Sonepat: What exactly happened in the early hours of Friday near the main stage of the farmers protest at Singhu border wasn’t clear by evening.
What is known — through people present at the site and purported videos from the scene — is that a man had his hand chopped off at the wrist and his foot hacked at the ankle, besides being assaulted, allegedly by members of the Nihang sect. His body was subsequently hanged from a police barricade and the grisly visual soon went viral.
Speaking to ThePrint, several Nihang Sikhs present at the site claimed that Lakhbir Singh, identified as a Dalit Sikh and father-of-three, had committed sacrilege with a holy book, the Sarbloh Granth, that he allegedly picked up and sought to run away with.
However, questions about the nature of desecration evoked multiple accounts from people at the Delhi-Haryana border, where farmers have been gathered for nearly a year in protest against the Modi government’s three new farm laws.
Even the Nihang Sikhs who claimed responsibility for the killing didn’t have one answer. Some said Lakhbir Singh tore the Sarbloh Granth, or threw it in the dustbin, while others claimed he was about to burn the holy book. Most described Singh as an agent of the Haryana government.
As of Friday evening, police said one person — identified as Sarabjit Singh, a Nihang — had been detained in connection with the killing.
Earlier, the Sonepat Deputy Superintendent of Police said they were informed “around 5 am that a man has been killed near the Singhu border”. “A murder case has been lodged at the Kundli police station. Investigation is on,” the officer added.
Sources in police said Lakhbir Singh has no criminal record.
Lakhbir’s family described him as mentally challenged, adding that he and his wife got divorced a few months ago. He was adopted by his uncle Harnam Singh after he lost his parents as a six-month-old, and is survived by his daughters, said Sukhman Singh, a relative.
Meanwhile, at Singhu, the situation remained tense hours after the killing, with three to four police personnel on patrol at the protest site.
In a statement, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, the umbrella group leading the agitation, condemned the brutal killing after videos of the crime went viral, and sought to distance itself from the entire incident.
“The morcha is against sacrilege of any religious text or symbol, but that does not give anyone the right to take the law into their own hands,” it said.
Accounts of what happened
Lakhbir Singh, ThePrint has learnt from various sources, was a 35-year-old labourer who belonged to Cheema Kalan in Punjab’s Tarn Taran. Sarpanch Avan Kumar claimed he was a drug addict.
Lakhbir is believed to have joined the protest four days ago and was living with the Nihang Sikhs.
Discussing the incident, Jathedar Raja Raj Singh, a leader of the Nihangs, said the holy book was found in the dustbin. Another Nihang protester, Ranjot Singh, who guards the area where the holy book is kept, added, “I had gone to take a bath when the man took our holy book. He ran around 500 metres before being caught by us near the main stage.”
Some others said Lakhbir Singh, caught with the holy book, was first beaten up near the main stage, beside the Nihang camp, then brought near the ‘Kissan Majdoor Ekta’ hospital, and dragged to the spot where the holy scriptures are kept.
“We found matchsticks in his pocket. He would have burnt the Granth had we not stopped it on time. Government and its agencies don’t do anything,” said Balwinder Singh, another Nihang.
‘Wounds of 2015 open up’
At the protest site, members of the Nihang sect — who trace their origins to the founding of the Khalsa Panth by the 10th Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh, around 1699 — showed no remorse after the killing.
Many said they would do it again if need be, adding that it was a repeat of the 2015 sacrilege row — still a hot-button issue in Punjab — for them.
“The Guru Granth Sahib is above everything else. What will anyone do if their parents are attacked? Will you watch and wait for police or take action? When someone attacks our holy book, it is our right to defend and protect,” said Jathedar Raja Raj Singh.
“This man attempted to sacrilege our God. If anyone else does it, we will do the same thing again. We are not scared of the law. He touched and desecrated our Guru.”
Singh alleged a “BJP-RSS-CM Khattar” conspiracy in the incident. “They conspired to blame the movement, which is why they sent him. We have evidence, he was paid Rs 30,000 to desecrate our holy book.”
Purported videos from the crime scene also show some Nihangs — identified by their typical blue attire — saying Lakhbir Singh has been punished for desecrating the Guru Granth Sahib.
“Had police here picked him up, they would have let him go later. Our Khalsa men have now captured him and cut his wrist off. We won’t let him go, we will kill him,” one man can be heard saying in one of the videos, which also shows Lakhbir Singh in his final moments, writhing in pain while surrounded by a group of people.
“When police come, they can do their investigation. We are not scared of anyone. We have evidence on those who sent him here and that they gave him money to do so,” the man added.
Karam Singh, another Nihang at Singhu, said, “What happened to the 2015 sacrilege cases? Politicians come and go but nothing happens when our God, our religious sentiments have been repeatedly hurt. There is no group that did this, it’s not 10-15 who did it. All of us, the entire community, did it to protect our Guru.
“Our swords will strike again if someone else attempts to desecrate the holy book.”
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)