Sikhs protest en masse against execution of back-up suicide bomber

 
Thousands of Sikhs throughout India – and even abroad – took to the streets Wednesday, wearing bright orange, the colour of the Sikh flag. They demanded the government scrap its plans to execute Balwant Singh Rajoana for his role in the 1995 murder of Punjab state’s chief minister.
 
Punjab state’s chief minister, Beant Singh, was killed on August 31, 1995, along with 17 others, by a Sikh suicide bomber. Rajoana was convicted of acting as a back-up bomber should the first bomber have failed.
 
His hanging, which had been set for Saturday, would have been the first execution in India in eight years. Rajoana, who admitted his role in the murder, has never appealed his sentence, even though some of his co-conspirators saw their death sentences revoked following appeal. After mass protests called by Sikh groups, the Home Ministry said they were post-poning his execution until an undetermined date to allow time for mercy petitions to be reviewed.
 
Sikhs protesting against Balwant Singh Rajoana's execution on Wednesday in the city of Dasuya, in Punjab state.
 
Despite this postponement, protests continued Thursday. According to Indian media, at least one Sikh person was killed after the police opened fire during a clash between Sikhs and Hindus in Gurdaspur, a city in Punjab state. A Sikh group was reportedly trying to prevent a Hindu organisation from burning an effigy of Rajoana.
 
According to a Sikh media outlet, at least a hundred Sikh protesters have been arrested since Wednesday.
 
Policemen open fire on a crowd of protesters on Thursday in Gurdaspur.
 
Sikhs are followers of Sikhism, a monotheistic religion founded in the 15th century. Today, Sikhs make up 1.9% of India’s population of 1.2 billion. There is also a large Sikh diaspora; many families moved abroad following the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, four days of violence that left nearly 3,000 people dead. Those riots came in the wake of the assassination of the country’s prime minister, Indira Gandhi, by two of her Sikh bodyguards.
 
Sikhs in Ottawa, Canada protesting Wednesday against Balwant Singh Rajoana's execution.
Contributors

“We feel Raojana did what was right at the time”

Sahej lives in Ludhiana, in Punjab state. He took part in a protest Wednesday against Rajoana’s scheduled execution.
 
I’m 24, and this is the first time in my life that I’ve seen the whole Sikh community come together and act as one. It makes me feel very proud, and connected to my roots. We are united in supporting one man whom we all feel did what was right at the time.
 
I agree that he committed a crime – as does he – but he’s already been punished for 17 years. Most murderers in India only get a ‘life’ sentence of 14 years. [However, ‘life’ sentences have recently started getting longer]. You also have to consider his crime: he killed a mass murderer. The chief minister let the police kill hundreds and hundreds of Sikhs and loot their property. Nearly all Sikh families were affected by the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, as well as the police violence that followed for years. That’s why the youth have been out in force to support Rajoana – many young Sikhs in Punjab have grown up fatherless or motherless. I believe Rajoana and his colleagues saved even more kids from being orphaned.
 
“We won’t stop until he’s freed”
 
Nobody in my family was killed, but we were displaced by the 1984 riots, like many other Sikhs. We lost the family business and had to start over from scratch. We received no help whatsoever from the government. Situations like these turned many Sikhs, like Rajoana, into militants.
 
Today, we’re still ignored by the government. We have a Sikh prime minister, but he does nothing for us Sikhs – as a minority, we need protections, and we’re not getting them. Meanwhile, we’re portrayed negatively in the news, as well as in the film industry. Sikhs are always drunks, criminals, or both. This prejudice is very deeply ingrained. Recently, I was travelling by train, and the woman sitting in front of me told her small child, “Eat your food or the Sikh will take you away!”
 
I hope that by saving Rajoana, we will show India that we may be a minority, but we have a voice, too. It’s heart-warming to see that it’s not just Sikhs who are working for this cause – we’ve got people of all sorts, both here and abroad, helping us spread the word. I think things are looking up. In any case, we won’t stop until Rajoana is freed.

Comments

Background info to the protests

The following was authored by a concerned Canadian Sikh academic, who wrote under the condition of anonymity, in rebuttal to Jonathan Kay’s piece, entitled “Why are some Canadian Sikhs expressing solidarity with an unrepentant terrorist?“

There are many questions surrounding the stay of execution of of Balwant Singh Rajoana, who was sentenced for his involvement in the 1995 assassination of Beant Singh — the former chief minister of Punjab who spear headed the genocide against Sikhs in the region. But Rajoana’s sentence has since been stayed.

