Sacrilege remains hot political topic ahead of Punjab elections
The incidents of sacrilege threaten to derail communal peace and become a hot political issue in Punjab, with the state due to hold elections early next year.
Since 2017 when the last elections were held, vile incidents of sacrilege have soured the narrative and kept the state in turmoil even now. Heightened feelings of anger and frustration are proving to be a deadly cocktail ahead of the next election.
Data from the National Crime Bureau (NCB) shows that the number of sacrilege-related crimes was highest in Punjab between 2018 and 2020.
Justice in these cases continues to elude and perpetrators of sacrilege elude the law, creating heightened hysteria around the emotional issue. But recent incidents of lynching of those accused of the act have demonstrated people’s loss of faith in the government to deliver justice. The investigative process and subsequent trials that may have unraveled the forces behind the nefarious acts will now be a sideshow.
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As developments unfold, Punjab is looking at the risk of unrest ahead of the election, however fleeting it may seem. The political volatility in Punjab which occurs mainly on the eve of elections benefits from the polarization 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 the other inside a Sikh shrine at Kapurthala in Punjab – point to a misconception systematic to exacerbate feelings in this ballot box state.
A spate of sacrilegious incidents seen in the context 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 the explosion of an explosive bomb in Ludhiana just a few days ago. , 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 draws bizarre links between the drug case against Majithia and the bomb blast.
The people of this Sikh dominated state have been waiting for years for some finality and justice in the criminal incidents of desecration of the holy Guru Granth Sahib. But nothing tangible has happened even as the term of Congress, which came to power in 2017 promising justice in these cases, comes to an end in a few months.
Inquiries and commissions of inquiry set up to investigate incidents of sacrilege have failed to assuage the hurt feelings and bring the culprits to justice. Unfit action in incidents of sacrilege over the years has impacted the psyche of the community as a whole.
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The sacrilege incidents of 1978 and 1986 have a bloody history. The most recent, since 2015, leave worrying signs behind, with several incidents of sacrilege that year. Brazen attempts to taint the atmosphere that year – first in June, then in September and October – caused unrest in the state.
Torn pages from the holy Guru Granth Sahib were found in the streets leading to Bargari village in Faridkot district. Later, Sikhs during a peaceful sit-in protest seeking swift action to verify incidents of sacrilege and punish those involved in the crime were fired upon by police in Behbal Kalan and Kotkapura and subsequently two demonstrators were killed. The ensuing anger sparked a wave of resentment against the ruling SAD and, among other reasons, led to its rout in 2017.
The Akali Dal-BJP cartel introduced a bill in 2016 to amend the IPC and CrPC to deal with the crime of sacrilege with an iron fist. Any sacrilege of the holy Guru Granth Sahib was punishable by life imprisonment. However, the Union government opposed the amendment as it excluded other religions from its scope.
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, the Holy Quran and the Holy Bible with the intention of hurting the religious feelings of the people, shall be punished with a life imprisonment”. However, the President has not yet agreed to the amendments.