Amritsar: Head bowed, just another soul at prayer, he slinks surreptitiously up to the sanctum — and explodes into a flurry of movement as he bounds over the railing, dashes across the enclosure, evades the groping arms of a would-be captor, picks up a sword, and pivots to face his fate.
The ceremonial blade does him little good as he’s drowned in a sea of blue-turbaned men, pouring forth to punish sacrilege. Unknown, unidentified, a man dies beneath pious fists in the holiest shrine of the Sikhs.
Two months later, he remains an unknown. As do his killers.
The man was trying to desecrate the Guru Granth Sahib, some say. He touched the rumala — the sacred cloth used to cover the holy book — with his feet, staff allege. But the Punjab Police are none the wiser about the identity of the man who was lynched by a mob at the Golden Temple in Amritsar on 18 December; nor have they pinpointed his murderers, a senior officer in charge of the investigation tells ThePrint.
“Since there were so many people present there, one cannot tell who did what and what happened,” says Parminder Singh Bhandal, Amritsar’s deputy commissioner of police for law and order. “The forensics have been sent to labs at Mohali, but the cause of death is yet to be determined,” he says, adding that no arrests have been made.
Footage from the Golden Temple’s closed-circuit television cameras shows the victim picking up a sword in front of the Guru Granth Sahib. He is then caught by the staff of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and beaten to death.
The Guru Granth Sahib is considered a ‘living guru’, so, when the Amritsar Police filed a First Information Report the next day, they charged the dead man with attempted murder, as well as outraging religious feelings.
On the same day as the FIR, Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa announced the formation of the Special Investigation Team that’s now led by Bhandal, and said it would file its findings in eight weeks.
Little progress has been made since, Bhandal admits, with police unable to identify the man. “We have circulated his image across the country and amongst police forces and television channels. However, no one has identified him so far, he says,” the DCP says.
However, according to Bhandal, the police have constructed a timeline of events leading up the murder using CCTV footage. The unidentified man, he says, came to the Golden Temple four days before the incident, eating and sleeping there with no apparent interaction with any other people.
“One day, he even took the quilt from the verandah that the dogs sleep on. When the security guard asked him why he was taking the quilt for the dogs, the man didn’t respond, and finally uttered something incomprehensible,” says Bhandal.
‘Such a person should be punished, he did a wrong thing’
Memories of that day remain etched in the minds of local residents in Amritsar — many of whom endorse the lynching.
Lakhs of people had gathered there after the alleged sacrilege attempt, recalls Rupinder Singh, who provides wheelchairs free of cost to people coming to pray at the Golden Temple.
Equating the Guru Granth Sahib to the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita, Rupinder says the book is both Guru and father to him. And if someone were to remove his father’s turban, Rupinder wouldn’t spare the offender.
“Such a person should be punished,” he says, “because what happened was not correct”.
Ravi Kumar, who has sold shoes outside the Golden Temple for the past two decades, agrees. “He first bowed in obeisance, and then took the sword and tried to desecrate the Guru Granth Sahib. You don’t mess with these people (devotees at the temple); they took him and then beat him up,” Kumar says.
“He did a wrong thing, so adequate action had to be taken,” he goes on. “The lynching was necessary to scare others off from ever trying to do something like this again.”
Recalling the heightened atmosphere on that day, Rupal Singh, a truck driver from Delhi who has come to pay his respects at the Golden Temple, says he was deeply pained when he heard about the alleged sacrilege attempt.
“The act (of sacrilege) had to be punished. That punishment had to be given by either the public or by God, so it’s alright,” he says.
At the time, many people also alleged that the ‘attempt’ to desecrate the Guru Granth Sahib was a political conspiracy, with the state assembly polls right around the corner.
That hasn’t changed — with less than a week to go before the 20 February polls, many still deem the incident a political conspiracy, and don’t condemn the lynching.
Exactly a day after the Amritsar lynching, 70 kilometres away in Kapurthala, another man was beaten to death for allegedly trying to remove the Nishan Sahib, the sacred flag of the Sikhs, at a gurudwara.
The incident reportedly took place in the presence of police personnel. Here, too, the deceased man remains unidentified — but unlike in Amritsar, an arrest has been made in Kapurthala.
The caretaker of the gurudwara at Kapurthala, Amarjit Singh, was arrested on the charge of murder. And close to 100 unnamed people have also been booked in the case.
Right after the incident, Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi said there was no evidence of sacrilege in the mob-killing.
“We did not find any sacrilege attempt in Kapurthala or any evidence to back it. One person ran the gurdwara. This thing has moved to murder and the inquiry is on. The FIR (already registered in the case) will be amended,” the chief minister had said at the time.
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)