Lynchings in Punjab indicate fault lines in religio-social fabric

Three back-to-back lynchings in less than a year after alleged sacrilege attempts indicate deep fault lines in Punjab’s religio-social fabric.

The first one took place in October last year in which Dalit farm labourer Lakhbir Singh, 35, was lynched by Nihangs who chopped off one of his hands in public before tying his mutilated body to a metal barricade on the Singhu border, the year-long protest site of farmers.

After Lakhbir’s lynching, similar incidents took place at the Golden Temple in Amritsar on December 18 and a few hours later at Nizampur Gurdwara in Kapurthala. In all cases, the police registered FIRs against the accused.

In Punjab, blasphemy has been an emotive issue in every election since the 2015 Kotkapura firing incident following the sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib and subsequent violence in which the police was accused of excesses that left two people dead.

Sikh intellectuals, social reformers and even political parties prefer to maintain a stoic silence over the lynching incidents after blasphemy or ‘Beadbi’. They largely blame political parties at the helm for inaction in delivering speedy justice in sacrilege cases, saying the people of a particular religion were forced to take the law into their own hands.

Many in the Sikh dominated state have accused the police of trying to cover up the incidents.

After the Singhu lynching, Giani Harpreet Singh, Akal Takht Jathedar, had termed the killing of Lakhbir Singh as a failure of the rule of law and demanded a probe to “bring out all aspects of this incident in the knowledge of the world so that the right version of Sikh community can be presented”.

He had asked the media to refrain from tarnishing the image of Sikhs by showing incomplete aspects of the incident.

The Akal Takht is the highest temporal seat of the Sikh religion.

According to Giani Harpreet Singh, there have been more than 400 incidents of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib in Punjab in the last 5-6 years.

“Not a single culprit was given an exemplary punishment so as to heal the wounds of the Sikhs. For the Sikhs, nothing is above the Guru Granth Sahib. As the investigation agencies have been unable to expose the conspiracy by calling the culprits mentally ill, it has hurt the Sikhs’ trust in the law,” he had said.

Expressing concern over the rise of Christianity and drug abuse in Punjab, the Akal Takht Jathedar, during his customary address on June 6 to the Sikh community from the Akal Takht podium to mark the 38th anniversary of ‘Operation Bluestar’, said every Sikh should learn the use of modern weapons.

“We should focus on setting up shooting ranges to get training in weapons. The others are getting training in weapons illegally,” said the Jathedar, amidst pro-Khalistan slogans, adding, “It is also high time for the Sikh organisations to propagate Sikhism.”

He often says villages along the India-Pakistan border areas have been seeing a rise in conversion to Christianity and mushrooming of churches.

As the assembly elections were underway on February 20, chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi hit out at the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the BJP for taking the support of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect, accused of sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib in 2015.

“Akali and BJP partnership is out in open, both are taking support from Dera Sacha Sauda. Let them team up, people of Punjab are teaming up against these beadbi partners and will teach them a lesson with their votes,” he wrote on Twitter.

In a self-motivating act of revenge, Mohinder Pal Bittu, the prime accused in the 2015 sacrilege case who was arrested in 2018, was brutally beaten to death in 2019 in retaliation in the high-security Nabha prison, near Patiala, by a murder convict and a murder accused.

He was considered to be close to Dera Sacha Sauda sect chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who is serving a life sentence for the murder of a journalist and for raping two female disciples.

Bittu’s wife, Santosh Kumari, moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court to seek a probe by the CBI into his ‘murder’ or by any other independent agency.

She claimed the police “had arbitrarily and illegally not investigated the conspiracy under which Bittu was brutally murdered under a conspiracy of police officers and politicians, among others”.

This month another Dera Sacha Sauda follower Pardeep Singh, also an accused in the 2015 sacrilege case, was shot dead in Faridkot district.

Till date, seven Dera followers have been killed in the past six years, including four accused in sacrilege cases.

Soon after the latest killing, Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann remarked, “Punjab is a peace-loving state and mutual brotherhood is very strong here. No one will be allowed to disturb the peace of Punjab.”

“Since the 2015 sacrilege incident, there has been widespread condemnation by all political parties with the promise of the government to bring the culprits to justice. But unfortunately nothing concrete has come out till date. Since then Chief Ministers Parkash Singh Badal, Amarinder Singh, Charanjit Channi and Bhagwant Mann have promised a lot, but nothing concrete happened. The people have almost lost faith in the political set up,” a sociologist, requesting anonymity, told IANS.

Such incidents are also an attempt to polarise Hindus and Sikhs, he adds.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

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