‘We don’t get in the Nihangs’ way’: Eyewitnesses detail a night of horror at Singhu

Newslaundry speaks to eyewitnesses to piece together the events of the night before a Dalit man’s brutalised dead body was found tied to a barricade.

‘We don’t get in the Nihangs’ way’: Eyewitnesses detail a night of horror at Singhu
Kartik Kakar
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​​A few hundred metres away from the main protest site at the Singhu border, there’s a cluster of tents that is home to some protestors. Among them is Gurjit*. On Friday morning, at 3.30am, Gurjit woke up to the sounds of commotion. He stepped outside the tent and saw two Nihang Sikhs beating up a man who was, according to Gurjit, also dressed in the characteristic blue attire of the Nihangs.

Gurjit remembers noticing the other man didn’t have a beard or long hair. “He was asking for help from people saying, ‘please save me, I haven't done anything, I am being beaten up, they will kill me’,” said Gurjit.

No one helped the man. Gurjit went back to sleep after watching for a few minutes. “Nihangs often beat up people so we thought it must be a petty incident of thievery and they’ll let him go after some time,” he said.

A little less than two hours later, that man’s brutalised dead body was found tied to a barricade that stands about 100 metres from the cluster of tents where Gurjit lives and 500 metres from the main site of farmer protests. His injuries include a severed left hand and a slashed foot, barely hanging from his right leg.

That man was Lakhbir Singh, 35, a Dalit from Cheema Khurd village in Tarn Taran, Punjab. He is survived by his wife, three daughters and a sister. It is not known when Singh came to the protest site. Photos of his body and videos of his lynching have been circulated widely on social media. They show what eyewitnesses claim — a group of Nihangs beating Singh to death.

After removing the body at around 8am, Haryana Police filed a first information report (FIR), charging unidentified persons with murder. By Friday evening, Saravjit Singh, a member of a Nihang group known as Buddah Dal, surrendered to the police and claimed responsibility for Singh’s murder.

The gruesome killing has imprinted a sense of fear and unease upon the farmers’ protest site. While there are many eyewitnesses, few are willing to talk about what they saw. Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the umbrella body of the protesting farmers, has distanced itself from the incident, clarifying it has nothing to do with either Singh or the Nihang groups. In its statement, Samyukt Kisan Morcha said it was against religious sacrilege, but did not support anyone taking the law into their own hands.

The Nihangs are an order of Sikh warriors that dates back to 1699. There are different groups among the Nihangs, each with their own leaders. This is not the first time they are in the news for violent behaviour. In an incident in Patiala last year, when movement was restricted as per Covid protocol, members of one group chopped off the hand of a policeman because he’d asked for their curfew passes.

A Nihang enters his tent at Singhu.

A Nihang enters his tent at Singhu.

Soon after protesting farmers converged at the Delhi-Singhu border in November last year, groups of Nihangs joined the farmers. They claimed to be “protectors” of the protest. There are six groups of Nihangs, camping at different locations in Singhu, one of which is the Buddah Dal. They’re armed with weapons like swords, spears and shields. “We don’t get in the Nihangs’ way because they don’t listen to anyone,” Gurjit said.

Balwinder Singh, the leader of the group Panth Akali Nirvair Khalsa Udna dal, says Singh was attacked because he had disrespected one of the three Guru Granth Sahibs housed in a palanquin, that belongs to his group. Balwinder alleges Singh took one of the Granths and put it somewhere else, in the absence of the Granthi who guards the books.

The palanquin which had the Granths kept on it.

The palanquin which had the Granths kept on it.

“We feel sorry for how the Granth Sahib was disrespected, but we are not sorry for the fact that the man was killed,” Balwinder told Newslaundry. “A lot of incidents of sacrilege against Granth Sahib have been happening and we have had enough. If anyone attempts to do this again, they will be met with the same fate,” he added.

Balwinder Singh in the centre.

Balwinder Singh in the centre.

From eyewitness accounts, it seems the attack on Singh began a little before 3.30am. Harmeet*, who has been living in one of the tents near the main event stage at Singhu, remembers seeing the Nihangs taking Singh away. “The man [Singh] was being taken to the area behind the stage where mostly Nihangs live,” Harmeet said. “He was stable and conscious at the time. We all thought they must have caught a thief so we didn’t go there.”

About 15 minutes later, Harmeet said an injured and bleeding Singh was brought to the front of the stage. “I saw a Nihang carrying his [Singh’s] severed hand,” he said.

A group of Nihangs then allegedly hung Singh “upside-down” from a pole on one side of the stage. Singh was left hanging for an hour. “Blood dripped from his eyes and head,” Harmeet remembered.

Gurdas*, another eyewitness, was near the stage at the time. “The Nihangs were saying they wanted to teach him a lesson so that he remembers it all his life,” he said. According to Gurdas, the Nihangs didn’t think Singh was in any danger of dying.

Harmeet said that after Singh had been hanging for an hour, more Nihangs arrived. Only one person — an elderly man — tried to stop the Nihangs, said Harmeet, but he was dismissed easily. “All the Nihangs present deliberated on what to do with the man,” Harmeet said. Then, they brought Singh down and slashed his right leg, leaving the foot dangling off it.

Gurdas says Saravjit is the one who cut both Singh’s hand and foot. “After cutting the foot, the group chanted slogans and started dragging him [Singh] away,” he remembered.

The noise woke Gurjit up for the second time. Once again, he stepped out of his tent. He remembers the time was 5:38am. He saw a barely-conscious Singh being dragged towards the barricade where Singh was eventually hanged. “He was bleeding quite a lot, his hand was chopped off and leg was also partially severed,” Gurjit said.

In Singhu, there are rumours swirling about Singh. Gurjit said he was shown a video where Singh confessed he was sent to “spoil the atmosphere” at the protest, but he couldn’t offer any proof of this supposed video with Newslaundry.

While Singh’s death has been documented in gruesome detail, little is known of why or how he came to Singhu. “It’s a mystery for people in the village that Lakhbir landed up at Singhu. No farmer from our village has gone to Singhu so far,” said Satnam Singh, a resident of Cheema Kalan.

The allegations against Singh sound unbelievable to those who knew him. Hanspal Singh, who lives a few houses away from Singh in Cheema Kalan, said, “He was never involved in tiffs and mostly kept to himself. He couldn't have disrespected any religion, let alone Sikhism.”

Singh was last seen in Cheema Kalan on October 11. He said Singh was a drug addict, estranged from his wife and daughters, and worked sporadically as an agricultural labourer. Singh was known to commit petty theft occasionally, but no complaints were ever filed against him. “He would often get food from those who gave him work. He would ask for money for intoxicants,” said Hanspal. According to Hanspal, even Singh’s sister doesn’t know when and how Singh left. The one thing everyone seems certain of is that Singh didn’t have enough money to reach Singu on his own. “Someone must have lured him or taken him with them,” said Satnam.

*Name changed upon request.

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