Khalistani separatist Balwant Singh’s execution, which was due to take place at the Patiala Central Prison this Saturday, has been halted.
A state-wide general strike, or bandh, was held on Wednesday. Following the submission of a petition against Balwant Singh’s execution from the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, the hanging was put off.
Many Sikhs regard Balwant Singh Rajoana to be a fighter for justice for the Sikh peoples. But under Indian law, he had committed the crime of the murder of Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh in 1995.
Beant Singh, who was blamed for many atrocities against suspected Khalistani separatists during his time in office, died in a car bomb that also killed 17 others. The family of Beant Singh have also asked for the Balwant Singh’s pardon, for the greater good.
Since Balwant Singh’s sentence was announced, there had been protests raging throughout Sikh communities worldwide, demanding the calling off of the punishment.
Young Sikhs in support of Balwant have managed to make quite an impact in the Social Media world. They have been posting extensively on Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and various blogs.
Some Balwant supporters have even compared Balwant Singh to the influential revolutionary Bhagat Singh, who led the Hindustani Socialist Republican Association, which fought against British cononial rule during the 1920s and 30s.
But many other Sikhs consider this comparison to be disrespectful to Bhagat Singh, who was an Indian nationalist, not a separatist.
Capital punishment debate
Nobody has been executed in India for many years now, leading to Sikh suspicions of discrimination on the part of the court.
But even though the court had reduced the sentences of the others who were responsible for the assassination upon appeal, Balwant Singh had chosen not to appeal. He refused to be legally represented.
Mr. Singh has expressed his outrage at the disproportionate response to various events. He highlights that many responsible for the murder of thousands of Sikhs in 1984 have still not so much as faced trial.
The BJP has said that capital punishment should be scrapped altogether, although its approach to the issue has been ‘selective’, according to the Dal Khalsa. The ruling Congress Party has not taken a hard stance for or against the death penalty.
Many, including Mumbai bomber Mohammed Ajmal Kasab and Thenmozhi Rajaratnam, responsible for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, have been on death row for many years now. This leads to the question of psychological damage done to those languishing in prison.
The controversy over Balwant Singh’s punishment has led to a renewal of the debate on capital punishment in India, and indeed a renewal of many pro-Khalistani sentiments worldwide.