Friday, March 30, 2012

The Hindu : Opinion / Editorial : Halt all hangings

With only three days left for his execution, Balwant Singh Rajoana has got a temporary reprieve — ironically against his own steely determination to go to the gallows. Rajoana admitted his part in the suicide bombing of Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh, rejected counsel, refused to cross-examine witnesses, and accepted the death penalty, arguing that he would not ask for mercy from a government that called him a terrorist but was unconscionably insensitive towards the victims of state-sponsored communal pogroms. Rajoana's stand cannot take away from the enormity of his crime, for which he has been duly and correctly convicted by a court of law. Yet, he must live if only for the state to demolish his belief that it is a “monster” ready to turn on its own people. Abolitionists around the world argue against the death penalty mainly for two reasons: it has not been proved to be a deterrent and a flawed judicial process can wrongly, and irrevocably, send a person to his death. But over and above these reasoned considerations is the sheer barbarity of taking a human life even under the due process of law. Besides, there is no humane way of executing the death sentence. Death by hanging — the preferred method in India — is unspeakably cruel.

The pain and anxiety of the death-row prisoner going to the gallows — “cutting a life short when it is in full tide” — was brilliantly captured by George Orwell in his searing 1931 essay, ‘A Hanging'. Eighty years on, India is still to abolish capital punishment even as 96 countries around the world have done away with the practice with another 34 countries observing unofficial moratoria on executions. In India, a curious pattern has emerged lately. Courts are increasingly imposing the death penalty on convicts even as pending executions are put off to avert untoward political and social consequences. Just months ago, the Tamil Nadu Assembly made a plea for presidential clemency for the three death-row convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra showed extraordinary strength of character when they pleaded for the commutation of the death sentence awarded to Nalini. Punjab under Parkash Singh Badal observed a violent bandh in response to the news that Rajoana was to be hanged — the pressure forced the Centre to stay the execution. Unfortunately, these collective pressures and the uneven response they generate have added yet another element of arbitrariness to the entire process. It has been The Hindu's consistent stand that we must do away with capital punishment. Mahatma Gandhi's India cannot afford to lag behind other countries in embracing this progressive step.


The Hindu : Opinion / Op-Ed : Why Balwant Singh Rajoana shouldn't be hanged

March 29, 2012

The Centre has stayed the hanging. Now it must commute the sentence.

“And what if excess of love

Bewildered them till they died?”

W. B. Yeats, Easter 1916

It is a relief that the Centre has stayed the hanging of Balwant Singh Rajoana. Though I have represented many such prisoners, he is not my client. However, his case has disturbing implications for our country, our democracy and, I dare say, for our humanity.

Balwant Singh was a member of the Babbar Khalsa and a party to the assassination of Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh. Sixteen other persons died in the blast. He was arrested in December 1995, and sentenced to death in 2006. The High Court confirmed his death sentence in October 2010 and a few days ago he was given his execution. He has spent the last 16 years in prison.

What the records say

Of all those prosecuted in this case, Balwant Singh alone confessed his guilt. He refused to contest the prosecution's charges, challenge its evidence, engage a lawyer or accept a court-appointed lawyer. Instead, he spoke from the dock and from the prison through statements to the courts and letters to the judges. His story, as reproduced in the courts' records, is extracted below.

Balwant Singh tied the belt containing the explosives on Dilawar Singh who had blown himself up while killing the chief minister. He said his conscience would not permit him to deny his role in the killing when Dilawar and others had sacrificed their lives for it. A Punjabi couplet in his handwriting was found by the police: “My comrades died in the hope that I render their pain into a song. If I keep quiet, their souls will not be at peace.”

Balwant Singh explained his actions. He described the deep wounds on the Sikh psyche caused by the despoiling of the Golden Temple by the security forces during Operation Blue Star. He spoke of the pogrom following Indira Gandhi's assassination, where Sikhs were burnt, mutilated and left for carrion, funeral rites denied, when women were dishonoured, the youth emasculated and homes burnt. He asked the Chief Justice who were the terrorists: those who did these acts or those who defended the victims? He said human beings can fight such injustice and oppression only by becoming human bombs and sacrificing themselves. Balwant Singh said the government of this country had killed its own people. He said Beant Singh had licensed fake encounter killings, abductions, and secret cremations which remained unpunished to date. Balwant Singh said he did not regret his actions. He said the government had mocked Sikh sentiments by honouring and promoting those that led this pogrom. He did not want to beg for his life, and if the consequence of his rebellion was a death sentence, he would embrace it willingly. Balwant Singh refused to appeal to the Supreme Court and instructed his friends and family not to petition the government for mercy. He also turned away social, religious and political groups wanting to petition the government. He said he wanted to live with respect and dignity and if the state wanted to kill him, he wanted to die honourably. Balwant Singh has written his will and donated his organs for the use of others.

