Tarn Taran: “Lakhbir kabhi is tarya kam nahi kar sakya, woh Babaji ko sabse zyada maanta tha (Lakhbir can never desecrate the Sarbloh Granth, he was the biggest believer of Guru Gobind Singh),” said Jaspreet Kaur, the estranged wife of 35-year-old Lakhbir Singh, a Dalit Sikh who was lynched for alleged sacrilege at Delhi’s Singhu border Friday.
Speaking to ThePrint at the family’s village, Cheema Kalan in Punjab’s Tarn Taran district, Kaur, 35, broke down, haunted by the visuals of her husband’s last moments that have gone viral through multiple videos.
Lakhbir, 35, was allegedly beaten up and tortured by a group of Nihang Sikhs who accused him of desecrating a sacred text — there is still lack of clarity over whether this was the Sarbloh Granth or the Guru Granth Sahib (considered a living Guru by Sikhs). The assailants cut off Lakhbir’s hand at the wrist as well as his foot before hanging him with ropes on a police barrier.
The incident took place at the Singhu border, where farmers — many of them from Punjab — have set up base for the ongoing agitation against the three controversial farm laws passed last year.
Purported videos from the scene show Lakhbir’s final moments, writhing in pain as a group of Nihang Sikhs — who can be distinguished through their blue attire — justifies their treatment of him. As of Friday evening, a person named Sarabjit Singh had been arrested for the crime. Sources in Haryana Police said a second suspect — Narain Singh — was arrested from Amritsar Saturday.
At Cheema Kalan, a village located just a few kilometres from the Pakistan border, the videos of Lakhbir from Singhu have evoked not just horror, but questions.
According to Lakhbir’s family, he wasn’t one to venture out alone. Noting that he didn’t have money, they said his presence in Delhi had struck them as odd. They have called for a thorough investigation into his killing, while also pointing out that he was a devout Sikh who paid obeisance at the gurdwara twice a day.
“My son was the biggest believer of Guruji. I want to ask the Nihangs… they could make a video of them killing my son, but the allegations on which he was killed, do they have any proof of that?” said Lakhbir’s uncle Harnaam Singh, 75, who adopted him as a child after he lost his parents.
“What proof did they have that Lakhbir desecrated the Sarbloh Granth? You want me to believe that there were CCTV cameras at Singhu, thousands of people with phones, such a big incident happened, and nobody made any video of Lakhbir running with the Granth?” he added, referring to the Nihangs’ allegations that Lakhbir picked up the sacred text from its place at the camp and ran away with it.
Meanwhile, a delegation of 6-7 members from the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Satkar Committee, an organisation looking to uphold the tenets of Sikhism, at Tarn Taran visited Lakhbir’s family Saturday. While they defended the lynching, and said they weren’t sorry, they also reiterated their allegation that Lakhbir was an agent in a larger government conspiracy to defame the farmers’ agitation.
“Politicians are making this incident about caste but they should know that the Nihang who killed was also a Mazhabi Sikh and the person who got killed was also a Mazhabi Sikh (Dalit),” said Tarlochan Singh, leader of the committee. “Sikhs never discriminate on the lines of caste. We’re only bound by our faith. It’s our duty to not just follow but protect Guru Granth Sahib. We can give or take lives for that.”
‘He used to love me’
Lakhbir is survived by his wife and three daughters, the youngest of whom is nine years old. A son born to the couple passed away in 2017.
“When we got married, he was a good man. He used to love me, respect me, but 4-5 years into the marriage, he started consuming too much alcohol and drugs,” Jaspreet Kaur said. “After our first child was born, he took an oath to never do drugs again but he started again just after a few months and shunned his household responsibilities.”
Kaur said she “didn’t file for divorce but left him in anger because he wasn’t giving any money at home”.
“He worked as a migrant labourer on farms, shops etc and used to earn Rs 50-100 per day. He used to spend everything on tobacco, beedi, alcohol and drugs. But he never fought with me or beat me,” she said. “Around 2016, when we had three daughters and a son, I left him and went to my maternal house near Amritsar. I thought he would come to take me back but that never happened. We lost our son due to some illness in 2017, and that was the last time I saw Lakhbir.”
Despite their troubled history, Kaur said she has no doubt Lakhbir was innocent.
“I can say this with absolute surety that he could never insult our Granth. Someone forced him to do this.”
Lakhbir is believed to have arrived at the Singhu border days before the lynching. The thing that strikes the family as oddest is that, according to them, Lakhbir wasn’t one to travel alone.
“Lakhbir used to work for some ship companies in Mumbai and Kolkata after marriage. He was always accompanied by contractors and at least 20-30 other boys, he never went alone,” said Kaur.
Added Harnaam Singh, “I suspect foul play in this entire incident. We demand a thorough investigation into what actually happened with my son. He never ventured out on his own, he couldn’t even go to Amritsar alone, how can he go to Delhi alone?
“His sister told me that Lakhbir took Rs 100 from her 4-5 days ago and said he’s coming back from the mandi. But he never came back.”
Harnaam Singh also said Lakhbir had “never been to Delhi before”. “How could he reach Delhi with Rs 50-100 in his pocket?”
‘We are not sorry’
Sri Guru Granth Sahib Satkar Committee leader Tarlochan Singh said they suspect Lakhbir was made a “scapegoat by the government to defame Sikhs and finish the farmers’ protest”.
“The central government tried their best to defame and end the farmers’ protest but they couldn’t do it. So, now they found this way,” he added.
“We know Lakhbir’s family. His entire pind (village) are religious people. We believe Lakhbir was… either given money, lured for drugs or threatened to do something as shameful as desecrating the Sarbloh Granth.”
According to Tarlochan Singh, “so many people from Lakhbir’s village went to Singhu border to support farmers but he never went with them”.
“Now, why did he go suddenly last week? He was taken by someone, this needs to be thoroughly investigated.”
Tarlochan Singh, however, justified the violence Lakhbir was subjected to. He said the “Nihang who killed Lakhbir never wanted to kill him”.
“He was our brother. He just did his duty. And neither he, nor we, have any remorse for what happened. We will do it again if anyone touches our Granth, doesn’t matter if he is a government agent or some minister himself,” he added. “What happened yesterday was a loud and clear message to the government that we have taken enough injustice but never said a word. They called us terrorists, Khalistanis but we didn’t attack them. Don’t misunderstand our strength as our weakness. We can kill for our faith.”
When asked if killing someone over the desecration of the Granth was justified, Tarlochan Singh said, “Yes, absolutely. For us, our religion, our faith, our Granth holds more value than a person’s life. This was not the first incident of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib. People who insulted our Granth before were given protection by the Badal government.”
This was a reference to the 2015 sacrilege incidents in Punjab that continue to be under investigation.
“So we don’t trust any government or agencies. We could have let Lakhbir go yesterday, but we knew that he wouldn’t have gotten any punishment. We have lost trust and that’s why our men had to take law into their own hands and do justice. We are not hiding that we killed him, but we are not sorry.”
For Harnaam, however, the killing could never be justified.
“Even if I agree with the allegations levelled at him, it wasn’t justified to kill him. We also follow the same Granth and no Granth directs anybody to kill a person. He’s begging for his life in the horrific video, but still the Nihangs let him bleed to death,” he added.
“Even an animal wouldn’t do this. If they wanted to punish him, they should have given him to police. The law would have taken its own course. We don’t even know yet if Lakhbir actually desecrated the Granth, which we think he can never do,” Harnaam Singh said. “He wasn’t capable of such a thing.”
This report has been updated to correct a spelling error in the name of the second accused arrested
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)