Gurpreet Singh: Momentum builds to commute Devinderpal Singh Bhullar's death sentence

The campaign for amnesty for a Sikh militant facing a death sentence in India should invite both caution and compassion from Canadians.

A crusade is picking up steam across Canada for Devinderpal Singh Bhullar, a convicted militant who received a death sentence in connection with a bombing incident that left nine people dead in New Delhi in 1993.

Bhullar is an ideologue with the Khalistan Liberation Force, a terror group seeking separate homeland for the Sikhs. Many Canadian Sikhs, including the supporters of Khalistan, are rallying behind his wife Navneet Kaur, a Canadian citizen, in her campaign to commute his death sentence into a life term.

Some Canadian politicians have also come to his support. Since he is married to a Canadian citizen, these elected officials believe that he must be spared capital punishment, which has been abolished in Canada.

NDP Leader Jack Layton wrote to Prime Minister Stephen Harper seeking intervention in the matter. In the past, former Liberal federal minister Herb Dhaliwal, former Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal, and former NDP MP Svend Robinson also raised the issue.

Though this issue has lingered on for almost 10 years, it galvanized after India's president, Pratibha Patil, rejected rejected Bhullar's petition for mercy.

Bhullar was accused of conspiring to assassinate Maninderjit Singh Bitta, a prominent politician, who survived the attack. Unlike in Canada where capital punishment has been abolished, the death sentence is handed down in the rarest of rare cases in India.

Human-rights activists and lawyers in India argued that since Bhullar’s case does not fall under the rarest of rare category, he should not be hanged. This was mainly because of the lack of evidence of his direct involvement in the crime.

The only credible evidence against him is his confessional statement to the police, which has no legal value. In India, police confessions are often made under duress. It is for this reason that they are considered "extrajudicial" confessions.

Among the lawyers who argued against giving the death sentence to Bhullar were Kapil Sibbal, who is now a minister in the Indian government and belongs to the ruling Congress party. Bitta, too, comes from a Congress party background.

The Congress party was accused of engineering an anti-Sikh pogrom in 1984 following the assassination of then-Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. Bhullar’s case has also become sensitive issue in the community because no Congress leader involved in the anti-Sikh violence has been convicted so far.

As a result, many Sikh separatists view it as an example of unfairness in the Indian judicial system. Critics also argue that while Sikh assassins of Indira Gandhi were hanged, those involved in the mass murder of Sikhs roam around and have continued to hold public offices for years.

Besides, there are allegations about police repression suffered by relatives of Bhullar.

For those who care for human rights, capital punishment should be abolished once and for all and Bhullar should therefore not be hanged. At this juncture when the victims of the 1984 pogrom are still battling for justice, leniency to Bhullar will also help in assuaging the wounds of the Sikh community.

That said, Sikh separatists should also show some remorse for those who lost their relatives in the 1993 bombing. Incidentally, that terrorist attack also happened on September 11.

Politicians in the United States and Canada who were moved by the 9/11 attacks should realize that India has been enduring terrorism for years. Considering this reality, they should be vigilant about the pro-Khalistan separatist groups active in Canada.

After all, Khalistani militants also committed human-rights violation during their armed struggle. Under no circumstances should western politicians try to please such groups and raise human-rights issues in ways that give any legitimacy to rogue elements that often use such campaigns to camouflage their political agendas.

Gurpreet Singh is a Georgia Straight contributor, and the host of a program on Radio India. He's working on a book tentatively titled Canada's 9/11: Lessons from the Air India Bombings.

Comments (12) Add New Comment
Teg Singh
As a propagandist for Indian government it is naturally expected from you to underplay the death of Bhullar's father, uncle and a friend as a mere " Bhullar's relatives also suffered repression" and unnecessarily bring the Air India tragedy in to this discussion. You have the shameless audacity to compare the killing of quarter million Sikhs at the hands of your Indian masters to some "alleged" terrorist acts by so called Sikh militants. You failed to mention that ALL of the 135 witnesses presented by Indian Government could not recognize Bhullar. The presiding judge called the sentence based on police confession as a joke.
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Prabhu
This columnist has totally lost his credibility. Gurpreet Singh is a paid joker by Indian government and should not be taken seriously.
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propaganda tactics
As usual, great article Gurpreet!! I always enjoy your journalism.

