By Gurmukh Singh
United Arab Emirates (UAE) - Seventeen Indians between the ages of 17 and 30 have less than two weeks to appeal and get the death sentence hanging over them annulled or commuted.
There is deep concern over the fate of these Indians, mostly from lower middle class farming families in Punjab and Haryana. They were sentenced to death on March 29 this year, by a Sharjah sharia court in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
According to Indian media reports, the Sharjah sharia court found them guilty for allegedly killing a Pakistani man and injuring three others in January 2009 following a fight over illegal liquor business.
Lok Bhalai Party (LBP) leader Balwant Singh Ramoowalia has taken up the matter for the families, and the Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna has diplomatically termed the death sentence as "very unfortunate" and “instructed his ministry to assist the Indian youth awaiting execution, in filing an appeal and also to bear all the expenses involved.”
In Punjab, the great agony of the families concerned is felt by Panjabis worldwide. Most would agree with Ramoowalia’s press statement, “Sentencing 17 people to death in the absence of concrete proof and evidence is totally intolerable. They were not a threat for their national security and we strongly condemn this verdict. We appeal to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to himself intervene in this issue to ensure justice."
Whilst serious doubts have been expressed about their guilt, this is clearly a blunderbuss approach to crime and punishment by a sharia court. The sentence is highly punitive and totally out of all proportion to the crime. More so coming from a court founded on religious principles derived from a Merciful and Compassionate God.
A UAE website claims, “The UAE's tolerant, cosmopolitan atmosphere - which is most notable in the emirate of Dubai - gives resident non-Emiris opportunities to enjoy their own cultural and religious organizations.” Earlier this year Bhai Dya Singh of Australia was in Dubai with his jatha to celebrate the Parkaash Gurpurab of Guru Gobind Singh ji. He gave a glowing report of the Sikh community, which will be opening the first gurdwara at Dubai on Guru Nanak Sahib’s Parkaash Utsav in November this year.
The families concerned are meeting Muslim religious leaders and organisations in India and have appealed to Sikh organisations in the diaspora to approach the United Arab Emirates for clemency. Ramoowalia is taking them to Ajmer Sharif “to meet Muslim organisations there and urge them to take up this issue with the UAE (United Arab Emirates)." They have “appealed to all Sikh organisations and gurdwaras, across the world, to come out on a single platform on this issue.” The Sikh Times understands that a petition is being sent by Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara, Southall, UK to the UAE Embassy in London, and also copied to the UK Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Foreign Office. Other gurdwaras and nationwide organisations are expected to do the same.
Paramjit Singh, brother of Taranjit Singh, who is among the 17, told the press, "During my stay in Dubai, I tried for at least 20 times to meet them but I could meet them for only four times. All of them had turned very weak and had lost all hope." He also alleged, “the Police had arrested them from a room, where the original culprits used to stay in the past. But after committing the crime, they fled to some unknown place. These Indian youth had taken the room just a few days back and during a raid, police arrested all of them without any proof."
In UK, our thoughts are with the families of the 17 Indians, mostly young Panjabi Sikhs from poor farming families, driven away from home to look for working opportunities abroad. Dubai and other places in the Middle East have attracted these young Punjabis due to the wealth and work opportunities.
The case seems to be based on doubtful evidence and the punishment is disproportionate to the crime. Let us hope that the UAE authorities respond to the pleas for clemency. Depriving 17 people of their lives will not help the course of justice in any country; less so in a country the law of which is guided by a major world religion, Islam.
E-mail Gurmukh Singh: Sewauk2005@yahoo.co.uk
Relevant information about UAE:
UAE website: http://www.uaeinteract.com/government/ministry.asp
President of the UAE is Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed
Ministry of Presidential Affairs
The Minister: Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan (also Deputy Prime Minister)
Abu Dhabi, POB:280; Tel: 02 6222221; Fax: 02 6222228
London Embassy: United Arab Emirates
30 Prince’s Gate, London SW7 1PT
Tel+44 20 75811281
Fax +44 20 75819616