National

Unanswered Questions From Singhu Lynching

Destitute family of Lakhbir Singh, lynched for blasphemy in October last year, pin hope on the new Punjab government.

Lakhbir's sister Raj Kaur
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Along the Delhi-Chandigarh highway, passersby and travellers go about their routine business at Delhi's northern border with Haryana, unbothered by the traces of the monumental, year-long struggle that Singhu, among other places, witnessed not too long ago — a broken concrete barricade abandoned by the roadside here, a coil of concertina wire lying there. Seemingly, no one remembers Lakhbir Singh, 35, who was lynched here nearly five months ago, either.

On October 15, 2021, Lakhbir, a Dalit farm labourer from the Mazhabi Sikh community, was lynched by Nihang Sikhs, who chopped off one of his hands before tying his mutilated body to a metal barricade at the protest site, the entire incident videographed by the crowd on cellphones. One of the unrepentant accused was even garlanded with currency notes hours before he courted arrested.

Due to social boycott over blasphemy charges, Lakhbir’s funeral was a solitary affair in Punjab’s Taran Taran district. Lakhbir used to live with his sister, Raj Kaur, 43, in a dilapidated two-room set in Cheema Kalan. His wife lives in her maternal home at nearby Village Ladhewal.

Even though the outgoing state government claimed to have distributed ex-gratia relief to all those who lost lives while participating in the farm agitation, Lakhbir's kin lament that even the help promised by local political leaders and government functionaries then was of no avail.

In Punjab, Beadbi or blasphemy was a hot topic this election because of the Lakhbir incident. The Union government, however, is yet to clear the anti-blasphemy law passed by the outgoing Amarinder Singh government. Sikh religious leaders claim that in all incidents of beadbi till date, none of the accused has been convicted.

Since Lakhbir, two people were lynched in December last year, allegedly over attempted sacrilege. The first incident took place at the Golden Temple in Amritsar on December 19, the second at Nizampur Gurudwara in Kapurthala, a day later. In both cases, the police registered FIRs against the accused, both of whom were lynched. The identities of both the slain persons are yet to be ascertained.

Amid frantic calls for “public executions” of those allegedly behind the assumed conspiracies, the police including Gurinder Singh Dhillon, the inspector general of police (IGP) Jalandhar, had found no evidence of sacrilege in the Kapurthala incident.

“An innocent young man was killed as part of a well-planned conspiracy,” IGP Dhillon had told Outlook, explaining how the complainant, Amarjit Singh, who is also a granthi of the Gurudwara, was later found to be the main instigator in the case. He was booked as the main accused and arrested eventually.

“Everyone saw what happened in the Golden Temple and Kapurthala Gurdwara on their cellphone screens. Where is the video showing my brother committing the alleged blasphemy?” questions Lakhbir's sister Raj, emphatically.

“Earlier, everyone would come here — the politicians, the media and the political leaders. But now, it seems, we have become non-existent for all of them,” she adds, asking, “Why are farmers silent on his murder?”

She points out that the video showed Lakhbir Singh wearing a kacchera — a knee-length loose inner shorts which are typically worn by Sikhs — when he was killed. “But my brother never wore a kacchera,” she asserts, adding that he was made a scapegoat as part of a political conspiracy.

Raj refuses to believe that her brother reached the Singhu border on his own. “He had just Rs 50 when he disappeared from home. Someone must have taken him there. He would not even travel to his relatives’ home on his own, he was that kind of a person,” she argues, repeatedly stressing on the word “Insaaf (Justice)”.

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Lakhbir’s wife Jaspreet Kaur (centre) along with her daughters | Credit: Hardik Chhabra/Outlook

“With him gone, I’ve also lost my social support,” laments Raj who is a single mother to a school-going girl and claims to have been abandoned by her in-laws following her husband’s death. She does menial jobs for sustenance.

At the village, childhood friends of Lakhbir swear by his sharafat (decency). “Lakhbir never picked up a quarrel with anyone. Even in a light inebriated state, he would never enter a temple or gurudwara even if someone offered him something to eat,” they tell Outlook.

Formerly a nashedi (an addict), the villagers say, Lakhbir didn’t have any criminal record, they assert.

Lakhbir’s wife Jaspreet Kaur, 34, seems occupied with only one question — regarding the future of her three daughters, Tania, Sandeep and Kuldeep, aged 13, 12 and 9 respectively.

For the past almost two years, Jaspreet has been living with her maternal family in a nearby village, Ladhewal. Her brother is a small-time carpenter, who has his own family, whereas her father is a farm labourer and the mother is bedridden due to several ailments.

“My baby son wasn’t keeping well, and my husband wasn’t in a position to provide for us. We were on the verge of starvation. I had no option but to return to my (maternal) home,” she tells Outlook, adding that her two-year-old son had died a few months before her husband was lynched.

Before the body of Lakhbir Singh reached Cheema Kalan, two Nihangs paid a visit to his home, according to Lakhbir’s father-in-law, Baldev Singh, 67, who is a landless Dalit Sikh. Allegedly, they ensured that last rites were not performed by any religious priest.

“They were angry as to why we were talking to the media, saying it was bringing disrepute to the Panth (Sikh religion). But they had no answer to our question as to who will take care of Lakhbir’s wife and their three daughters,” he says. “Even a person sentenced to be hanged is asked the last wish. But they didn’t listen to his entreaties when they killed him,” he adds.

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The family was not allowed to hold an Akhand Paatth in Lakhbir’s memory, he alleges. “In addition to a few close relatives, the local Sarpanch provided four persons to arrange for his last rites,” he recalls.

“But the attitude of the villagers has changed now. They have realised that he was killed for other reasons,” he says and goes on to add in the same breath, “Even today, if someone provides us with any evidence of blasphemy against Lakhbir, we will bury the matter and never discuss him again.”

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