However, I am cringing at the comments that I foresee here from those who can't bear anything negative against their Khalistani movement and feel the need to attack those who give voice to reason. I'm glad that Dr Boaz' article is forefront this week as reference of propaganda tactics because I think it’s relevant in screening the comments Gurpreet usually gets to his articles.
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TD
Amongst a particular ethnic crowd, I'm sure this is a very important issue.

Amongst the rest of the world, nobody cares. The man was convicted of killing 9 people. He's a religious zealot who has resorted to murder to get his precious god land.

He, and other ignorant murderous religious fools, should be hung as high as the trees will allow.
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diversion
“Amongst a particular ethnic crowd, I'm sure this is a very important issue.”

This is an important issue to the Khalistani crowd because as per Dr Boaz’ list of 14 propaganda tactics, it serves the following purpose:

Point 14. DIVERSION. “This is where, when on the ropes, the media commentator suddenly takes the debate in a weird but predictable direction to avoid accountability."
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Prabhu
A lot of Sikhs were killed both in judicious and extra judicious killing by the government of India during Sikh struggle to restore freedom and justice for minorities in India. This case is special. In this case the guidelines were not followed. There was a split judgement in the supreme court and still a death sentence was given. The head of the trial bench, justice Shah thought Bhullar is innocent. As mentioned by others as well that out of 133 witness brought against none recognized Bhullar. His confession was sought under police torture and that too a thumb print. Bear in mind that Bhullar is professor of Engineering. Compare and contrast this with the case of Dara Sing (Not Sikh) but belonging to Hindu RSS organization. He was convicted for killing Christian missionary Graham stains and his two kids aged 8 and 10 by burning alive. He was acquitted by Indian Supreme court saying that there are religious sentiments involved in this case and he did it out of rage.
"The Supreme Court bench of Justices P Sathasivam and B S Chauhan stated "Though Graham Staines and his two minor sons were burnt to death while they were sleeping inside a station wagon at Manoharpur, the intention was to teach a lesson to Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity". " More details here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dara_Singh_(Hindu_nationalist)
Bhullar's case highlights the pathetic state India's minorities are in.
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Bob Singh
Gurpreet, please your last name from Singh to Kumar or Lal because your writings and thoughts portrays hatred towards Sikhism and Khalsa community.
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shameful singh(s)
“Amongst a particular ethnic crowd, I'm sure this is a very important issue.”

This is an issue important to all Canadians because it involves a terrorist group on Canadian soil with a history of violence and harm to Canadians. We need to know what they are up to. Thanks to Gurpreet we are getting a balanced perspective.

Shame shame to the commenters here attacking Gurpreet. We are on to you! Here is a link to Dr Boaz' list of propaganda tactics for reference: http://www.straight.com/article-401945/vancouver/dr-cynthia-boaz-14-prop...
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gpsingh
there will be no justice given. By begging the indianswill think they have done a big thing for sikhs
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SikhsUnited
first off i would like to ask, what does the 9/11 terrorist attacks have to do with the sikhs? Unfortantly there still remain some Sikhs such as the authour of this article who have forgotten there roots and are lured by the blood money given to them to spread poision amongst there very own community. If you dont respect the Sikhs and feel more better being a chamcha (lick) of the Indian government then please remove SINGH from your name as SINGH means Lion and what u are doing is much too of a cowardly act that can be comitted by a Lion.
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bill
for those who never had to live through mental tortures psychological reparations social injustices and economic as well as political inhalation of human body and spirit.I say congratulation for having tasted the real freedom. For the rest of u i beg to say wake up and understand the difference between real democracies and wolves in sheep skin called Nehru's India where suppuration,fear,political inequalities,corruption,journalistic prostitution(being u in this case) is on the menu. WAKE UP PEOPLE it is happening in todays date
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