Faridkot, Punjab: In 2015, Congress leader Amarinder Singh had taken an oath holding the holy ‘Gutka Sahib’, pledging to change the face of Punjab if the party comes to power in the 2017 assembly polls. Bringing closure to the 2015 Bargari sacrilege cases and justice to the families of two people shot during the subsequent protests, were key to that pledge. It’s a promise that has come back to haunt Chief Minister Amarinder Singh as the Punjab assembly elections draw closer.
It is the sacrilege incidents, the police firing, and the failure of the then Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) government to bring justice that are widely seen as the reason behind its 2017 ouster, and one of the planks on which the Congress was elected to power.
Six years on, the people of Faridkot, the epicentre of the protests, haven’t forgotten that oath. They say they don’t plan on forgiving Amarinder for “failing” to deliver on it either.
On 16 May this year, the SIT arrested six followers of the Dera Sacha Sauda — the controversial Sirsa-based sect — in connection with the sacrilege cases. Although they are under trial, there have been complaints about the slow pace of action.
“He swore on the Gutka Sahib, a very big thing in our religion. So it’s very hurtful that he has failed to keep that promise,” said Gora Singh, the granthi or priest at the gurdwara of Burj Jawahar Singh Wala village, the first of two local Sikh shrines to be targeted with sacrilege in 2015.
“Earlier, we would keep the gurdwara open at all times. Since the incident, we have to keep vigil, and keep locking it from time to time. The fear in our hearts that this could happen again won’t go until there is justice,” he added.
The chief minister has also been under fire within his own party amid allegations that he hasn’t pursued the investigation thoroughly enough. Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu has been hitting out at the CM for failing to fulfil multiple promises — most prominently, that of ensuring justice in the sacrilege cases.
ThePrint reached Raveen Thukral, the media advisor of the CM via text and call for a comment on this report, and wrote to the CMO via email. But there was no response till the time of publishing this report.
‘Guru Granth Sahib’s tearing like a limb being removed’
At the gurgwara in Burj Jawahar Singh Wala village, a “saroop” (a copy) of the Guru Granth Sahib went missing on the afternoon of 1 June 2015.
“Guru Sahib’s saroop was stolen, this was the biggest insult there could be. We can tolerate everything: Our parents’ demise, the accident of our children, or any kind of pain. But we can’t forget this beadbi (humiliation),” said Ranjit Singh, who was the president of the gurdwara when the incident took place.
A few months later, in September, posters with derogatory language against the Guru Granth Sahib, Sikhism’s holiest scripture seen as a living guru, appeared on the walls of gurdwaras at Burj Jawahar Singh Wala and Bargari, a village 5 km away.
On 12 October, multiple pages of the holy book were stolen from the Bada Gurdwara in Bargari. The pages were later found strewn on the streets outside the gurdwara.
Bargari’s panchayat chairman Babu Singh, a regular visitor of the gurdwara, said the failure of the Congress to act swiftly in the case felt like a “personal betrayal”.
“Guru Granth Sahib ka ek ang chala gaya, matlab hamara ek ang chala gaya. Usko kaise bhool sakte hai? (A part of the Guru Granth being torn is like a part of our body being removed, how can we forget that?),” he asked.
“Captain Amarinder Singh bowed down in front of the Badals,” he said, expressing his disappointment at the case not making headway under the Congress government either.
‘Congress wasted 5 years playing politics with this’
These incidents had led to widespread protests in Faridkot’s Kotkapura in October 2015. On 14 October, 2015, two protesters died when police allegedly opened fire at a protest site.
The criticism of the Amarinder Singh government’s perceived failure to take action gained fresh impetus in April 2021, when the Punjab and Haryana High Court quashed the investigation of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the case of police firing.
The court asked for a separate SIT to be set up, saying it should turn in its investigation report in 6 months. This meant an additional 6-month delay in the case — the last thing CM Amarinder Singh would have wanted when the assembly elections are around the corner.
For the families of the two protesters who were killed in the police firing at the protests, any kind of justice or closure seems like a distant dream for now. The family of Krishan Bhagwan Singh, one of the men killed, said they “are tired of the politicisation” of his death.
“The SAD used to say they will ensure justice. Then the Congress came and spent five years talking about justice. But there is nothing so far,” Prabdeep Singh, the younger of Krishan Singh’s two sons, told ThePrint at Behbal Khurd. “This has been reduced to a political fight. No one is interested in making any difference, they just want to seek votes over our father’s death,” he added.
People also seem sceptical about Sidhu’s stand on the issue. “It’s good that the Captain is being cornered, but after all they are both from the same party. So it’s difficult to trust his intentions,” said Sukhjinder Singh, a Behbal Khurd resident who participated in the 2015 protests.
(Edited by Paramita Ghosh)