December 13, 2013 | By Sikh Siyasat Bureau
Bandi Singhs Rihai Morcha initiated by a Kurkshetra (Haryana) based Sikh, Bhai Gurbaksh Singh Khalsa, has highlighted the issue of Sikh political prisoners languishing in Indian jails despite completing the minimum mandatory terms of their sentences. Many of them were not even allowed to avail paroles despite their prolonged detentions. Sikh Siyasat News (SSN) shall be publishing “In-Depth” reports on this issue, including individual cases of Sikh prisoners whose release is being demanded by the organizers of the Bandi Singhs Rihai Morcha. This is first report in this series and it covers legal and political aspects of the issue – Editor.
Chandigarh/ Punjab (December 13, 2013): Bhai Gurbaksh Singh Khasla is on hunger strike for last one month, since November 14, 2013, seeking release of 6 (previously 5) Sikhs lodged in various Jails in India despite having completed the minimum mandatory terms of their sentences. These include Gurmeet Singh, Lakhwinder Singh and Shamsher Singh (all in Central Jail, Burrail), Lal Singh (in Maximum Security Jail, Nabha), Wariam Singh (in a Jail in Uttar-Pardesh) and Gurdeep Singh (in Gurbarg Jail of Karnatka).
As per information provided by Advocate Jaspal Singh Manjhpur, a Sikh lawyer and Sikh activist, these persons were sentenced to life imprisonment by various courts in their respective cases.
Term of Life Imprisonment in India and Pre-Mature release:
In India, life sentence is considered to be for entire life, but there are provisions that provide for early release of the prisoners – called “pre-mature release”.
Advocate Jaspal Singh Manjhpur told Sikh Siaysat News (SSN) that there are provisions for granting ‘parole’ (temporary release from jail for limited period on condition of return to jail) to the prisoners four months after the date of sentencing after being convicted by the trial court/s.
Then according to various jail manuals applicable in India there are provisions for pre-mature release of life term convicts. According to applicable jail manuals the map of a life term convicts proceeds from the jails after completing 14 years of imprisonment for considering his case for pre-mature release.
Pre-mature release – a political decision:
Advocate Jaspal Singh Manjhpur told Sikh Siyasat News (SSN) that the decision to grant pre-mature release are taken by the executive (government authroties) and thus these are considered to be a political decision. But as the nature of decision being ‘quasi-judicial’, the Indian Supreme Court of India has laid down specific guideline to guide the executive (governments) to exercise this power.
Guidelines of Supreme Court of India regarding premature release:
Five guidelines issue by the Supreme court of India in this regard reads as under:
1. Whether the offense is an individual act of crime without affecting the society
2. Whether there is any fruitful purpose of confining of this convict any more.
3. Whether there is any chance of future re-occurrence of committing crime.
4. Whether the convict has lost his potentiality in committing crime.
5. Social-economic condition of the convict’s family.
Double standards while applying SCI guidelines – Cases Kishori Lal and Lal Singh:
Experience shows these guidelines are largely subject interpretation of the concerned authorities.
Kishori Lal a butcher by profession was sentenced to death on seven counts of murder in cases related to November 1984 massacre of the Sikhs. His death sentences were converted to life imprisonment by Indian court.
Recently the Delhi government recommended his pre-mature release, though his crime was part of wide-spread and systematic genocidal violence targeting Sikhs throughout India in which thousands of the Sikhs were massacred in brutal ways.
On the other hand Lal Singh, a Sikh, was sentenced to life imprisonment by a Gujrat Court for recovery of arms being smuggled from Pakistan to India. Despite completing more than 20 years in prisoner he is still confined in Jail.
The Gujrat Government rejected his case of his pre-mature release and even filed an irrational reply to the Punjab and Haryana High Court claiming that his case does not comply the standards laid by the Supreme Court of India.
Interestingly while rejecting Gujrat government’s reply the Punjab and Haryana High Court opined that Lal Singh’s case was a fit case for ‘pre-mature’ release. But he is still languishing in Maximum Security Jail, Nabha as the Gujrat government has approached the Supreme Court of India against the decision of High court and SCI has installed stay on the high court order.
Important Stance against Indeterminate Life Sentence:
Recently (in August 2012), the Punjab and Haryana High Court issued a stance against indeterminate life imprisonment terming it to be even worse than death sentence.
While pronouncing a decision clearing pre-mature release of Lal Singh (not released yet) and Major Singh (released by Uttar Pardesh government), Justice Paramjeet Singh of the Punjab and Haryana High Court observed that [t]he lifelong imprisonment pays a little regard to human right and human dignity. Life imprisonment must be reviewed after certain intervals say 14 years as per the […] Jail Rules as applicable in the State […], otherwise indeterminate imprisonment will be cruel and unusual punishment.
The learned High Court judge further noted in his decision that [i]rreducible life sentence raises an issue under the UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS: Article 5 whereof says that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.
He further noted that [t]he essential core of the humanity is that everyone is redeemable. Indeterminate imprisonment removes any prospect of reward for change and is therefore, fundamentally inhumane.
“In real sense to my mind, never going to be released is equivalent to worse sanction than death sentence. So, it can be termed as cruel, barbaric, inhumane and against the human dignity. Whole of the natural life imprisonment means nothing in life to a prisoner. It means he will die in prison. Such a punishment is untenable in a civilised society. To make the prisoner realise that world no longer exists for him, he is no longer a part of it, will certainly lead to inhumane living and against the principles of Article 21 of the Constitution, such action is not sustainable to my mind” Justice Paramjeet Singh noted (Excerpts from a joint decision in cases: (1) Lal Singh @ Manjit Singh v. State of Gujarat and others (2) Major Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh and others – pronounced on 23 August, 2012 by Justice Paramjeet Singh of Punjab and Haryana High Court).
Stop Discrimination – Release the Singhs: Morcha organizers
The organizers of Bandi Singh Rihai Morcha are of the view that the government is discriminating against the Sikh prisoners while denying parole to Bhai Gurmeet Singh, Shamsher Singh and Lakhwinder Singh and further while denying to consider their cases for premature release along with other Sikh prisoners namely Wariam Singh, Gurdeep Singh and Lal Singh.
Bhai Harpal Singh Cheema, in one of his speeches said that they know the decision for the release of Sikh political prisoners who have served the minimum mandatory terms of their sentences is going to be a political decision but their point was that why Indian state and various state governments were discriminating against the Sikh prisoners while granting pre-mature release to other prisoners and denying to the Sikh prisoners?
He said that Bhai Gurbaksh Singh’s struggle was aimed at highlighting the cases of Sikh prisoners and oppose the discriminatory tactics of the state authorities, while seeking release of the concerned Sikh prisoners.
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Related Topics: Bhai Lal Singh Akalgarh, Gurmeet Singh (Burail Jail), Jaspal Singh Manjhpur (Advocate), Lakhwinder Singh (Burail Jail), Punjab and Haryana High Court, SCI, Shamsher Singh (Burail Jail), Sikh Political Prisoners, Sikhs in Jails