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Shaheed Balwinder Singh Jatana was one of the Sikh liberation movement’s heroes, who fought to put a stop to the looting and subjugation of Punjab. Balwinder Singh was a dedicated and determined youth who was steadfast in his principles. At the age of 25, Balwinder Singh gave up his education to fight for an independent Sikh homeland.
Balwinder Singh quickly rose to prominence in the Malwa region of Punjab. Recognizing his leadership qualities and his dedication to the Sikh way of life, Balwinder Singh was made Babbar Khalsa’s Malwa Area Commander. Balwinder Singh and his companions, such as Jathedar Bhagat Singh Bhagta (Ropar), Harmeet Singh Bhaowal, and Charanjeet Singh ‘Channa’ were responsible for many courageous actions in their area and struck fear in the hearts of the police.
Since the British colonizers made their exit from the Indian subcontinent and transferred power to India’s Brahmin Hindus, India has oppressed, looted, and exploited the people of Punjab unceasingly. One such scheme to cripple the Sikhs of Punjab economically and ecologically was to divert and steal Punjab’s river water. With this end in mind, the Satluj-Yamuna-Link canal was proposed in 1982 to carry Punjab’s river water to neighboring Haryana and despite the democratic protest of Punjab’s people, construction of the project began over the next few years.
Remembering the words of Guru Gobind Singh that, “when all peaceful means fail, it is righteous to raise the sword,” Balwinder Singh Jatana, Jagtar Singh Panjola, Balbir Singh Fauji, and Harmeet Singh Bhaowal decided to stop the looting of Punjab’s resources “by any means necessary.”
On the morning of July 23, 1990, all four approached the head office on scooters while the chief engineers of the SYL project held a meeting on the second floor of the building. The four entered the office casually and made their way to the meeting place with silenced pistols. They shot chief engineer M.S. Sikri and superintendent engineer Avtar Aulakh. Just as casually as they had entered, the four walked out of the office and left on the same scooters they had come on. The government was shaken by the audacity of the action and immediately halted the SYL project.
On August 29, 1991, Sikh militants attacked SSP Sumedh Saini, killing his driver and bodyguard. Saini survived the attack with few injuries and his suspicion immediately fell on Balwinder Singh. In an act of revenge, Saini sent his group of police cats, led by Ajit Poohla, to Balwinder Singh’s village home in Jatana. Upon arriving they found Balwinder Singh’s 80-year-old grandmother, 40-year-old aunt, 13-year-old cousin, and his 5-year-old nephew (who suffered from polio).
Poohla and his cronies proceeded to murder all four family members and burnt their bodies along with the home. Illustrating his unshakable dedication to the liberation struggle, when Balwinder Singh learned of the attack, he remained calm and said, “Their plan is to divert us from the path of freedom. They kill our families and expect us to kill innocent people (Hindus) in return. Sikhs do not kill anyone out of anger. We will be harming the movement by resorting to the police’s tactics.”
It was a few days later, on September 4, 1991, that an informer alerted the police of Balwinder Singh’s whereabouts – hoping to collect the Rs. 16 lakh reward on his head. Balwinder Singh and Charanjeet Singh ‘Channa’ were driving towards Sadhugarh village when they came across a police checkpoint. They abruptly turned their jeep around and ran into nearby fields for an encounter with the police. Both Singhs had very little ammunition and were soon martyred by the police.