Commute the sentence

The State and Central governments have powers to commute death sentences after their final judicial confirmation. This power, unlike judicial power, is of the widest amplitude and un-circumscribed, except that its exercise must be bona fide. Issues often alien and irrelevant to legal adjudication — morality, public good, social and policy considerations — are intrinsically germane to the exercise of the government's powers. These powers exist because in appropriate cases the strict requirements of law need to be tempered and departed from to reach a truly just outcome in the widest sense of the word. The government's powers to commute a death sentence thus operate as a national conscience.

Every citizen has a right to petition the government to commute any death sentence, since the state's power to take life emanates from the people and executions are carried out in our name. As one who opposes the death penalty on the grounds that the state should not have the right to take life, it is irrelevant whether the condemned prisoner wants to live or die. I therefore petition the government to commute Balwant Singh's death sentence.

Indeed, I find myself stricken with paralysis in the face of his compelling, courageous and principled position. Incriminating evidence against accused persons is routinely challenged by them in courts, even though many of them are actually guilty. The staunchest political beliefs wilt under the threat of a death sentence or lifelong incarceration. Balwant Singh's courage, conviction and honesty in the face of this threat mark him as one apart. That his cause is not our cause does not diminish our respect for him or mitigate our collective loss in the event of his execution.

Balwant Singh's refusal or the reluctance of any citizen or organisation to petition the state for commutation does not preclude the state from suo moto reviewing his case. The government is obliged to do so, for it, and not the courts, have the final word in such matters.

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.

The Punjab troubles are behind us now, but the ghosts still linger. In the name of India's territorial integrity, the government used questionable methods to put down the Khalistan movement. Will executing Balwant Singh do us credit? When, as a nation, we have condoned the government's excesses, can we not now reconcile with Balwant Singh? Has not enough blood been shed? Will we remain silent in the face of yet more blood-letting to avenge an old feud? O, when may it suffice?

(The author is a lawyer practising in the Bombay High Court.)


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Balwant Singh Rajoana gets a reprieve as Centre bows to Akali pressure

TNN | Mar 29, 2012, 02.04AM IST
NEW DELHI: Balwant Singh Rajoana, convicted for the assassination of Punjab CM Beant Singh, received an extraordinary reprieve three days before his death sentence was to be executed, with the Centre buckling under the high-pressure advocacy of the Akali Dal government. President Pratibha Patil accepted a clemency petition from Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal and his son Sukhbir Badal on Wednesday, a move that is seen to have the Centre's concurrence. The Badals came to Delhi at the behest the Akal Takht, the temporal seat of the Sikhs that directed the Punjab government to stall Rajoana's hanging.

This will be the third high profile death sentence to be subject to political pressure. The assassins of ex-PM Rajiv Gandhi and Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru being the other two. The decision to put Rajoana's execution on hold will put in motion a fresh process as the petition is sent by the Rashtrapati Bhawan to the home ministry for its consideration and advice.

The home ministry in its letter to the Punjab home department has said that as per procedure regarding mercy in death sentence cases, the execution has been stayed till the order of the Supreme Court or the President (whichever is later). Although India's recent vote against Sri Lanka relates to foreign policy, it was also a case of the government failing to resist domestic political pressure brought to bear by Tamil Nadu parties, including its ally DMK.

The Centre's decision comes in the wake of unrest in parts of Punjab, J&K with clashes between Sikh and right-wing Hindu groups. While the Akalis backed the plea, Congress also has not vociferously opposed it, despite Beant Singh having been a party leader, who was credited with providing sterling leadership that helped end terrorism in Punjab.

