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.

“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.