Kids Corner

Photos by the author (except the one at the bottom, of Balwant Singh).


The Man From Rajoana:
Part II







Jagdeep’s mother stops mid-sentence. Her belief shines through her words.

"He is our son. We are with him. We are proud of him. Marriage is for the ordinary ones, he is special."

Gurmeet Kaur, Balwant Singh’s mother says: "We all tried convincing him. Even his father tried. He was very obedient, quiet, kept to himself, but in this one matter, that of his marriage, he never listened to us."

Though this is the first day Balwant Singh is allowed to meet family since the stay on his hanging, Gurmeet Kaur could not go to meet her son in the prison. But she does not dwell upon it. It's been too long, she has lost just too much.

A very old yellow tractor stares at me. One wall of her home is a blue plastic sheet. The ground is uneven.

On my asking her how she feels, she replies rhetorically, "How would a mother feel? Tell me, how would I feel? I have waited too long and nothing has changed. How would I feel?"

But, there is no trace of remorse or sympathy. She is with her son.

"What he did was right. Mainu manzoor hai. I accept it.Though I was very surprised he did it. When did these ideas come in his mind? He hardly talked to anyone. He read a bit, poems, stories but was very shy. [He was interested in the works of Surjit Paatar and Jaswant Singh Kanwal]. He was almost silent. Yes, he played hockey up to the zonal level and in his free time he would pull the cots together and jump over them. But he never grumbled or threw a tantrum. Never even asked for food. Whatever I gave him, he just ate it. He had a lot of free time because he never helped his elder brother Kulwant on the farm. He would tell Kulwant to hire someone for the field work; he didn’t want dirt to fall on his shoes."

On the possibility of an affiliation with the Resistance movement or his sympathy with the community over Operation Bluestar and the 1984 anti-Sikh pogroms, she says, "Nothing. As far as I know, nothing. At least, not as long as he was with us. Once he joined the police in 1986 he came home very rarely. His own father was killed by the militants; do you think he could be sympathetic towards them?"

*   *   *   *   *

Balwant Singh’s father, Malkiat Singh, ex-Army man, then Sarpanch of the village, was killed in the 1980s.

Gurmeet Kaur explains the situation: the militants were after my husband’s elder brother, Joginder Singh. In fact, they even met my husband and told him they had no enmity with him. But the brothers did not tell us that. They live close by and one night after dinner we heard sounds from their home. My husband ran towards Joginder’s house. My husband grabbed one of the men standing downstairs, he panicked and shot and then ran away. The other men also ran away. The shot felled my husband. But did Balwant Singh hold the militants as wrong for killing his father? No, he did not. He was later in the police, he could have pursued them. But no, he considered his own father’s death to be an accident. He always held that the death was not intentional. He was neither sympathetic towards them nor vengeful."

In his letter to his adopted sister, Kamaldeep Kaur, about three years ago, Balwant Singh wrote:

"I think that if sangharash (the struggle) has to be taken forward, we have to win the confidence of people of other religions and communities. All of them should feel secure in our ideology and should honour it. Our ideology should be of sarv dharam (respectful to, and accommodating of, all religions), justice and human progress and should not be confined to gurdwaras."

Kamaldeep Kaur is not Balwant Singh’s blood sister but has stood by the family. In fact, she perhaps is the only one, besides the village, who has stood by the family. Has anyone else - politician, media, lawyers, officials - come to their home over the years?

Gurmeet Kaur categorically says, ‘No. No one has ever come. When the date came up, suddenly some media came but they too vanished quickly. Our family has lived alone through these 17 years. When it becomes political one-upmanship, the leaders go talk about us but still do not come. No politician or jathedar has ever stepped in here. Else, tell me if we would have been in this predicament?"

I look around. The house is in shambles while a new set of rooms being constructed further on the plot.

"In monsoon the water comes up to our knees. Our rooms drown. We needed to raise the floor. But the work is slow. When some money comes in we build. Kuldeep lost his wife two years back to a sudden heart attack. He tills the 10 acre farm
which gives us just enough to keep the light in our ovens and pay the court fees."

Before Balwant Singh, Kuldeep was picked up by the police.

He was tortured mercilessly for two months and then released. No charges were framed, no charges were proven. The torture has affected him. Still, he goes to meet his brother.

"Initially the police did not allow anyone to meet Balwant. Any short meetings would be through bars. The police on close watch, even monitoring what was said. Then Balwant was in solitary confinement. But these days the meetings are in a hall. Everyone goes to meet him, his brother, uncles, nephews, even I."

How does Balwant's mother feel when she hugs him? Her stoic face crumbles.

"I wish he lives on. I agree with his stance, but a mother’s heart is warmed by the blood in her son’s veins. I would never want it to turn cold. All of you prayed, I am told people from all around the world prayed. That is how his sentence was postponed. I hope he is released. We need to get our house in order, complete construction, before he comes. I do not have many years ahead. I hope I can see him enter the gates of his home."

How does he pass his time in jail?

"He has mostly passed his time reading the scriptures. He enjoys good health but a bad back."

In his initial days in jail the police had tortured him intensely.

Does she pray a lot?

