Turbulent Punjab: Tackling Desecrations

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In the past few months, Punjab has witnessed social unrest having students, farmers, unemployed youth protesting on the streets, agitating towards the desecration of one of the copies of the Guru Granth Sahib, which is considered to be the most sacred and prestigious text in the Sikh religion.

It was reported that one of the copies of the Guru Granth Sahib was stolen from a Gurudwara in Burj Jawahar Singh Wala Village in Faridkot District of Punjab. This provoked the Sikh civilians in the area, and after a few days, they came out on the streets to protest when the police failed to find the copy of the religious text. Mass protests started taking place across the State and even an ultimatum was given to the State Government i.e. the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which is also in coalition with the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), to find the copy of the sacred text or the protests would increase.

After a few months, in September, during a meeting at Akhal Takht, the Sikh High Priests issued the Gurmata (edict) which talked about pardoning the Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insaan for imitating the 10th Guru of the Sikhs, Shri Guru Gobind Singh. In 2007, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insaan, during an initiation ceremony taking place at Salabatpura, Bathinda, wore the clothes similar to those of Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji, which hurt the religious sentiments of Sikh civilians across the state. In spite of an apology demanded by the Akhal Takht, an unsigned apology was given from Dera Chief’s side, which further added fuel to the fire. All this resulted into violent clashes between Sikhs and Dera Sacha Sauda’s followers, also known as premis, killing a few people and injuring many.

After the pardon was issued against the Dera Chief this year, a poster was found on the walls of the same Gurudwara in Burj Jawahar Singh Wala Village, which started with the phrase, “Dhan Dhan Satguru”, which is commonly used by the Dera followers. The poster further depicted a blasphemous message, which actually gave a reasoning as to why the Guru Granth Sahib was stolen. The poster stated that this was stolen in response to the opposition that the movie Messenger of God faced during its release. It further went on to say that the Guru Granth Sahib was not able to save itself, so it is not possible for it to save the people. These few lines were enough to provoke the religious sentiments of the Sikhs, which eventually lead to more protests, but the police managed to keep the situation under control.

The very next month i.e. October 2015, an incident took place which is sufficient enough to shock the conscience of the civilians, especially Sikhs. On 12th of October, several torn pages of the Guru Granth Sahib were found scattered in the Bargari village, which is approximately 4 kms away from the place from where the copy of the religious text was stolen. In response to this, the village and the neighbouring areas declared a bandh. Villagers from nearby areas started assembling in the Bargari village, and all the major roads leading to cities like Bathinda, Patiala, Ludhiana, Amritsar, etc. were blocked because of the protests, forcing the administration to deploy heavy police forces into the area to clear the blockades.

The following day witnessed a violent tussle between the police forces and the protesters, resulting into several people, including few policemen, getting seriously injured. This paved the way for the Pathnic organisations to come into action, which, taking advantage of the situation, immediately declared a bandh in many regions near the area. After a few days, the police again responded with a brutal lathi charge against the protestors in order to clear the blockades. They even used live bullets to tackle the situation, which lead to the death of two Sikh civilians. Violent clashes were taking place in other parts of the state as well, injuring more than 100 people.

The edict which was issued against the Dera chief was withdrawn by the high priests under the pressure by the Sikh community, as it was not satisfied with the decisions taken earlier. This resulted into the Panj Pyaras seeking an explanation from the high priests regarding issuance of the edict and its revocation, which is usually unprecedented, in such a short span of time. This diverged the anger of the protestors against the ruling party in the state i.e. Shiromani Akali Dal. Protesters started agitating not only through speaking in gatherings but also by gheraoing several Shiromani Akali Dal members in public functions. The situation got so tensed that the ruling party had to take the help of the Border Security Force to tackle the protests in several parts of the State.

The police, in its usual style of tackling a situation, arrested two people who were alleged to have stolen the copy of the sacred text for money. Speculations have been made that these two were ordered by people sitting in Dubai, Australia and Pakistan as the police has managed to decode the telephonic transcripts.

In November, a Sarbat Khalsa took place, which turned out to be a colossal gathering, with over 9 lakh Sikhs attending it. Several resolutions were passed but one of them turned out to be the most controversial, as it talked about the nomination of Jagtar Singh Hawara for the seat of Akhal Takht. What makes this nomination controversial is the fact that this person is currently imprisoned in the Tihar Jail, Delhi as he was convicted for assassinating the former Chief Minister of Punjab, Beant Singh.

Several other incidents of desecration were also reported in different parts of the state. Prima facie the different happenings might seem as co-incidental but there might be some deeper connection behind these. The grievances and other issues of the civilians in Punjab must not be led unheard otherwise it will force them to distrust several important entities.

For spreading harmony and maintaining the law & order, the government should leave no stones unturned to locate the stolen copy of the religious text. This is a need of the hour to comply with Punjab’s people’s demands and put behind bars the culprits behind such an act. Though Badal’s family has a very strong hold on the major sectors in Punjab, I simply hope that this doesn’t become a political gamble in the upcoming State assembly elections in 2017.

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