Sacrilege remains hot political issue in Punjab

Sacrilege continues to remain a hot political issue ahead of Punjab polls

NCB data shows that the number of crimes pertaining to sacrilege has been the highest in Punjab between 2018 and 2020

Cops at the Golden Temple a day after a man was lynched. Credit: AFP Photo

Incidents of sacrilege threaten to derail communal peace and become a hot political issue in Punjab, with the state set to go for polls early next year.

Since 2017, when the last elections were held, dastardly incidents of sacrilege churned the narrative and kept the state on the boil even now. Flared-up sentiments mounted with anger and frustration are turning out to be a deadly cocktail ahead of the upcoming elections. 

Data from the National Crime Bureau (NCB) shows that the number of crimes pertaining to sacrilege has been the highest in Punjab between 2018 and 2020.

Justice in these cases continues to elude and the perpetrators of sacrilege escape the law, creating heightened hysteria around the emotive issue. But the recent incidents of lynching of those accused of the act have demonstrated the waning faith of the people in government to deliver justice. The process of investigation and subsequent trials that may have possibly unravelled the forces behind the nefarious acts will now be a sideshow.

Also Read — Sacrilege attempts could polarise people on religious lines, foment unrest: Amarinder Singh

As developments unfold, Punjab stares at the risk of unrest ahead of polls, however fleeting it may appear to be. Political volatility in Punjab that essentially comes around the eve of elections benefits from polarisation on religious lines. Two recent incidents of sacrilege in quick succession — one inside the holy Sanctum Santorum of the revered Golden Temple in Amritsar and another inside a Sikh shrine in Punjab’s Kapurthala — point towards a systematic design to flare up sentiments in this poll-bound state.

A spurt in sacrilege incidents seen in the backdrop of an FIR in a drug case against former Punjab minister Bikram Majithia, who is the brother of former Union minister in Modi’s cabinet Harsimran Kaur, and a high explosive bomb blast in Ludhiana just a few days ago, has made the plot even more convoluted with political overtones orchestrating the narrative.

The ruling dispensation in this Congress-dominated state led by CM Charanjit Singh Channi is drawing out uncanny links between the drug case against Majithia and the bomb blast.

People in this Sikh-dominated state have been waiting for years for some finality and justice in crime incidents of desecration of the holy Guru Granth Sahib. But nothing tangible has come about even as the term of the Congress, which rode to power in 2017 promising justice in these cases, draws to a close in a couple of months.

Investigations and inquiry commissions set up to probe incidents of sacrilege have failed to assuage hurt sentiments and bring the guilty to the book. The inapt action in incidents of sacrilege over the years has impacted the psyche of the community at large.

Also Read — Sidhu condemns 'sacrilege bids', says conspiracies being hatched to disturb Punjab

Sacrilege incidents of 1978 and 1986 have a bloody history. The recent ones, since 2015 leave behind worrying signs, with several incidents of sacrilege in that year.  Brazen attempts to vitiate the atmosphere that year — first in June, then September and October — led to unrest in the state.

Torn pages of the holy Guru Granth Sahib were found on the streets leading to Bargari village in Faridkot district. Later, Sikhs, on a sit-in peaceful protest seeking speedy action to check sacrilege incidents and punishment for those involved in the crime, were fired upon by the police at Behbal Kalan and Kotkapura and subsequently two protesters were killed. The anger that ensued triggered a wave of resentment against the ruling SAD, and among other reasons, led to its rout in 2017. 

The Akali Dal-BJP combine moved a bill in 2016 to amend the IPC and the CrPC to deal with the crime of sacrilege with an iron hand. Any sacrilege of the holy Guru Granth Sahib was made punishable with life imprisonment. However, the Union government objected to the amendment as it excluded other religions from its purview.

In 2018, the Punjab Assembly passed the new amendments when Capt Amarinder Singh was the CM. It currently states that "whoever causes injury, damage or sacrilege to Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Srimad Bhagwad Geeta, Holy Quran and Holy Bible with the intention to hurt the religious feelings of the people, shall be punished with imprisonment for life." However, the President is yet to accord consent to the amendments.

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox