[To those familiar with the events of the last four decades in the Punjab, the situation appears to have taken a full circle. History is poised to repeat itself. At an equally crucial time, Y. V. Chandrachud, the then Chief Justice of India (1978-1985), on tour of Patiala, had made a significant pronouncement warning lawless elements (read, ‘those agitating for rights of the state’). It was none of his business to do so, but he stopped to assume the mantle of the official spokesman of the central government when he broadcast that warning. At the same time he was directing the judiciary to adopt tough attitude towards the agitators. Sowing prejudice in the minds of an important pillar of the State was at least reprehensible but was not treated as such by the people of India.
Today we have a near parallel scenario unfolding itself in front of us. Two judges of the Supreme Court, hearing a totally unrelated petition chose to make observations about the case of Balwant Singh Rajoana and its handling by the state government. The court of Justices G. S. Singhvi and S. J. Mukhopadhaya characterised the happenings of the previous four days as a “telling situation.” It alleged that a “high drama” had been enacted for political considerations “in a particular state.” This observation was made while hearing the petition filed in behalf of Professor Devinderpal Singh Bhullar. [See, The Indian Express, March 30, 2012, (4)] The court neglected the restraint that judges must observe while sitting in that high seat of justice. They also did not care whether their remarks would offend the Punjab in general and the Sikh people the world over who were supporting clemency for Rajoana. They also did not realize that the judiciary would see a message in their off the cuff remarks to the detriment of citizens who have the inherent right to unprejudiced application of mind by the judiciary.]
On April 1, 2012, some of us representing various human rights organisations signed a memorandum to be presented to all the primary functionaries of the government bringing to their notice the impropriety committed by the judges and the far-reaching implications that it is likely to have. I take the liberty to present the same (below) to “we the people” who are the source of all power invested in the high dignitaries to whom the memorandum has been addressed. I request the people not to be indifferent to the unfolding events but to take the bull by the horns by expressing displeasure at the impropriety which appears to be more than a mere impropriety.
To April 1, 2012
1. President of India,
Rashtrapati Bhawan, New Delhi.
2. The Prime Minister of India,
3. The Chief Justice of India,
Supreme Court Complex, New Delhi.
Sub.: Observations of the Hon’ble Judges of the Supreme Court of India with regard to the hanging of Balwant Singh Rajoana while hearing the case of Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar.
A petition for clemency on behalf of Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar, a Sikh by faith, against his death penalty is pending in the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. It came up for hearing before a Bench on 29.3.2012. While hearing this petition, the Hon’ble Judges made certain observations with regard to the hanging of Bhai Balwant Singh Rajoana who has been convicted and sentenced to death in the case of late Beant Singh, Chief Minister of Punjab.
The ire of the Hon’ble Judges has been directed against the Punjab Government for demanding clemency for Rajoana. They have called it “a political drama”, unmindful of the mass protests held in Punjab over the past four days. These observations have hurt the Sikh community. These remarks have been made entirely out of context, as the matter in question was not before the Court at all. The court was handling a case which was entirely different, having been based on different facts and circumstances.
Observations made in relation to Bhai Balwant Singh Rajoana by the judges concerned are unwarranted and uncalled for. It is a sad reflection on the Indian judiciary, which seems to be biased against the minorities. It took no notice of the false encounters and extra-judicial killings of the minority communities in India. The silence of the judiciary over burning issues like demolition of Babri Masjid, Godhara killings, killings of the Christians and burning of their churches did not even touch the conscience of the persons manning the judicial system.
Let us quote a few instances which clearly reflect the bias of Indian judiciary against the Sikhs.
In the case of hanging of Kehar Singh an accused in Mrs. Indira Gandhi case, even the top jurist Justice Tarkunde and legal luminary H.M. Seervai took cognizance of the biased judgment of the Supreme Court. Minoo Masani, an eminent Constitutional Lawyer and a Member of the Lok Sabha pointed out:
“ … I refer to the execution of Satwant Singh and Kehar Singh, the first of whom was undoubtedly guilty of murder and the second was just as clearly innocent. Kehar Singh’s execution amounts to judicial murder, since it is based on a miscarriage of justice on the part of the courts of law.”
Mr. Seervai observed:
“After a full discussion of the questions involved in the conviction of Kehar Singh by the three judges, I end as I began. I agree with Mr. Tarkunde, a retired judge of the Bombay High Court that even a dog could not be hanged on the evidence led against Kehar Singh. And I also agree with Mr. Minoo Masani that the conviction of Kehar Singh was “judicial murder”, that is, “death caused by court sentence held legal, but unjust”.
In the case of Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar who was deported from Germany with an understanding that no capital punishment will be awarded to him, was convicted and sentenced to death on the sole piece of evidence of his unsigned confessional statement purportedly recorded by a Superintendent of Police. It is a fact that the Presiding Judge of the Bench of Supreme Court acquitted Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar, whereas the other two judges upheld his conviction and sentence and he is suffering the imprisonment till date which is a pretty long period and has mentally and physically affected him seriously. In the legal history this is a classical case where the acquittal and death sentence is recorded.
We also like to quote the case of Kishori Lal, a meat seller, who killed 13 innocent Sikhs with a weapon used by butchers. For the killing of 13 Sikhs he was awarded Capital punishment by the trial Court but when his case came before the Supreme Court, his death sentence was set aside by observing that he committed the murders on account of emotional circumstances relating to the death of Mrs. Indira Gandhi. It is also a fact that he was going to be released after suffering imprisonment of some years. However because of the representation of the Sikh organization his release was forestalled.
The Indian judiciary chose to be silent over the killing of thousands of Sikhs in November 1984 in Delhi and in other places in India, besides destruction of their holy places and property worth billions. Again the demolition of Babri Masjid is also a historical fact and a glaring case of participation of a political party helped by religious organizations. The killing of Muslims in Gujarat is also a recorded fact in the history besides the killing of Christians and burning of their churches at difference places in India. No High Court or the Supreme Court took suo moto notice of such most tragic events in which the minorities suffered in terms of lives, property, prolonged imprisonments and other miseries. One fails to understand why any High Court or the Supreme Court did not take suo moto notice of such painful and tragic events. It seems that it was not done so because the minorities were at the suffering end.
The observations of the concerned judges of the Supreme Court are to be viewed with great anguish. It reflects their biased attitude against Bhai Balwant Singh Rajoana, while hearing the case of Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar.
The situation is reminiscent of the mindset of the Kazis during the Mughal rule, who delivered decisions which proved detrimental to their governing system. Executions of Guru Arjan Dev, Guru Tegh Bahadur, the two sons of Guru Gobind Singh and many others led to the eventual decline of the Mughal Empire.
It is high time that the Hon’ble Judges should uphold the dignity of their high offices and should create an atmosphere of faith and trust so that the minorities do not feel let down. Fractured verdicts given by the Apex Court in the cases of Kehar Singh and Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar have left deep scars on the Sikh sensitivities. Indiscrete comments of the Hon’ble judges and judicial overreach are matters of utmost concern.
[Some public spirited people called for a state-wide shutdown to protest against the execution of death sentence awarded to Balwant Singh Rajoana, accused of conspiring to kill Beant Singh, the then chief minister of the Punjab. The judgment is still to become final and the execution of Balwant Singh before that if it happens, will be travesty of justice. Eight ordinary citizens of the Punjab announced a shut-down in the entire Punjab on the 28th of March, 2012, against the execution of Balwant Singh scheduled to take place on the 31st of March 2012. The punishment was so blatantly unjust that the entire Punjab arose to record protest against it. The shut-down of the 28th was complete. People of Punjabi origin took part in the protest the world over. For the first time in several decades there was unanimity amongst the people that injustice was being done and it needed to be thwarted by popular disapproval.
The newly elected government of the Punjab rightly stood by its people and represented in the matter to the president of India. That earned some reprieve to the condemned man. The hanging was postponed for the time being. It appears that at heart, the government was not convinced that it had conducted itself properly. In the most stupid way of all it went ahead to indicate that. This was by arresting all the people whom it considered real custodians of the Sikh sentiment in the Punjab and put all of them behind bars on the very evening of one of the most successful shut-downs in recent history. On the date of writing, April 4, 2012, these leaders of public opinion are still in detention. People of the Punjab are entitled to ask why this is happening. Why those who represent the Sikh spirit in particular and the Punjabi sentiment in general, are cast behind bars by a government which claims to have been democratically elected less than a month prior to the arrests of the 28th. Has it lost its representative character so soon that it is mortally afraid of a handful of leaders who, according to the newly elected, represent nobody? Those arrested appear to have a point of view that is endorsed by the whole of the Punjab, all the Punjabis abroad and all wide awake citizens of the world who consider execution to be barbaric and want no destruction of life. We must all ask why the leaders of the people who have correctly articulated their concerns, are being held in prison all over the Punjab? The intimidation of such leaders goes against the democratic spirit and ethical behaviour. We must demand their immediate release.]
[The Akali-BJP government is not the only entity that is not able to make sense of the emerging phenomena. We have confused politicians unable to speak for or against the death sentence. The Press too is not providing proper guidance but is trying to detract from the enormity of the sentiment behind the proposition to grant total clemency. It is now resorting to the tricks that it has been playing for decades in the Punjab. Placed below are three letters to the editors of widely circulated newspapers of the region. I urge the reader to become aware of the consistent propaganda that the press is conducting to misguide the Punjabis in general and the Sikhs in particular.]
(Letter to the Editor for publication)
From : Gurtej Singh,
742, Sector 8,
To: The Editor, The Tribune,
I have been reading The Tribune for several decades. Though I have always found it amply dispassionate in depicting news and views that affect the people in general, but have always found it abandoning the degree of generosity when matters concerning the Sikh issues or personalities come up for reporting. The same gingerly attitude is adopted when those issues (wrongly) perceived to be Sikh issues are dealt with. In the past this attitude complemented by the Jalandhar division Press, has been responsible for bringing much misery to the people of the region.
During the last disturbed decades Press observers had several occasions to see bias being reflected in the columns of the paper that is liked by many in the region. The situation of the Punjab requires absolute honesty in representing varied points of view.
In this background I bring to your notice the reporting on the latest bandh of the 28th March, left much to be desired. On the first page was the news entitled, “Near total bandh in Punjab.” The headline was only technically correct and the news depicted under it tried to make the Rajoana issue a Sikh versus Hindu issue. The complete nature of the bandh in urban centres like Ludhiana and Jallandhar suggest that the people did not consider the issue a communal issue at all but gave the message that under all circumstances justice must be tempered with mercy if it is not to become a tyranny. That was remarkable and should have been reflected.
The headline at page 5 was equally Janus faced, “Clashes in Patiala leave five injured” screams the headline. The sub heading is actually more true and of general applicability, It reads, “Complete shutdown in state over Rajoana’s hanging.” The latter deserved to be the main headline on the first page and the contents of the news regarding Patiala could have been depicted under the headline at page 5.
By harnessing less than generous attitude to depict this most important news of the region, your paper has contributed to distortion in the popular mind not inclined (as the average reader invariably is) to go deep into the news item.
I have had several occasions to bring the peculiar attitude of The Tribune to the notice of several of your predecessors and the distinguished members of the Tribune trust. I was hoping that with your coming no such occasion would arise in future. Please don’t prove me wrong. This state deserves better attention particularly by your paper.
(Letter to the Editor for publication)
From : Gurtej Singh,
742 Sector 8,
To: The Editor, The Indian Express,
April 2, 2012
I have been a keen observer of the events in the Punjab since 1978. I have also been reading The Indian Express since my student days. The paper was well known for its integrity. Its role during the notorious Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi was exemplary and must have inspired generations of journalists dedicated to objectivity. Somehow it became selectively objective with the beginning of the Akali Dharamyudh Morcha. It developed a faulty vision as will be apparent from the writings particularly of Mr. B. K. Chum. The particular slant against the Sikh people has continued since.
Much water has flown down the rivers since 1984. Those responsible for the turmoil have sheepishly apologized, some gracefully, some in their usual crooked style. The entire Press has been more than satisfied with the modern Akali’s disowning the ‘Panthic agenda.’ Unfortunately the Press has still not abandoned its anti-Sikh stance. This will become apparent if you dispassionately analyze your reporting on the recent events in Gurdaspur. Persistent attempts have been made to popularize a garbled version of the event to the advantage of a ‘particular community’ – to use the cliché that the Press often employs.
Please refer to page 4 of your esteemed newspaper dated April 1, 2012, wherein your correspondent Navjeevan Gopal has presented the happenings at Gurdaspur (“Deputy SP, ASI booked for youth’s murder”). Jaspal Singh a young engineering student was killed in the police firing on March 29, 2012. Your paper has made it appear as if the incident had taken place on the 28 when the bandh in favour of Balwant Singh Rajoana was being observed. He has thus tried to provide a justification of sorts for the police firing and the killing of Jaspal Singh and by implication the injury caused to others in that totally unjustified police firing. Your paper has written, “Jaspal was one of the protestors taking part in the demonstration in Gurdaspur seeking clemency for Balwant Singh Rajoana – convicted for the assassination of former Punjab CM Beant Singh – when police opened fire.”
The fact, however, is that the firing took place on the 29th March when the Hindu Shiva Sena was trying to publicly burn effigies of respected Sikh personalities in reaction to the bandh that had taken place a day earlier. The wrong context has distorted the news against the innocent deceased and a ‘particular community’ as you would say. It has shielded the real culprits who went about sowing virulent communalism without a cause. It has tried to shield the police which went on a killing spree at the victims of the communal activity.
Kindly make amends as best you can. My further request to you is to remind your highly communalised reporter(s) that the news is sacred in all circumstances and may not be distorted, if for nothing else, it would be worthwhile to refrain just to preserve respectability of your esteemed paper.
(Letter to the Editor for publication)
From : Gurtej Singh,
742 Sector 8,
April 4, 2012
To: The Editor, The Hindustan Times,
I am a regular reader of your esteemed newspaper. It is painful to observe your paper straying from the universal norms of journalism. Please see the news item “DGP Saini’s appointment challenged in high court.” At page 4 of your Chandigarh edition dated April 4, 2012. Your correspondent set out to convey the news about the filing of the petition. One reading it would expect to read something about the contents of the petition and the rationale for presenting it. Except for knowing that a criminal case is pending against the DGP in Delhi, one is none the wiser about these vital aspects. These eleven words do not help the reader in making up his mind about the correctness or otherwise of filing the petition.
In a classic example of shooting the messenger your correspondent has concentrated on discrediting the NGO on behalf of which the petition is presented. More than 130 words have been used to challenge the credibility and character of the NGO though these aspects are not relevant in a complaint alleging criminality and inadequate application of mind by the appointing authority. Simranjit Singh of Ajitgarh who is a respectable member of the high court bar has been described as nondescript ‘one — resident of SAS Nagar.’
The correspondent, tracing the devil to its door (bure de ghar tak), has tried to dig up some dirt about the NGO and alleges that it has been questioning the judiciary without mentioning whether the criticism is legitimate or baseless. To further discredit the NGO he has tried to relate it to the arrest of Simranjit Singh Mann of the Akali Dal and others though a reading of the petition suggests no such context. SS Mann and others have been unfairly described as radicals though they are functioning within the four corners of the constitution and have been regularly contesting elections. The honourable judge has merely asked the NGO to show that it has been concerned about public affairs in the past. That is entirely reasonable and does not have the sinister connotation your correspondent has tried to place on the pronouncement of the judge. This constitutes distortion. I hope you will make amends.
