Balwant Singh Rajoana


If you’re not a Sikh, well even if you are, you may not know who Balwant Singh Rajoana is. You may not realise he has been sentenced to death in India. You may not know his proposed hanging has caused outrage the world over. So, Rajoana goes under the spotlight.

I must admit I hadn’t heard of Rajoana until this month. And yes, I am ashamed of that because he is instrumental to the Sikh community and how we live today. His name has become known worldwide after the Indian High Court announced he would be hanged on 31st March 2012.

He was imprisoned seventeen years ago after admitting his role in the assassination of the Punjab Chief Minister at the time, Byant Singh. He’s never appealed his conviction, nor did he appeal his death sentence.

The BBC describes him as a “radical”. India describes him as a “terrorist”. Sikhs describe him as a warrior. It’s the age-old argument of one who is considered a freedom fighter by some would be considered a rebel by others.

Following the massacre of Sikhs in 1984: Operation Blue Star when the Indian Prime Minister ordered the army to storm the Golden Temple during a holy festival so the temple was full of worshippers – Punjab was a treacherous place to be.

The aim was to catch Jarnail Singh Bhindrawala – an influential Sikh leader who was considered a threat to the authorities. The result: the death of Bhindrawala – although some believe he was caught alive and persecuted to death – and the merciless killing of hundreds of innocent pensioners, men, women and children. Officials claim 492 civilians died. Witnesses say the death toll ran well over 1,500.

This is an overly brief account of what happened but the crux of it is that Operation Blue Star triggered a domino-effect of anger, revolt and killing. After Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh guards, bloodshed tore across north India between Hindus and Sikhs. This is when India referred to Sikhs as “radicals” or “extremists”. It turned into a fight to live rather than a fight for beliefs.

Throughout the 80s and early 90s, the Punjab government orchestrated tactics to bring about “calm” in the state. Allegedly. Sikhs living there claim young Sikh men would randomly disappear and there were many known to have been brutally murdered by the police. Sikh girls and women were being raped. All this was going on under the watch of Punjab Chief Minister, Byant Singh – a Sikh himself. It’s amazing what power and money can do to a person.

Rajoana comes into the story here because he was a police officer at the time so was aware of the orders instructed from the top. He knew the conspiracies webbed up to control Punjab and prevent political activism so not to threaten the authorities. Remind you of the Arab Uprising? Does Gadaffi come to mind?

Byant Singh’s murder was imminent. He was killed alongside 16 of his people in a suicide bombing in 1995. Rajoana was involved in plotting his murder. Along with Byant Singh went the hostility in Punjab. The wounds he caused can never be healed but they were cooled – for the time being.

After spending seventeen years behind bars, Rajoana has already served more than the equivalent to life sentence in India. Despite this, his hanging was announced earlier this month. This has triggered outrage and protests the world over. Sikhs were out in their thousands in Birmingham today outside the Indian High Commission. They’re planning a bigger demonstration in Brussels. Sikh media channels have been talking about nothing else.

It’s the first time in my adult life I’ve seen Sikhs so united all over the globe. Regardless of their background, their age or where they’re from, Sikhs have shown the power of solidarity and peaceful protest.

And their efforts have not gone in vain. Today, Rajoana’s hanging was suspended following a mercy petition by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabantak Committee. They are appealing for the Indian President, Pratibha Patil to show clemency.

This is a temporary victory for Sikhs. Only when the death sentence will be revoked can we truly take pride in India to live up to its democracy status. Minorities in the country have suffered discrimination for generations. If India can prove it is listening to its 19million Sikhs in the country and 30million the world over, it would instrument shifting attitudes and perhaps prevent serious backlash.


Make Your Life Worth Living

Have you ever felt pity on yourself because you aren’t where you want to be in life? Have you felt down about your dwindling bank balance or crumbling relationship? Have you ever considered how much of your life you waste on such thoughts?

I’ve just found out about a girl who was only one year my senior at college and was battling chronic thalassemia. She was planning on celebrating her sister’s wedding later this year. But, she died.

Although I didn’t know her personally, the news shocked me by the core. So young, so pretty and so much unaccomplished in her short life.

This is the third person I’ve known in my schooling years to have died.

How can this not make you question how short life is? How can you continue to mope about life not going as you want it when others around you abruptly lose theirs.

I used to question why good people go so soon. The reason is they’re only in this world momentarily to be tested on their karma. Once they pass, God takes them to a better, just-deserving world.

So live life in every moment. Treasure each experience. Constantly create unforgettable memories.

“Life is short my friend. So go break the rules. Forgive quickly. Kiss slowly. Love truly and laugh uncontrollably.” – Guzaarish (2010)

Are we a Religious Nation?


A radical went on a killing spree in Toulouse; we prayed. Footballer, Fabrica Muamba suffered a heart attack mid-play; we were told to pray for him. Be it the start of life, the union of marriage or death…faith plays a key role in our lives. So are we religious? Let’s put “religion” under the spotlight.

In hard times, we (most of us) turn to God almost like a gut reaction. During 9/11, the Church was inundated with people coming to pray for their loved ones who were affected. Others went there because they felt the need to be closer to a Superior Power.

In happy times, we (some of us) turn to God to thank Him for what we have. Even in everyday conversation we use terms like “thank God all went well” or “I pray it gets better”, but does this mean we’re religious or is it just a figure of speech?

Regardless of whether people believe in the Church, they choose to get married there. Regardless of whether people believe in God, they get buried with a funeral led by a Priest. Has religion just become a custom without a real meaning?