Beant Singh gave police officers the authority to carry-out extrajudicial executions, targeting and killing civilian Sikhs on the spot. This led to fake “encounter” killings, illegal detention, torture and rape. Beginning in 1984, and continuing until his assassination, an estimated 9,000-30,000 Sikhs were murdered in Punjab. During Beant Singh’s reign, thousands of Sikhs were killed for being “suspicious,” despite claims that there were only approximately 300 armed Nationalist Sikhs. After the death of Beant Singh in 1995, the senseless murders of Sikhs stopped.

Why is the Sikh population displaying insurmountable support and rallying to stop the execution of Rajoana, who many consider a terrorist? The fact of the matter is that Sikhs do not support terrorists or terrorism, but are looking for equal treatment and justice in the so-called secular democracy known as India.

Sikhs and Muslims are minorities in India and are often jailed without a court hearing, not allowed to fight their cases, given more severe penalties than their non-Sikh inmates, and given longer jail terms and intentionally delayed sentences.

In 1984, tens of thousands of Sikhs were killed in riots in Delhi that were believed to be led by accused Indian politicians Kumar and Tytler, but due to “technicalities,” their cases have been stayed. These riots happened almost 30 years ago, but these people are allowed to walk free. In 2003, accused politician Modi, started riots that led to the killings of thousands of Muslims in Gujarat. To this day, he walks free.

The minority Sikhs have long been oppressed by the Indian government. Corruption and discrimination have plagued Rajoana’s case and, as a result, there has been an outcry for justice. It is often said that there is no justice for Sikh prisoners in India. By displaying their support for Rajoana, Sikhs are expressing their desire that a single standard be applied to all people in India. Rajoana has always accepted responsibility for his crime and refused an appeal. He accepts the death penalty. People are simply arguing that the government should not hang Rajoana, until they hang other people who have committed similar crimes — to show the same commitment to human rights and the rule of law when the Indian state, its forces, its bureaucrats and its politicians commit heinous crimes against humanity.

The inconsistencies are too harsh to ignore. Kishori Lal, the “Butcher of Trilokpuri,” was released following three death sentences for going on a Sikh murdering spree in 1984. Today, many police officers and politicians who committed human rights violations and were involved in the Sikh genocide live freely and have worked their way up the political ladder. It appears the only fate for a Sikh political prisoner is the hangman’s noose.

There are numerous other legitimate reasons why Rajoana should not be executed:

* There are 2 other Sikh men who were involved in the killing, their trials are still pending (conveniently still in jail and awaiting fair trial for 17 years). So how can one man be hung when the other cases are not officially over.
* There is an ongoing explosives case on Rajoana in Patiala Court; the Advocate General can issue a writ to the court to suspend the hanging until the pending case is solved.
* Rajoana was not the actual murderer of Beant Singh (the murderer died in the bombing); he was a conspirator. So why is he being executed after spending 17 years in jail?

You must ask yourself, are these these actions consistent with the values of a liberal democracy? Would you not be upset? This is precisely why the Sikh population around the world is joining hands and supporting Rajoana. To us, Rajoana is a freedom fighter whose intent was not to kill innocents, but rather criminals, and to bring justice to Punjab. If someone had successfully killed Hitler, would that man be considered a terrorist? Maybe by Hitler supporters.

When All Hopes of addressing a wrong had failed, Rajoana was left with no alternative. He did what the Indian government failed, or chose not, to do: He stopped the violence in Punjab! Rajoana and others took matters into their own hands, took down a tyrant and allowed the state of Punjab to live in peace. If you wish to try Rajoana and hang him, you must hand down the same sentence to the many other men who murdered Sikhs in cold blood. I am a Sikh and we do not support terrorism.

The Sikhs of Canada and around the world support Rajoana for ridding the world of an evil man. The population would not be opposed to the death penalty handed out to Rajoana, had the others been tried just as equally.

National Post

1984 - Never Forget

Thank you Sahej for filling in the huge gaps found in this article. The full story begins with the attack on the "Golden Temple" - 1984 was the year of the Sikh 'holocaust/genocide'.

I don’t believe anyone has the right to take anyone’s life no matter what the circumstance – not gov’t (i.e. capital punishment), not groups or individuals. War is one thing – but individual actions are another…I understand what led Raojona to do what he did…but it was not the right way…justice is found through the courts, not violence. Just my opinion…will support 1984 memorials, etc…but not this…what he did does not make right what the other guy did…it was not justice – it was revenge.

Also...If you feel the PM is ineffective, why don't you become politically active or work with a non-profit to improve current conditions for Sikhs? India has a lot of minority groups and discrimmination/oppression issues...why not work towards social harmony and integration?

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