Sikhs protest against death penalty in India

Thousands of Sikhs gathered at the Manukau Square in Auckland on March 25 to protest against the death sentence awarded by an Indian court to a fellow Sikh.

Community spokesperson Daljit Singh told the gathering that the decision of the Indian court was shocking and that it contradicted the worldwide campaign against capital punishment and India’s avowed principles of non-violence.

The High Court of Chandigarh in Punjab sentenced Balwant Singh Rajoana on March 5, 2012 to death by hanging for his involvement in the assassination of State Chief Minister Bean Singh in 1995.

The decision has angered the Sikh community in India and other parts of the world, including New Zealand, prompting them to organise procession meetings, appeal to the UN, governments and non-governmental agencies to force the Indian government to withdraw the death sentence.

In Auckland, the protesters included officials, members and volunteers of seven Sikh organisations including the New Zealand Sikh Society Auckland, Auckland West, Tauranga, Hastings, Palmerston North, Christchurch and Nanaksar Thath Isher Darbar based in Manurewa.

Community spokesperson Daljit Singh told the Auckland meeting that assassinated Chief Minister Beant Singh won the election in Punjab in 1992 on a mandate of 9% of the potential electorate. Peaceful Sikh nationalists were detained and banned from contesting in the election, he said.

Alleged executions

“The rest of Punjab reacted by boycotting the elections. Beant Singh gave the police force free reign to continue a policy of extrajudicial executions, torture and illegal detentions even more aggressively. During his four years, it is estimated that over 50,000 young Sikhs were killed by police death squads,” he said.

A statement issued at the protest rally said that ‘In India, everyone is equal before the law but the law was not equal before everyone.’

“There are different laws for minorities and the State’s mindless cruelty against minorities is baffling to an innocent observer,” the statement said and cited the example of Kishori Lal, known as ‘The Butcher of Delhi’ for his role in the 1984 massacres.

“He was one of a mere handful who went on trial and faced the law. He was sentenced to death by the Delhi High Court. But the Supreme Court subsequently converted this to life imprisonment. Last month, Delhi’s bureaucrats allowed him to walk out of prison as a free man even though only a fraction of his prison sentence had been served. No valid explanation was offered,” it said.

A Challenge

According to Daljit Singh, Balwant Singh Rajoana’s case has thrown a challenge to India and the world. He said the community demanded the Indian government to remove death penalty from the penal code, which he said, was inherited from its colonial past.

“The Sikh community has voiced its opinion against capital punishment time and again and several nations have already done away with this form of punishment. The New Zealand Sikh Community is very concerned about this indifferent justice to the minorities in India. We appeal to New Zealand Government to discuss the issue with the Indian government for the unconditional release of Balwant Singh Rajoana from prison and appeal to the Supreme Court of India to abolish the death penalty,” he said.

UK and US media reports said that the worldwide Sikh community was planning to form a coalition with governments and NGOs that wish to rid the world of the medieval justice of the death penalty with a specific campaign to end the death penalty in India.

“The first step is to put pressure on India to endorse the moratorium at the General Assembly of the UN later this year with a view to exerting sufficient pressure so India completely abolishes the death penalty within 12 months.

“An immediate public statement from the UN Human Rights Council condemning the imminent execution of Balwant Singh would seem appropriate,” the reports said.

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