the english language – has he indeed been executed ?? “India protests swell over impending execution” would have been better – where are the editors —-on leave for the day booking their seats for the execution ?


  • Abner
    Mar 29, 2012 - 7:09AM

    It seems Khalistan movement is going to start….Assam separatists, Moist on the other hand, Kashmir separation, united Bangal that plan to unite Bangladesh are potential separatist moves in India……


  • Tejwinder
    Mar 30, 2012 - 8:47PM

    You are right. My comments may be charged by the emotions, because a lot of sentiments are attached with this issue. Let me tell you my personal view. Before any such incident came into my view , all these years of my life, I was just a normal Indian , who just knew that corruption is there, judiciary is corrupt, in the hands of those with high power. But this particular incident forced me to think and turn to the pages of history, that led to the incident (talking about assasination of Former Punjab CM Beant Singh). This literally opened my eyes. Yes, I know that killing some one is a punishable crime. And I know this thing too that the blast that killed beant Singh, claimed other innocent lives too. And that really hurts my emotions too. I have same feeling for them and their families, as I hold for those , who were the victim of Beant Singh’s killing spree. But killing those, who are responsible for the killlings of thousands, I dont think that this is Terrorism. And we all know, a Terrorist is not born from a Mother’s womb. There are two sides attached with terrorism too. And about Kasab, yes I share this point that he is just a brainwashed human, more like a robot, who was just programmed to do something against Indians. People like Kasab are not a threat to the world, but those are who actually brainwash Chidren/Youngsters for their personal gains. And I can never relate Balwant Singh Rajoana and Ajmal Kasab. Because both possess a different base. Where Ajmal Kasab was just programmed I would say, Balwant Singh was never. What do you think, Rajoana, as leading his simple life, would have something like this assassination in his mind? NO ! The devilish events, injustice and the innocent blood prvoked him to do this. Beacuse, when endurance goes overhead, some steps are to be taken to retaliate. And if your own LAW tries to supress your voice, that stand against the system, then you have to breakfree. And if we talk about the system. The Constitution on the day, it was actually developed and now, cant be implemented the same way. Because Times have changed , society has changed , country has changed. Loopholes in the system. why there are no cases registered against those, who killed thousands or I should say lakhs of Sikhs? So, if all the voices, that demand justice, will be forcefully suppressed by the System, then what other way is there? To do something that is out of this system. And thats what was done.


  • Tejwinder
    Mar 30, 2012 - 8:59PM

    About the media black out, I am talking about the National TV channels and newspapers. Because such an incident, that even BBC had covered, but no Indian Newspaper or News Channel. Why ? Worldwide protest, grabbed the attention of International Media and still Indian News Channels were mouthshut! Why? Until the issue became political, no one was ready to cover the story. Saying “We are not interested”. And when politics started over One Man’s life, then media started showing all sorts of special shows. Independent Journalism & Social Media has played a very important role here! And a big thanks to them. And Terrorism in my view cant be resolved by suppression. Never! Because the issues, that further lead to the acts , that some people call as Terrorism, are the ones that need to be resolved with full justice on human grounds.


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