Badal’s formula for everlasting peace in the Punjab
Another recent news is worthy of being brought to the people’s notice. While speaking to a gathering on the death anniversary of Gurcharan Singh Tohra, the chief minister of the Punjab, Parkash Singh Badal paid “laurel tributes” (whatever it means). Just before his death he had denounced Tohra as agent of the Congress and had expelled him from the Akali Dal. Now “paying laurel tributes to Jathedar Tohra, the Chief Minister said that he was the only multifaceted personality of the panth who had contributed immensely in every field whether it was religious, political, social or educational.” He is further reported to have lamented that “some inimical forces were trying to mislead people about SAD by using ‘panthic agenda’, he however said that, SAD has always adopted the ‘panthic agenda’ as shown by the Sikh gurus which include welfare of all sections of society, communal harmony and giving equal respect to every religion. Raising slogans of hatred and adoption of warpath always could not be termed as ‘panthic agenda’,” he stated. The excerpt has been taken from The Pioneer of April 2, 2012 but could have been culled from any of some two dozen papers of the day. Badal’s speech was well reported for it has far reaching consequences. The Sikh people must understand what PS Badal is saying and must record its reaction. It is not enough to run him down for the speech; the proposition that he has been mooting since 1996 (when the 75 year old Shiromani Akali Dal was converted into a Punjabi Party) has not been understood in proper perspective and has lead to unnecessary misery for the Sikh people.
To analyze Badal’s proposition properly, we need to take notice of related facts. After the elections had concluded and results were still to come, we heard of the death by burning of Kulwant Singh Varpal who had been in Amritsar jail after having been ‘picked up’ by the police on July 21, 2010. He had been tortured in front of the family members when he was picked up and subsequently. While in custody he had been severely tortured physically as well as mentally. As a result of the torture his kidneys had become non functional and he had to be moved to a hospital. A petition was put in the Punjab and Haryana High Court (P&HHC) at Chandigarh and is pending. On the 11th of February came the news that Kulwant Singh had been set on fire inside the jail premises while he was sleeping in his prison cell. He was brought to the hospital and succumbed to severe burn injuries. He had been able to make a dying declaration, based upon which the High Court has ordered the registration of a case for murder. Simultaneous with the announcement of the programme of oath taking by the new chief minister, another two significant news items were broadcast by the Media. One said that Balwant Singh Rajoana would be hanged on March 31, 2012. The other was regarding the appointment of Sumedh Saini as the Director General of the Punjab police. The announcement of Rajoana’s hanging was curious as the orders had been despatched much earlier but the announcement was (deliberately) withheld to synchronize with the event of oath taking. The appointment of Sumedh Saini had naturally to come at that stage only. Sumedh Saini is a person who is perceived to have done perhaps the greatest number of extrajudicial killings of innocent persons in police custody during his tenure as police officer in the Punjab. In one case, unrelated to militancy, the P&HHC had ordered an enquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation. Based on its recommendations, the concerned court had framed charges of abduction of three persons and related offences under sections 341, 342, 364 and 120B of Indian Penal Code. The trial in that case is in progress. For that reason alone, he could not have been appointed. There were other matters against him including strictures by a judge of the High Court. His appointment contravened instructions of the Supreme Court of India. More than half a dozen officers senior to him were qualified to be appointed according to the Police Act. There is no mistaking that his appointment was meant to convey a message like the other two events mentioned above.
Before the matter of Badal’s pronouncement is taken up for analysis, another two of his pronouncements in recent times may also be placed on record. One is the new-year message released by Badal at the end of 2011. In that he claimed credit for preserving communal harmony and law and order in the Punjab. This was strange as no serious threat to both had been noticed during his tenure as chief minister. On the eve of his being sworn in as the chief minister on the 14th of March (see, Ajit, Jalandhar of March 13, 2012, 1) he had conveyed to the press his desire to maintain ‘communal harmony and promotion of goodwill.’ He counted this amongst the reasons for which he had been re-elected.
