Kundli, Singhu: On Friday, at 3 am, Lakhvir Singh was caught and first fiercely clubbed to unconsciousness and then taken behind the Samyukta Kisan Morcha stage where a volunteer of “Nihang” (a Sikh warrior sect) was allegedly seen clamouring “Is this the hand that touched our holy book?”, before Lakhvir Singh’s left hand was chopped off. As the left hand didn’t sever from the body with the first blow, the second blow was dealt with greater rage. The Sunday Guardian visited the site to find out what exactly had happened. The incident took place in Kundli near the Singhu border where farmers are sitting in protest seeking the revocation of the farm laws.

Lakhbir was then dragged towards the front of the SKM stage with another shackled hand; doused in blood, his clothes were forced off his body so that he could be hanged bare-bodied. Meanwhile, two men were trying to fix the rope to hang the victim from the SKM stage. In haste, finding it hard to fasten the rope, the two men fell from the stage, after which Lakhbir was once again dragged along the street. While the life within him was fading, one  of the men once again shouted: “Did you enter our gurudwara (makeshift) with these feet?” His right foot was struck with another blow, slicing his ankle. Then, with one hand, he was strung to the police barricade near the gurudwara (the barricade was later removed). Half dead, he pleaded to the Nihang group to decapitate his head while his video was being captured. The Nihangs are an armed warrior-group.

The police arrived at 6 in the morning. The Nihangs, who were highly agitated, were seen restricting entry to the police. At 7 am, the body was sent to the hospital by the police where he was declared dead. And now many of these people are justifying the murder by saying it was committed to protect their religion. Baba Narayan Singh, an acting chieftain of the Nihangs, said: “We accept that we have killed him, it was a religious matter. Anyone could have done the same if his Father (spiritual reverend) were insulted. We believe that there is a conspiracy hatched to stir us. We committed violence just to protect our religion; it has nothing to do with the peaceful farmer protests.”

There are different versions as to how the act of alleged sacrilege took place. But according to Bhagwant Singh, a young man in his late 20s, who was the first witness to Lakhbir’s alleged sacrilege: “I saw him taking out our holy book and it was unclear what he wanted to do with it, but he had a motive, he was acting in a suspicious manner. When I came back, he put the Grant Sahab on the cycle carrier near the makeshift hospital, two matchboxes were found in his pocket, everybody saw it. I snatched his sword, and then he was beaten up by everyone.”

Nihaal Singh, a Nihang, said: “Lakhvir Singh had a stubble and was adorned in our purple uniform. He was seen coming out of the makeshift Gurudwara and wanted to burn our holy book. Our Nihangs saw him and caught him on the spot.”

“All we know is our holy book was desecrated and we can’t stand it. We all were taken by rage, and in rage, the Nihangs started hitting him one by one with whatever object they could,” he added. The Sarbaloh Granth contains the writings of Guru Gobind Singh which translates into “scripture of wrought iron”; it is separate from the Sikh holy book (Sri Guru Granth Sahib). Jaspreet Singh, a young Nihang, said that Lakhvir was there for three days and had worked with the Nihangs. “He was also an addict,” he added.

At 6 pm on the same day, the police, after decoding the viral videos and taking stock of the culprits, came to arrest the perpetrators. Two were arrested and one of the two, Sarabjeet Singh, was taken by the police after he surrendered for Lakhbir Singh’s killing. It was a matter of pride for Sarabjeet to accept that he had killed Lakhbir. In fact Sarabjeet was given up by the Nihangs only after benediction of religious hymns and tying the “Kesari” (saffron turban) on his head as a mark of veneration for what they describe as a “heroic” act.

The Nihangs also claim that they have come to know that there are 30 other miscreants who have blended in the community, trying to do something sacrilegious. This has given rise to fears of many more such murders that may be committed by these people if they suspect anyone to have committed sacrilege.

On Saturday, two more Nihangs, Bhagwant Singh and Govind Singh surrendered to the Haryana police and were arrested. The two turned up wearing garlands around their neck amid loud cheers from fellow Nihangs.

However, there is consensus among non Nihang farmers that any murder is unacceptable. Balvinder Singh, in his 40s, said: “Killing a person is an unthinkable act in itself and this incident has shaken us. It is difficult to comprehend; you wake up in the morning and find a man tied and chopped. It was a gruesome act that should never have happened.” Another man, Jeeta Singh, 42, said: “The killing is unacceptable, the victim should have been handed over to the police and lawfully prosecuted if guilty. Taking the law in one’s own hand is in itself disgusting.”

Lakhvir, a Dalit in his 30s, was a resident of the Cheema Khurd village in Tarn Taran in Punjab and is survived by a wife, a sister and three daughters. He worked as a daily wage labourer.

On Friday, an FIR was lodged against Sarabjeet under IPC 302. On Saturday morning, the government cut the power supply to Nihangs. They gathered on horses, marching towards the power grid.