“Can’t Bluntly Condemn”: Sikh Body Chief On Alleged Sacrilege, Killings

Harjinder Singh Dhami is the President of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee

New Delhi:

The mob killing of two men accused of desecrating Sikh religious sentiments in Punjab’s Amritsar and Kapurthala were not “simple incidents” and “not a matter of mere condemnation”, Harjinder Singh Dhami, the head of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, told NDTV Monday evening.

Mr Dhami refused to denounce the brutal killing of the two accused – the man who died in Kapurthala had at least eight “deep, sharp cuts” on his neck and body, possible inflicted by swords, a senior medical officer told news agency PTI – and said he could not “bluntly condemn the incident”.

“It is not a simple incident. It is related to the Guru Granth Sahib and not just any social offense. We cannot bluntly condemn the incident (the death of the two accused) because it involves the sentiments and faith of the Sikh people…” he told NDTV.

“This wasn’t the first sacrilege incident,” Mr Dhami said, adding, “In all the incidents of ‘beadbi‘, or sacrilege, till date, none of the accused have been convicted… It is not a simple incident.”

The reference was to the 2015 sacrilege and police firing case, which remains a hugely controversial topic in Punjab and one the Congress’ Navjot Sidhu has frequently used to hammer both his own party as well as the opposition Shiromani Akali Dal and BJP, which were in power at the time.

Mr Dhami also appeared to claim the mob killings were in ‘self-defense’; “The rule of defense states that if someone tries to attack… you can counter-attack as well,” he said.

He did, however, also say: “The matter should be first enquired… then action should be taken.”

Apart from the SGPC, politicians in Punjab – from the ruling Congress to opposition parties like the AAP and BJP – have also been reluctant to condemn the deaths, aware of a potentially disastrous backlash from Sikh voters in Assembly elections due in February-March.

Sidhu demanded that those accused of sacrilege be publicly hanged; it is unclear if he was referring to people simply accused of such a crime or those found guilty after being tried in a court of law.

This week two men, who remain unidentified so far, were killed by mobs at Amritsar’s Golden Temple and in Kapurthala after allegedly desecrating Sikh religious sentiments.

The first killing was at the Golden Temple – a man in his early 20s jumped into the enclosure where the Granth Sahib is kept. He was seen picking up a golden sword as priests rushed to overpower him.

He was beaten to death.

Less than 24 hours later, in Kapurthala, a man was brutally assaulted after villagers claimed to have caught him trying to remove the Nishan Sahib (the Sikh flag); he was initially taken into police custody but savage scenes ensued after the mob fought with the cops and attacked the man with sticks.

The police later took him to a hospital where he was declared dead.

According to police, the incident appeared to be a case of theft, not sacrilege. “There are no visible signs of a sacrilege attempt,” Kapurthala police chief GS Dhillon said today.

Only one FIR has been filed so far – relating to the alleged sacrilege. Police said another had been filed against the attackers, but quickly reversed their statement, saying they needed more information.

The alleged desecration and deaths come as Punjab preps to vote in an election poised on a knife’s edge, with the ruling Congress battling to retain control in the face of defections, the prospect of an Amarinder Singh-BJP alliance, and constant barbed attacks from within – from Navjot Sidhu.

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