The horrific incident in Patiala, wherein, a group of Nihang Sikhs violently attacked (with swords) police personnel deployed to ensure lockdown, has caused widespread disgust in Punjab and the whole of India. All the more unfortunate is the fact that the incident occurred a day before the auspiicious occasion of “Baisakhi” the Sikh new year and the day when Guru Gobind Singh Ji created the Khalsa at Anandpur Sahib in 1699.
The Nihangs, five in number, had come from Gurdwara Khichdi Sahib, located at Village Balbera around 25 km from Patiala city, to the Sabzi Mandi (vegetable market) in Patiala in a SUV. They probably wished to make purchases for a “Guru Ka Langar” to be organised the next day to celebrate Baisakhi.
Though the details of the incident are not known, what can be surmised from various reports is that there was an altercation between the Nihangs on one side and the Police and Mandi officials on the other. What is apparent is that the Nihangs tried to break through a barriers and, when accosted, came out with swords and other weapons to attack the Police. They cut off the hand of Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) of Police, Harjeet Singh and caused injury to a number of Policemen before running away.
The matter did not end here; the Police located the culprits in Gurdwara Khichdi Sahib and went there to arrest them, only to be resisted by the entire group including their head, Balwinder Singh. They barricaded the Gurdwara and threatened to blast it with LPG cylinders. There was a standoff for many hours with the Police sending in appeals for surrender; the Sarpanch (Local body head) of the village tried to negotiate with the group, but to no avail. The police also reached out to Nihang leaders including Baba Balbir Singh, the head of the Buddha Dal Nihang faction, but still the group did not surrender.
Finally, the Police moved in with its Special Operations Group (SOG) under command of Inspector General of Police (Patiala Range) Jatinder Singh Aulakh. Special attention was paid towards observance of Maryada (respect) of the Gurdwara premises. There was exchange of fire in which one of the Nihangs suffered a gunshot wound, he was provided adequate medical attention. Ultimately, all eleven members of the group, including one woman, were arrested and have been charged under relevant acts of law.
The only positive in this sordid incident is the courage and presence of mind of ASI Harjeet Singh. He showed great resilience and foresight in insisting that his chopped off hand also be taken to the Hospital. After initial medical aid in Rajindra Hospital, Patiala, he was rushed to PGIMER in Chandigarh where a team of doctors was in readiness to perform surgery. The very complex plastic surgery, that lasted for more than seven hours, has been declared to be successful. The doctors are quite confident that Harjeet Singh will regain use of his hand.
The chief minister has instructed police to deal in the “strictest possible manner” with anyone breaking the law, all political parties have, very rightly, condemned the barbaric act. What is of particular concern here is that the incident is being treated as a normal act of violence . A lot is being left unsaid and unaddressed. How, for instance, could the SUV travel all the way from Patiala to Gurdwara Khichdi Sahib, a distance of some 25 kms, without being accosted by the various blockades in place enroute?
There are two major branches of the Nihangs, the Buddha Dal and the Tarna Dal. The chief patron of the Buddha Dal group, Jathedar Baba Balbir Singh Ji, has condemned the attack in very strong terms and also said that the Nihangs involved do not belong to his Dal. The Tarna Dal too has not taken ownership of the group. So the question arises – was this an independent group running a major Gurdwara for personal gain? Were they actual Nihangs or mere pretenders? The group not being a part of the overall Nihang structure opens the matter for further investigation into the activities being conducted in the name of this very noble community.
The nobility of the Nihangs emanates from the fact that they were given a special responsibility of protecting the Khalsa community by Guru Gobind Singh Ji personally. They were also the favourites of Maharaja Ranjit Singh with the Nihang chief, Akali Phoola Singh, rated as one among his best Generals. Akali Phoola Singh, in his capacity as Jathedar of Akal Takth ordered fifty lashes to be administered to Maharaja Ranjit Singh for a misdemeanor on the part of the latter. The Maharaja acquiesced and prepared for the whipping that was suspended to a single lash. Such is the power, authority and moral standing of the Nihang community.
Even today Nihang organisations are running schools and hospitals across Punjab, especially in and around Patiala, and are involved in many socially relevant activities. The defining characteristic of Nihangs is standing by all that is truthful and righteous while dedicating their lives to the cause of and protection of the Sikh religion.
It is quite obvious that a Nihang who has been nurtured with the highest tradition of the sect would never attack an unarmed, innocent man, let alone a Sikh/Khalsa whom he is sworn to protect. In this instance, notwithstanding provocation if any, the group resorted to a shameful act alien to their noble tradition. This matter, as such, needs to be seen by the Nihang community with utmost seriousness.
The Nihang organisations need to get to the bottom of this matter since such maverick elements, who function under no authority, can ruin the noble reputation of the sect built over centuries of selfless service. Those who are in the community for personal gains and those who consider themselves to be above the law will need to be identified and removed.
For the Government, this should come as a wakeup call for cleansing religious places of all communities from the clutches of evil elements who are there for personal gains. More importantly, religious places should not be allowed to become dens for storage of weapons, drugs and such like substances. As ASI Harjeet Singh recovers with prayers from the entire nation, those responsible need to get working to ensure that such evil is nipped in the bud.
(Jaibans Singh is an analyst, columnist and, author)