Ravi Dhaliwal, Tribune News Service
Batala, April 7. After performing his household chores, 87-year-old Harbans Singh retreats to his one-room dwelling and with serenity of a Buddhist monk, he prays for the “health and prosperity” of Babbar Khalsa International terrorist Balwant Singh Rajoana.
The case of Rajoana, who is lodged in Patiala Jail with the death sentence pronounced on him being suspended by the Union Government, has a lot of similarities with the life of octogenarian Harbans Singh who lives with his two nephews on Aliwal Road in Batala. When Patiala Jail Superintendent L S Jhakhar created uproar by refusing to carry out the Chandigarh court’s orders to hang Rajoana, he had cited the case of Harbans Singh. After being convicted for a murder in 1981, Harbans had his death sentence stayed as the Bareilly Jail Superintendent had refused to hang him saying that “the documents were incomplete and he would hang him only after getting the requisite documents.”
Jhakhar, too, had toed the same line and had also stated that he would not hang Rajoana since “the documents were incomplete.”
Harbans Singh, who along with two of his accomplices Jeet Singh and Kashmira Singh, was convicted for murdering four people in a case pertaining to a land dispute, was awarded death penalty by a Pilibhit court in 1981 which was later upheld by the Allahabad High Court, the Supreme Court and President Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy.
His co-accused Jeet Singh was sent to the guillotine in October the same year, but Harbans escaped the gallows as the Bareilly jailor refused to hang him. Later, he along with Kashmira Singh filed review petitions in the Supreme Court following which the later got his sentence commuted to life imprisonment whereas Harbans’ case was sent back to the President with the recommendation to commute the death penalty.
Feeling uneasy, and a bit embarrassed, because the spotlight had suddenly shifted on him following the Rajoana case, Harbans Singh, who preferred to remain a bachelor after spending the prime of his youth behind the bars, claims that his case had benefited a large number of people. “A large number of convicts have been benefited from my case. However, it is for the first time that I am hogging the limelight because of the stay granted on Rajoana’s execution,” he said.
There may be several similarities between Rajoana and Harbans. However, there is a glaring dissimilarity too. While Harbans filed a review petition in the apex court, Rajoana has refused to file any mercy petition and is willing to be hanged. “I pray that like me, he too should be released from Jail,” he says.