The anti-Sikh stance of his coalition partner, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has been pronounced throughout the history of its existence as political party. Its opposition to clemency to Rajoana which the entire Punjab supports is well known by now. It has resulted in the death of an innocent 18 year old student in police firing at Gurdaspur and in causing bullet injuries to several others. The incident took place on the 29th of March. The police was perceived to have acted in behalf of the Hindu Shiv Sena which is a member of the Hindutava forces like the BJP. It is significant that on the 28th of March some goons of the Shiv Sena had beaten up some Sikh young men and had insulted them by removing their turbans. A police case against the culprits had been registered. This becomes another input for the intended analysis of Badal’s pronouncement at Tohra village.
This “vision of the SAD-BJP government” appears to be composed of elements that form the propaganda plank of the Congress (I) party. The core element of this philosophy since at least 1911 has been that the tenth Guru introduced a kind of aberration in the Sikh movement by developing it along militant lines. That this has nothing to do with the spiritual aspect of Sikhi and needs to be got rid of. This has been expressed in a variety of ways by both the Congress and the BJP. Eventually a strategy appears to have been worked out to fulfil the common ambition of both the parties. This appears to have converged on entrusting the entire political power to a Sikh who would become the instrument to rid Sikhi of social concerns. In return he would be given unbridled political power in the state. On those terms Badal appears to have become a willing tool in this unholy war by the Congress and the BJP. To what level the information has been allowed to percolate within the relevant organisations is anybody’s guess. This philosophy has also been responsible for the promotion of the dera culture in the Punjab.
The inauguration of Badal’s last term as chief minister coincided with the appearance of an article which suggested that the ‘preaching of nine years cannot replace preaching of two hundred and thirty years.’ It thus sought to reject the contribution of the Tenth Nanak. Then there was the affidavit by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) that avoided providing the spiritual, religious and philosophical rationale for the Khalsa rahit as required by the P&HHC. It almost invited an adverse judgement which could have become a major hurdle in many ways. The main suit was frivolous and should never have been allowed to come to the court. The SGPC run Dental College appears to have contrived to make it a big issue. Bhai Darshan Singh was excommunicated for preaching the Sikh thought that the panth has upheld ever since its existence. Elections to the SGPC, with the connivance of the Gurdwara Election Commission, were held affording full opportunity to the non-keshadhari to vote. During the last tenure of this chief minister, the state police went on a turban removing spree to offer insults to the Sikh community. It has resumed the nefarious activity within a fortnight of Badal’s return as chief minister. Incidents and events of this nature could be multiplied.
In consequence of pursuit of the broader philosophy outlined above, the representation of the Hindus in the Badal Akali Dal will go on steadily increasing. The BJP will go on making progress in this regard although the Hindus form only 14% of Punjab’s population. Hindus in the Congress and outside will see their future in joining the either of two parties. The Sikhs who form 63% of the Punjab’s population will be steadily marginalised. Badal has shown the way by getting a Hindu candidate elected from a purely Sikh constituency in Faridkot. It is calculated that peace of the graveyard will come to reign eternally. We are watching the forceful launching of that trend today.
Badal’s philosophy, adopted after he became the sole arbiter of the Sikh religious and political affairs, is that the Khalsa rahit is the cause of all ills of the Sikhs. The Sikhs must give up all social concerns. Matters like the river water and rampant injustice must not be contended. He is indicating this by frequently imprisoning those leaders of public opinion who have the potential of contesting his point of view. Choice before the Sikhs is either to become shorn slaves of an alien culture as is implied by non-resistance to oppression or to show to the world how the Tenth King’s rahit is the essence of Sikhi and constitutes the next stage of development of humankind. To be fair to all Badal must also spell out his proposition clearly for everyone to respond. The shadow boxing must end before it does more harm to Sikhi and to the Punjab. The Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh must also clearly spell out its reaction and say whether it supports the blasphemy that Guru Gobind Singh was different from his nine predecessors? It must answer whether he had an agenda independent of them all. Time has come for the Sikhs to affirm solidarity with the Ten Guru’s vision of social dynamics or to finally turn their backs upon it. The matter brooks no further procrastination.