I’m a Sikh, and it’s not just because I was born into a Sikh family. I relate to the faith because I believe in its core values – equality, charity and selflessness. I believe in its spirituality – to be grateful and live in bliss (for those of who you believe in Deepak Chopra and Rhonda Byrne’s philosophies, you’ll appreciate the true value of these principles). I also believe in the practicality of Sikhism – we accept evolution and don’t tolerate injustice.

So for me, faith is not about going to the temple every week and making a show in the community of how religious I am. It’s about living my life according to good values and spirituality. It’s about being thankful to God, the Universe, a Superior Power (whatever you want to name it) for giving me all I have. It’s about realising there is something much bigger out there that differentiates between good and bad.

So what do you believe? Are we called a Christian state because of Britain’s history and the monarchy? Modern Britain is rich in diversity of faiths and spiritual beliefs. Are we considered Christian as a symbolic way of accepting all religions?

Whether we regularly go to Church, temple, mosque, etc; whether we follow a particular religion or whether we believe in God, it’s clear that most of us turn to a Superior Power in times of need.

Maybe we shouldn’t use the word “religion”. Maybe we should consider our nation as “spiritual” because we value the difference between right and wrong. Maybe we shouldn’t be so dismissive of faith by relating it to a single religion or God or place of worship. Faith goes far beyond that.

It gives us strength to tackle difficulties. It gives us the ability to recognise gratitude. It makes us appreciate the right from wrong. It gives us hope that all will be well.

Why are We Still in Afghanistan?

Yesterday I heard the shocking news of an American soldier savagely killing Afghans whilst they slept. No warning. No animosity to these particular people. More innocent lives lost in the so-called War on Terror. It’s heartbreaking to hear of more deaths in Afghanistan, so this goes under the spotlight tonight.

In the early hours of yesterday morning, a US solider went on a killing spree. His target? Afghan families deep in sleep, under the illusion that they were safe in their homes. He recklessly shot fire to men, women and children. Reports claim he acted alone and killed 16 people across a 2 kilometre distance…locals refuse to believe he was alone on this.

And what do the authorities have to say about this? He “lost his mind”.

Should we be surprised? Imagine being on the frontline and seeing your friends and colleagues attacked on a daily basis. Imagine seeing these friends who you live with for months on end, die in bloody attacks. That would drive anyone crazy.

Now imagine being at home with your family. Your elderly parents, your young children, the shack that you call your home. Foreign forces come into your town. They fight against evil – terrorists – but in the process you lose your loved ones, your home, your livelihood in crossfire or (this is the most pathetic excuse) “drone attacks”.

Would you go crazy? Would you lose your mind?

This so-called War on Terror has bred more extremists and fuelled terrorism than it has fought against the evil. American and British troops are sacrificing their lives and living in constant danger for what? Promoting democracy? Training the Afghan army?

There is so much talk of corruption and treachery in Afghan soldiers, is there any point in Western forces staying there?

Only a couple of weeks ago, America had to apologise for their troops “accidentally” burning Muslim holy books; the Qu’ran. If anyone had done that to my faith’s holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib Ji, I would be up in arms! I can only but imagine how that would have felt – accident or no accident.

Why is it that when foreign troops offend, it’s branded an “accident” or temporary insanity?

When their victims respond, it’s called an act of terrorism. Where’s the justice?

David Cameron said what happened was “regretful” but this won’t undermine the work of NATO in Afghanistan. If your people were being killed by the thousands each year in targeted or drone attacks, would you find that regretful?

It seems only logical to me that the longer NATO remains in Afghanistan, the more influential terrorist cells will become. So it begs the question, what is the point of us being there?

Open Journalism – a Revolution


Have you caught the recent advert on Channel 4 or E4 of a contemporary twist to The Three Little Pigs? The drama, the scandal, the modern take on a kid’s tale is The Guardian’s brand ad on open journalism. Any idea what that means? Read on as I put “open journalism” under the spotlight.

Social media has become a way of life. We can share a tweet or update our Facebook status on the move. We can access the news on our mobile phone. We can even read the paper on a tablet.

The Internet has made “news” more accessible than ever before.

Now think about how often you’ve shared an article or video link of a story on Facebook? Or tweeted your reaction to a headliner? Maybe you commented on an online article?

Without you realising it, you’ve contributed to a form of open journalism.

Open journalism is a concept that allows you, the audience, to react to news. You can give your opinion or perspective on an issue.

An example of this is The Guardian’s “Comment is Free” section. It invites readers to respond to an article by writing in. Some entries are selected as contributions and published. As a result, more readers react to these contributors by adding their comments below the line.

Most news providers encourage this kind of interaction. Just about every information website asks for you to comment on an article and share your thoughts.

So in a way, open journalism recognises that journalists aren’t the only information providers. You, the audience, can share your thoughts or unique experiences. Who better to hear a story from than the person it’s directly affected?

Last Wednesday The Guardian launched an innovative ad that’s sure to attract your attention. It’s a modern take on the tale of the three little pigs, which develops in subsequent adverts.

The biggest twist is that you, the viewer, will help the story unfold. By interacting with readers online and through tweeting or blogging, The Guardian will illustrate how the classic kids’ story would be treated by the public and media in the modern day.

The latest version of the ad I saw was that the three little pigs are facing trial for alleged insurance fraud! People who had interacted with The Guardian had questioned how a wolf could blow their homes down, hence the fraud accusations.

We sure have some creative imaginations!

Don’t worry, I’m no Guardian journalist so don’t expect me to encourage you to get involved! The point is this quirky advert demonstrates how open journalism can interact with audiences to get them to the heart of the story.

In an industry where media cuts are limiting resources, journalists rely on information from you, the audience. You could source an untold, exclusive story. You could spark a wave of reaction from others who have thus far bottled up their emotion. YOU could shape the future of journalism.