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Punjab Sacrilege Incidents ‘Attempt to Divert Attention From Real Issues’

Tripta Narang |
The mixing of politics and religion ahead of the Assembly elections is worrisome, according to political experts
golden temple

Representational use only.

A young man jumps over the safety grill and enters the sanctum sanctorum of the Golden Temple, Amritsar, on December 18 and picks up the sword kept in front of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, but is apprehended by the sewadars—the members of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC). A few moments later, the man is lynched by devotees.

This is the end of the story,” says professor Jagroop Singh Sekhon of Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar. “We will not know if the young man was mentally ill or part of a prank or whether it was a political/religious conspiracy? Unfortunately, finding answers to several such questions will be a challenge for the investigating agencies,” Sekhon, who specialises in Punjab politics and elections, tells Newsclick.

This was not the first sacrilegious bid against the Guru Granth Sahib¸ revered by the Sikhs as their 11th and eternal guru, in Punjab. On June 1, 2015, a saroop (copy) of the religious book was stolen from Burj Jawahar Singh Wala village, in Faridkot district.

In the second case, a few months later, two abusive posters targeting a couple of Sikh preachers were found pasted on a Samadh near the same village on September 25. The posters were against the banning of the movie MSG: The Messenger of God, starring Dera Sacha Sauda’s jailed head and murder convict Gurmeet Ram Rahim, and challenged the police to trace the [stolen] saroop, claimed to have been in the village. 

In the third case, on October  12 of the same year, torn pages of the Guru Granth Sahib were found scattered in front of the gurdwara and a nearby street in Bargari village.

Each incident led to condemnation, promises of finding the culprits and bringing them to justice and setting up of Special Investigation Teams (SITs) by the ruling party. But unfortunately, nothing came out.

It has been six years since the cases haven’t been solved,” says Sekhon. “The then-chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh swore by the Gutka Sahib that the culprits would be caught and brought to justice, and at least, five SITs and two commissions were set up to solve the cases—but nothing happened. State hoe minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa’s announcement of forming another SIT to look into the latest incident doesn’t hold much weight. People are very sceptical about these SITs and their findings.”

Professor Sukhdev Singh Sohal, who specialises in the social and economic history of Punjab from Guru Nanak University, seconds Sekhon. “People know that nothing comes out of these investigations. The identity of the man in the December 18 incident remains unknown. What happened to the case of the man who killed a Nihang at Singhu border? What about his past and his links? Apparently, something fishy is going on,” he alleges.

At a certain level, perhaps, even the police become helpless as often higher agencies are at play. Earlier, Captain Amarinder Singh had blamed foreign entities for the disturbances in the state but now he is silent. Why is no one blaming the Khalistanis now? People start believing rumours,” says Sohal, who believes that such incidents are attempts to polarise Hindus and Sikhs. “But they are mistaken. They will not succeed in polarising society.”

Sekhon sees these incidences and the SITs as a means to deflect attention from the real issues concerning people. In Punjab, marginalisation of the farming community, the aftermath of terrorism, unemployment, drugs and other important problems have not been dealt with by successive governments. The friction and rivalry between different gurudwaras/deras aggravate the situation. Recently, the BKU Ugrahan said that whenever people raise a voice for their demands, such incidents occur to divert attention from the real issues.

The public wants a government that works. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Congress seem to have let the people down. What is the alternative? The BJP is trying hard to make inroads along with Amarinder Singh’s party. There are no ideologies here; it is all about winning the elections,” says Sekhon adding that “political parties are trying to divide the gurudwara prabandhak committees, which are extremely well-organised democratic institutions, and exploit the religious sentiments of people to get votes.” The “mixing of political, social and religious sentiments is very worrisome”, he adds.

The December 18 incident was condemned by all political parties, but none of them criticised the subsequent violence in which one man was killed at the Golden Temple and another at Kapurthala both in the presence of the police. Though Jawaharlal Nehru University’s former professor Chaman Lal shares his worry on the mixing of religion and politics, he feels that the two incidents could be unrelated. “The Kapurthala incident could have been the result of an act of theft, for example.”

Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee president Navjot Singh Sidhu condemned the December 18 incident and demanded public execution of those accused of desecrating religious texts during a rally at Malerkotla but didn’t mention the brutal killing of the man. Similarly, SAD spokesperson Maheshinder Singh Grewal said on national television that killing a person who disrespects the Guru Granth Sahib was the right thing to do. Neither of them spoke about the rule of law virtually glorifying those who participated in the lynching.

Punjab is a delicate state both religiously and politically, says Sekhon, who fears that such incidents will continue until the elections are over.

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