A Rashtrapati Bhawan spokesperson said that the President had received Rajoana's clemency petition and sent to the union home ministry. "The President met the Punjab CM and took the petition. It has been sent to the home ministry for consideration," the official said. Rajoana is a Babbar Khalsa International terrorist convicted in the assassination of Beant Singh in 1995.

The petition moved by Sikh religious body SGPC and Delhi Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee forwarded by the Punjab CM to the President. Badal also met PM earlier in the day. Beant Singh had taken on Khalistani groups by steadfastly standing by former super-cop K P S Gill who was then director general of police in Punjab. Rajoana's co-conspirator Dilawar Singh, who was the human bomb, killed Beant Singh at the high security Punjab civil secretariat on August 31, 1995.

While jailed Jagtar Singh Hawara was the mastermind of the assassination, Rajoana was the second human bomb in case the first assassin failed to kill Beant Singh. The Punjab and Haryana High Court had in October, 2010, had upheld the death sentence for Rajoana, but changed the capital punishment given to Hawara to life imprisonment. Rajoana had refused to challenge the death sentence awarded to him.

Earlier Human Rights Watch had called for a halt to the execution describing hanging as "inhuman punishment." "The death penalty is always wrong and the Indian government should immediately stop this execution," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "Beyond that, executing Rajoana would merely continue the cycle of distrust between members of the Sikh community and the Indian state that has long divided communities." Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently irreversible, inhumane punishment. "The Indian government has rightly not carried out executions for nearly a decade," Ganguly said. "It should now officially declare a moratorium, commute all existing death sentences, and then abolish the death penalty for all crimes," she added.

Source: [accessed on 29th March 2012]

Thursday, March 15, 2012

India set to break death penalty mortarium, Balwant Singh Rajoana’s Black warrants issued

By Gurtej Singh
Published: March 14, 2012

Chandigarh/Patiala, Punjab (February 14, 2012): As per media reports “Black Warrants” for the execusion of Bhai Balwant Singh Rajoana, who has been sentenced death penalty in former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh’s assassination case, reached Patiala Central Jail authorities on February 13, 2012 and he will be hanged in Patiala central jail at 9 am on March 31.

CM Beant Singh’s regime carried brutal and mass level killings of civilian Sikh population of Punjab. On 31 August, 1995 CM Beant Singh was killed in a plotted Bomb blast. Bhai Dilawar Singh carried out the blast and died during the incident. Bhai Jagtar Singh Hawara, Bhai Balwant Singh Rajoana, Bhai Paramjeet Singh Bheora and Bhai Jagtar Singh Tara are the prominent among those charged for assassinating CM Beant Singh. After trial Jargat Singh Hawara and Balwant Singh Rajoana were sentenced to death by Trial court. Punjab and Haryana High Court later reduced the sentence of Jagtar Singh Hawara to life imprisonment but confirmed the death sentence given to Balwant Singh Rajoana.

It is notable that Balwant Singh Rajoana had confessed his involvement and expressed no faith in Indian judiciary. He refused to defend himself in the court and accepted the sentence. He had accused Indian courts for applying dual standards of law and accused Indian system for shielding culprits of Sikh genocide 1984.

As per media reports in the state of Punjab this is going to be the first execution during the last 24 years. Chandigarh additional sessions judge Shalini Nagpal has issued the orders implementation of the death warrants. It must be mentioned that Rajoana did not challenge his conviction.

Rajoana is already facing trial in another court case at Patiala. The jail authorities of Patiala have written to DGP jails, seeking clarification regarding whether a death warrant can be carried out when the convict is undergoing trial in another case.

Balwant Singh is a native of village Rajoana Kalan, Raikot (Ludhiana). He had already announced to donate his eyes and other body parts after his death. In his will, he had expressed desire that his eyes should be transplanted to Hazoori Ragi of Darbar Sahib, visually impaired Bhai Lakhwinder Singh.

He will be the first person to be hanged to death after Dhananjoy Chatterjee of Kolkata in August 2004 who was sentenced to death pertaining to case of raping and murdering Hetal Parekh in her house in Bhowanipore on March 5, 1990.

Deputy superintendent, Patiala jail, Rajan Kapoor said he has information about the execution orders but did not divulge details in reagrd to the preparations in jail for Rajoana’s hanging. especially owing to the fact that Punjab has no hangman currently in the state. The jail officials have taken up this issue with higher authorities. Advocate Navkiran Singh informed during a radio talk show on “Punjabi Radio USA” that death warrants issued by a court could only be interfered by a court.

