After international protests by Sikhs around the world (including the United States – demonstrations have been held in San Francisco, New York and Washington, DC) and especially in Punjab, it was announced today that the execution of Bhai Balwant Singh Rajoana has been stayed. The “campaign of orange” has become a worldwide movement among Sikhs expressing solidarity in pursuit of justice and/or clemency (the latter of which is something Balwant Singh is not himself interested in) around the world has taken on a new phase. Despite initial celebrations of victory, there seems to be a growing awareness and movement that sees this campaign as only the beginning of a reawakening of the Sikh psyche.
There is reason to be cynical about the stay of execution, as outlined on the blog The Langar Hall. Certainly, any granted clemency can be said by the powers-that-be to close the chapter on this story, however, justice for the mass killings of Sikhs from 1984 until well into the 1990s has still eluded the community. The fundamental issues that have plagued India-Sikh relations since before the 1980s have never been addressed, and since then, those that engaged in the most brutal of crimes against Sikhs still roam free, or are even promoted within government ranks.
A reader writes:
I do not support violence and therefore I do not support the capital punishment too. In my view this has to be abolished. But, by any case Rajoana can not be a hero or a martyr and he surely is a militant who participated in a terror act that accounts to waging a war against the nation. Also, there is no question of injustice. I am sure you would know that the mastermind of the assassination, Jagtar Singh Hawara too was sentenced to death but post his plea it was converted into a life imprisonment, so there is no question of injustice in this case. Rajoana didn’t plead and hence his death sentence stay firmed.
This sentiment is not unique, but it fails to appreciate the events leading up to and subsequent to the assassination of Beant Singh, the tyrannical Chief Minister of Punjab. To claim that there is no question of injustice is a complete disregard for the Sikh victims of targeted state-sanctioned violence for which no justice was ever delivered.
What would compel a group of police officers, including Balwant Singh Rajoana, to target Beant Singh in the violent manner that they did? Perhaps these men saw that it was the only way to stop the well-documented torture, killing and human rights abuses that the Beant Singh sanctioned as tactics by police and military to combat the violent secessionist movement. In India, the objective of “peace” was being used as the mandate for state tyranny of the Sikh population (it is not lost on this author that any government who sought to control all of India engaged in tyranny – be it Mughal, British, or independent India), but peace through tyranny is clearly the wrong paradigm.
Let us also remember that it is openly recognized and recorded that Balwant Singh was not the actual assassin, though many Indian media outlets continue to propagate this belief. Regardless, the Indian judiciary, not having executed anyone in over two decades, seeks to hang Balwant Singh for his involvement in Beant Singh’s assassination.
An Op-Ed piece written by Yug Mohit Chaudhry (a non-Sikh) published in the Indian newspaper The Hindu, recognizes by way of Balwant Singh’s case that the Indian justice system needs to change its character:
The use of the death penalty in such cases is extremely problematic and potentially divisive. Balwant Singh’s case graphically illustrates a spiral of violence, revenge and reprisals. Further violence, albeit state-sanctioned, could be used to legitimise earlier violence and perpetuate the spiral. Let us show that the justice we administer is not victor’s justice but one tempered by humility, compassion and humanity.
It is that humility, compassion and humanity – which some might see as pillars of justice – from the Indian government that Sikhs have been seeking for their people for over two decades.