"Son, I am illiterate. I can’t read the religious scriptures. All I can do is utter SatNaam, WaheGuru. I do that all the time. I walk to the Gurdwara Manji Sahib and attend Ardaas. What more can a mother do?"

Gurdwara Manji Sahib seems like an oasis of peace. Winding up from my trip I feel that in some ways the gurdwara’s aura and Mai Bhatti’s langar bestow their grace upon the village. The unity and solidarity in the village and their common respect for their famous son echoes the real values on which Guru Gobind Singh established the Khalsa.

I am reminded of a faded picture on a wall in Balwant Singh’s home, of running horses and the tag line: "Togetherness is happiness."

I ask Amarjit what does he think of Balwant Singh’s role in the history of Punjab and he responds with a question: ‘Why do you think he took the step?"

Then he tells a story.

A lion cub was placed in a sheep pen. As he grew up, the cub got used to bleating and lost all sense of is own individuality and voice. He felt sheep wool was better than a lion’s mane. One day a lion came near the pen and growled. The cub felt some familiarity but did not do anything; it kept its nose down and munched on the grass. The lion growled again, this time something stirred in the cub. By the third growl, the cub gave up its inhibition and growled back in unison with the lion.

That, says, Amarjit is Balwant Singh’s call. He has roused the sleeping Sikhs. It is now up to the Sikhs to take ahead their fight for justice.

Balwant Singh has not been swayed through two decades and Gurmeet Kaur’s words ring in my ears.

"He was the chosen one. Do you think it is possible for an ordinary man to dream up such an exercise and be so still in a storm? It is the Guru’s blessing and your goodwill. After all, every innocent boy who died at the hands of police was someone’s son. I pray that I bear more sons like him in my next life. Sons who give their lives so that innocent lives are saved and thus carry forward the tradition of honour and sacrifice which we Sikhs were meant to uphold.’

*   *   *   *   *

Balwant Singh listened to his conscience. 

He stands for an ethical principle: equality in the system of justice in the country.

It is really up to us to either consider him a criminal or a conscience keeper of the Sikh community, as one who chose death but did not compromise on his impeccable principles.


Amandeep Singh Sandhu is the author of Sepia Leaves and the upcoming novel Roll of Honour, a novel on the split loyalties of a Sikh adolescent in a military school during the years of state oppression, and the resulting resistance movement and militancy in Punjab. Both books are by Rupa Publications.

April 18, 2012             

Conversation about this article

1: Preeti Kaur (New Jersey, U.S.A.), April 18, 2012, 10:01 AM.

To be honest, I could not understand all the hullabaloo around Balwant Singh ... until I read these two pieces. Now I understand. And appreciate his sacrifice. I feel indebted to him. And to the author of this article for bringing all of this to the fore.

2: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), April 18, 2012, 10:02 AM.

The thing about Sikhs is that they will always take head-on any type of tyranny and corruption perpetrated by sadistic cowards, such as the current, primitive lot which still worships stone phalluses, idols and a million deities!

3: Gurmeet Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.), April 18, 2012, 10:28 AM.

My heartfelt thanks to the author for taking the time to visit the village Rajoana and bring out the story of Bhai Balwant Singh in such a beautiful way. Hope this story is read by people around the world.

4: Amardeep  (U.S.A.), April 18, 2012, 5:03 PM.

When people like Balwant Singh appear in the Sikh community, I feel blessed to be a part of it.

5: K. J. Singh (New Delhi, India), April 18, 2012, 7:29 PM.

Thanks to the author for a well-written piece. We have to unite to face the present and future challenges. All should work towards a Sikh nation.

6: Ranjit Kaur (Melbourne, Australia), April 18, 2012, 9:17 PM.

Balwant Singh in so many ways has rejuvenated martyrdom of a bygone era and yet seems beyond the present to belong to a future we have yet to experience. Beyond time and worthy of immortality.

7: Raj (Canada), April 18, 2012, 11:31 PM.


8: Devinder Pal Singh (Delhi, India), April 19, 2012, 12:12 PM.

Balwant Singh's sacrifice is in the tradition of the Khalsa. Seldom would anyone leave his own comforts to reach out and comfort his fellow beings. Attention must be paid to his secular vision. Yes, post-1984 the politicians vied for the center's attention; leaving all sanity aside, they indulged in all atrocities, else why should an ordinary citizen like Balwant Singh undertake what he did. The answers would always remain hidden from the public eye. The notorious 'Chief Cop' would twirl his long mustaches for he shall never be brought to account. The sobs of the near and dear ones of all those that became victims of the state never reached the ears of those in power. Silently, they bore the atrocities and still continue to do so.

9: Taran (London, United Kingdom), April 20, 2012, 1:59 AM.

A picture of a real Soora/ Spprma! I have not lived in the times of Shaheed Sardar Udham Singh or Shaheed Sardar Bhagat Singh. But Sardar Balwant Singh's stature is by no means less than any one else who sacrificed his or her life for mankind.

10: Gurinder Singh (Stockton, California, U.S.A.), April 21, 2012, 5:24 AM.

Balwant Singh's story reassures us that Guru Gobind Singh has made us a community of immortals. From time to time, when we are in our lows, such invincible spirits will rise and give us strength to fight tyranny. Khalsa is here to stay and bring order. We need more like him. How can we clone him?

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Part II"

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