Why Lakhbir Singh’s murder concerns everyone, not just Sikhs
The rather lonely cremation of Lakhbir Singh, a Dalit Sikh from Tarn Taran district, amid heightened police security and which only a handful of relatives witnessed, was a shocking event on many levels. Even more was the decision of the village community – with few exceptions – to stay away from ceremonies. Locals even prevented Lakhbir’s family from giving a religious recital. The villagers had previously resisted even his cremation in their village. The reason was that Lakhbir had been accused of “sacrilege” by a group of Nihangs. They allegedly tortured and killed him at the Singhu border, one of the centers of resistance in the historic struggle of the farmers.
Throughout the story, a group of Nihangs “caught” him for “Profaned” the holy book of the Sikhs and killed it. The man who claimed responsibility for his assassination is believed to be from Nirvair Khalsa-Udna Dal, a sub-sect of the Nihangs, has justified it in no uncertain terms. A key leader in Nihang held a press conference in which he attempted to stir up sentiment by glorifying the execution.
There is still no way to determine exactly why Lakhbir was brutally murdered, but we can make reasonable assumptions. First, it could be a murder triggered by the growing influence of religiosity in society. We notice more and more that people’s sensitivity to the pain or suffering of others is numbed, while religion is painted in political colors.
Second, there is an opinion that Lakhbir was lured to the Singhu border a day before his death by a “bada aadmi”. His sister said he had recently started receiving phone calls from someone who had promised him money. There is a third possibility; that Lakhbir visited the protest site on his own volition.
Lakhbir’s murder on an alleged “sacrilege”, a hot topic in Punjab, could very well be a ploy to drive a wedge between his community and the Jat Sikhs. It will surely spark speculation that the Punjab recently secured its Dalit Sikh Chief Prime Minister in Charanjit Singh Channi, which has caused consternation in several neighborhoods.
Furthermore, Singhu’s murder has drawn attention to the Lakhimpur Kheri incident, where a vehicle in which the son of a central minister was allegedly traveling mowed down farmers – an event that puts the government on the defensive.
Additionally, Lakhbir’s murder has been used by vested interests to pass judgment on the historic farmers’ movement against the three draconian farm laws, with some arguing it should end. A major newspaper reported that cult leader Nihang met with the Union Agriculture Minister in July, and they apparently discussed ending the agricultural unrest.
Leaders of the peasant movement condemned the killings and called on the government to punish those responsible. Refusing to get carried away by sectarian rhetoric, they continued their fight. Indeed, a thorough investigation is needed to reserve the brains and perpetrators of Lakhbir’s murder. Moreover, under various pretexts, killing in the name of faith is slowly being unleashed in the country. This trend, too, must be controlled.
‘Sacrilege is still a hot topic in Punjab politics. In 2015, incidents of “sacrilege” of holy books suddenly escalated, triggering massive protests. Once the police had to resort to shooting, killing two protesters. Akali Dal-BJP’s government which ruled that the state was on the defensive and passed a law in March 2016 that imposes a life sentence (instead of three years in prison) for the crime. It was a retrograde movement, because it legitimizes a policy of hurt feelings and pushes the idea of ”blasphemy” as a crime. Blasphemy laws can jeopardize freedom of thought and expression, and the state government has ignored the devastation these laws cause in many countries.
Previously, the Punjab bill aimed to amend the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure to punish desecration of the Sikh sacred text Guru Granth Sahib. The central government dismissed this bill, citing the reason why it violated the principle of secularism. When the Congressional government led by Captain Amarinder Singh came to power in 2017, it passed a new bill that included scriptures from other religions, which the Center approved. The bill inserted Article 295AA into the IPC to provide that “anyone who causes injury, damage or sacrilege to Guru Granth Sahib, Bhagvad Gita, Quran and the Bible with the intention of injuring the religious feelings of the people, will be punished with life imprisonment. ”
This expansion of blasphemy laws has come under heavy criticism because, instead of removing the state from religion, it would “further consolidate the grip of sectarianism and strengthen the hands of religious extremists of all stripes.” . Many have pointed out that such laws are misused around the world “against minorities and weaker sections, to harass them, take revenge and also to settle personal and professional disputes, all matters unrelated to blasphemy. “.
The spread of notions of blasphemy and the laws to prevent it can wreak havoc on ordinary people. In 2016, two women, both named Balwinder Kaur, were killed for alleged acts of blasphemy. Balwinder, 55, was killed in her home in Veroke village, Amritsar, on September 9 while on bail. She was jailed in November 2015 for allegedly “desecrating” the scriptures and was out on bail. Police arrested her for allegedly entering a gurudwara wearing slippers, which became a major problem. The village has socially boycotted its family for months. In the end, it was her husband who killed her, apparently because of the “infamy” she had drawn to the family.
The other Balwinder Kaur (47) from Ghawadi village was also killed by fanatics while on bail. She worked in a gurudwara and was accused of “tearing up the pages of Guru Granth Sahib”. Her family alleged that dominant residents had set her up. Two were arrested who belonged to a radical Sikh group connected with the crime.
The judicial intervention in a few cases related to the “beadbi” or the insult of religious texts, and the special investigative teams did not solve the problem but complicated it further. One reason for Amarinder Singh-Navjot Singh Sidhu’s acrimony was also the allegation that the state had failed to address cases related to the desecration. Even for the Akali Dal-BJP alliance, sacrilege was a big deal that caused massive losses in the 2017 parliamentary elections. The results of the 2019 Lok Sabha, Punjab elections were no different.
Today, the murder of Lakhbir Singh could rekindle the sacrilegious debate, giving a hard time to politics on religion, encouraging the radical elements who always seek to vitiate the mood. It is an open invitation to a competitive political mobilization around religion that must end before other lives are ruined.
The author is a freelance journalist. Opinions are personal.