Source: [accessed on 15th March 2012]

More than 400 prisoners await the death sentence as justice is delayed

By Aman Sharma
PUBLISHED: 21:38 GMT, 9 March 2012 | UPDATED: 21:38 GMT, 9 March 2012

Ajmal Qasab and Mohammad Afzal are not the only ones on death row in India. There are 402 prisoners who await the noose. The latest report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) says there are 402 convicts, including 10 women, in Indian jails who face the death penalty.

The report, Prison Statistics India 2010, says there has been no execution in India since 2004, when rapist Dhananjay Chatterji was hanged in West Bengal. The delay in deciding on such executions over the last six years and the slow wheels of justice mean that the count of persons on death row has increased from 273 in 2005 to 402 in 2010. Delhi's Tihar Jail alone has 18 prisoners on the death row.Out of the 402 people facing capital punishment, 25 have their mercy petitions pending before the President.

It is, however, not clear how many have their mercy petitions pending before the state governors or whose cases are yet to attain finality before the Supreme Court (SC). Last week, the SC, which is monitoring the pending mercy petition cases, had asked the state governments to furnish a report on all such pleas pending with the governors.

The NCRB report says that out of the 402 death row convicts, the maximum are from Uttar Pradesh, whose jails have 131 such condemned prisoners. It is followed by Karnataka (60), Maharashtra (49), Bihar (31), West Bengal (20), Delhi (18), Tamil Nadu (16), Kerala (14) and Jharkhand (12). The NCRB report says that in 2010, 97 prisoners were awarded the death sentence, while 62 convicts had their capital punishment commuted to life.

* Out of the 3.68 lakh inmates in jails, 15,037 are women
* Nearly 65 per cent of all inmates are undertrials
* There are 1,663 children staying in jails because their mothers are either convicts or undertrials
* 19,925 inmates are graduates or post-graduates; Nearly 6,000 such inmates are lodged in UP jails
* Chhattisgarh has the most crowded jails with a 237 per cent occupancy, while Delhi's is 173 per cent

Source: [accessed on 15th March 2012]

Beant Singh assassination: Babbar Khalsa International activist to be hanged till death on March 31

Ajay Sura, TNN Mar 14, 2012, 02.45AM IST

CHANDIGARH: March 31 has been fixed for the hanging of Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) activist, Balwant Singh Rajoana, who is a convict in the assassination of former chief minister of Punjab, Beant Singh. Rajoana will be hanged till death inside the Central Jail, Patiala.

The warrant of death sentence of Rajoana, who is in solitary confinement in Patiala jail, was issued recently by additional district and sessions judge, Chandigarh, Shalini Nagpal. The orders will be sent to the Patiala jail for execution.

A special CBI court held inside Chandigarh's Burail jail had awarded death sentence to Rajoana and Jagtar Singh Hawara on August 1, 2007. Three other accused -- Lakhwinder Singh, Gurmeet Singh and Shamsher Singh -- were sentenced to life imprisonment for hatching the conspiracy to kill Beant Singh. The Punjab and Haryana high court had commuted the death sentence of Hawara to life sentence in October 2010. Rajoana had refused to appeal against the death sentence and it was also confirmed by the high court.

Even on October 1, 2010, Rajoana, who has also served as constable with the Punjab Police, had made a statement before Justice Mehtab Singh Gill of the high court that his hanging should be executed at the earliest possible.

Rajoana will be the first person to be hanged to death after Dhananjoy Chatterjee of Kolkata in August 2004. Dhananjoy was sentenced to death for raping and murdering Hetal Parekh in her house in Bhowanipore on March 5, 1990.

When contacted deputy superintendent, Patiala jail, Rajan Kapoor said he has heard about the execution orders but refused to give details about the preparations in jail for Rajoana's hanging.

Reacting to the development, general secretary, Lawyers for Human Rights International (LHRI), Navkiran Singh, said that it was Rajoana's wish. If he wishes to die that should be honoured. Singh, however, added that at the international level, India has very few number of cases of capital punishment and that should be maintained.

Source: [accessed on 15th March 2012]