Punjab Politicians And Activists Seem To Have Concern Only For Honour Of Holy Books, Not Humans Lynched Over It
Most recently, a Punjab-based human rights outfit has come out with an “investigation” that Singhu border lynching victim indeed “committed sacrilege”.
When Lakhbir Singh was dismembered and lynched by a group of Nihang Sikhs last month at the Singhu farmer protest site, few outside of Punjab realised that it was only the latest in a series of lynchings over ‘disrespect’ to Sikh holy books.
Since 2016, at least four other people have been lynched for similar reasons, including two women.
However, Punjab politicians, religious leaders and even human rights activists have been raising only the issue of disrespect to religious books; the multiple lynchings don‘t figure in this discourse at all.
“Be-adbi” - a brief history
The issue of “be-adbi” as it is called (the word in English is 'sacrilege') has taken centerstage in Punjab politics in recent years.
Most cases of ‘sacrilege’ date back to 2015 when Parkash Singh Badal of Shiromani Akali Dal was chief minister.
In several villages and towns of Punjab, copies of Guru Granth Sahib and other Sikh religious texts were found torn or strewn in the streets.
Sikhs consider Adi Granth, a collection of nearly 6,000 hymns of the Sikh Gurus, as a living human Guru and worship it like a deity. Thus the name, 'Guru Granth Sahib' where the word ‘Sahib’ means ‘master’. Pages of the holy book are called ‘Ang’ (limbs).
As religious and opposition leaders claimed there was a ‘pattern’ and ‘conspiracy’ behind these incidents and Sikhi as a religion was under attack, the Akali government handed the investigation into all the cases to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
Since then, at least separate six inquiries have been set up into the cases. Of the sacrilege cases, the first major one took place in June 2015 in Faridkot district’s Burj Jawahar Singh Wala village where a copy of the Guru Granth Sahib was found missing.
A few months later, posters criticising Sikh preachers were found pasted on a wall in two villages in Faridkot including Burj Jawahar Singh Wala village. The posters contained a threat that copies of the religious book would be thrown in the streets in Punjab if Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s film ‘Messenger of God’ was not allowed to be released.
Next month, a copy of the religious book was found stolen from a gurudwara in Bargari village of Faridkot.
The same month, more than 6,000 villagers in Faridkot staged a protest against the sacrilege cases, where both police and the Sikh protesters exchanged fire. More than 50 people, including 24 policemen, were injured. At least two protesters died in the violence.
To calm the tempers, the Akali government introduced a bill that sought the addition of IPC section 295AA to award life imprisonment to anyone found guilty of ‘sacrilege’ of Guru Granth Sahib. The bill was passed by the Punjab assembly in 2016.
The Narendra Modi government returned the bill saying it dealt with the religious text of only one religion and was thus unconstitutional.
When Amarinder Singh-led Congress government came to power in the state after defeating the Akalis in 2017, the new chief minister faced immense pressure of ‘solving’ the cases and bringing the culprits to book.
Apart from setting up inquiries, Singh amended the bill seeking life imprisonments for sacrilege of not only Guru Granth Sahib but also Quran, Bible and Bhagwat Gita.
The government however later withdrew the bill. It is speculated that the bill would be reintroduced after a further amendment.
News reports say that around 170 incidents of ‘sacrilege’ of holy books of Sikhi, Islam and Hindu faiths have taken place since 2015 till date.
The Singhu border killing
In October, a resident of Tarn Taran district of Punjab, Lakhbir Singh, was accused by fellow Sikhs of ‘be-adbi’ of a Sikh holy text at the Singhu farmer protest site at Delhi-Haryana border.
In mobile-shot videos that went viral, Lakhbir was seen hung from a metal frame, his wrist and foot severed off. Nihang Sikhs and other protesters standing nearby were seen owing up to the mutilation and murder, accusing Lakhbir of stealing a copy of a Sikh religious text kept inside a makeshift gurudwara.
No concern for lynchings?
Despite the brutality of the crime and the recent history of such lynchings, prominent politicians have not condemned the Singhu killing.
On the other hand, religious leaders and even rights activists in Punjab have been passionately speaking not against vigilante justice but sacrilege cases.
Of the four Nihangs who surrendered before the police owing up to the murder of Lakhbir, the first - Sarabjeet Singh - told the media on camera that he had no regrets for his act. He threatened the same ‘justice’ to anybody who ‘dares to do a crime like sacrilege again’.
Three of the four who surrendered were captured on camera being felicitated with garlands at the gurudwaras of their respective villages.
After Sarabjeet, another Nihang who surrendered - Narain Singh - also told the media on camera that he had no regrets for his act and anybody who dares to commit sacrilege of a Sikh religious text would meet with the same consequences as Lakhbir.
After the accused were remanded in police custody, Baba Aman Singh, leader of a Nihang group, appeared before the media and justified the killing, proudly so.
Despite facing an inhuman end, Lakhbir Singh was further humiliated when a first information report (FIR) was filed against him a few days later under IPC section 295A. The case was filed by Kundli police in Haryana after a complaint by a Nihang, Balwinder Singh.
Lakhbir Singh’s family has been forced to issue repeated statements that Lakhbir was a practising Sikh and it was highly unlikely that he would disrespect a Sikh holy book. The statements were made even as villagers barred the family from holding final prayers for Lakhbir before his funeral, which was carried out hurriedly in dead of the night using petrol.
While most politicians have chosen to maintain complete silence over the lynching, Member of Parliament from Ludhiana, Ranveer Singh Bittu, took to social media to take a stand.
However, Bittu too fell to populism and ended up demanding death punishment for a person accused of sacrilege of Sikh religious text.
“If the murdered man had attempted a sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib ji, then he should have been severely punished even by capital punishment but by law,” he said in his post.
Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi, who is incidentally from a Scheduled Caste community just like Lakhbir, has not uttered a word on the lynching.
From the ruling dispensation, only Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa has reacted so far, but only to say that desecration of books was a sensitive issue and actual cause of the lynching must be probed.
“This is very sensitive issue, which is related to the religious beliefs of the people and on the other hand associated with the farmers who had been peacefully protesting from almost a year against the draconian farm laws of centre government,” he said in an official statement.
Soon after Lakhbir’s murder, Samyukt Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of the farmers’ union, held a press conference.
Making a political statement that the entire case was a “conspiracy” to defame the farmers’ protest, the spokesperson merely said the “Morcha is against sacrilege of any religious text, symbol”.
And now, a Punjab-based human rights outfit that claims to have carried out an investigation into the Singhu matter, has chosen to make sacrilege their key grouse.
The outfit, Lawyers for Human Rights International (LFHRI), held a press conference in Chandigarh recently to share their findings with the media. The spokespersons said that Lakhbir had indeed ‘committed sacrilege’.
Is honour of a book more important than humans? It seems no one is asking this question for Punjab.
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