Murder, killings, violence: A look at how these events shaped Indian farmers’ protest

WION Web Team
New Delhi Published: Oct 16, 2021, 04:28 PM(IST)

Farmer protests in India Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

In several videos that came to the fore on Friday night, Singh took responsibility for killing Lakhbir Singh, a lower caste Dalit Sikh from a village in Punjab, claiming that he had desecrated the Sikh holy book

A day after a 35-year-old man was found brutally lynched with his hands and legs chopped off at the farmers’ protest site at Singhu on India’s northern Delhi-Haryana border, the police on Saturday said they have arrested a member of the warrior Sikh order ‘Nihang’ in the case. 

Accused Sarvjit Singh was taken into custody after he surrendered on Friday night for his alleged role in the lynching, said police. He was produced at a local court on Saturday and sent to seven days’ police custody. 

According to reports, Singh had come to Singhu border when the contingent of Nihang Sikhs had arrived there in the first week of December last year. At the border, he was the leader of a unit that tended to the horses. 

In several videos that came to the fore on Friday night, Singh took responsibility for killing Lakhbir Singh, a lower caste Dalit Sikh from a village in Punjab, claiming that he had desecrated the Sikh holy book. 

Police had registered an FIR against unknown persons on Friday on charges of murder and common intention.  

Police had said that they had received information around 5 am on Friday that Nihangs had hanged and tied a person to a barricade and his hand was chopped off. When the police reached the spot, the victim had died.  

The Nihang Sikhs and protesters had initially refused to hand over the body to the police.   

Also read | Singhu border killing 'unfortunate', would not affect protest, says India's farmer leader Rakesh Tikait

The Samyukt Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of farmers’ unions leading the protest, has condemned, and distanced itself from the murder. “Want to make it clear both sides —the Nihang group (and) the deceased —have no relation with the Kisan Morcha,” it said.  

The group said it abhorred religious sacrilege but nobody could take the law into their hands. The guilty must be punished, the farmers body said, and offered the police its support. 

The latest killing comes days after a car linked to India’s junior home minister Ajay Mishra ran over farmers protesting controversial farm laws in Lakhimpur Khiri in India’s northern Uttar Pradesh state.  

Also read | Plea seeks early hearing of PIL in India's Supreme Court on removing protesting farmers from Delhi borders

Eight people died in the October 3 incident in which four of them were farmers. Infuriated, the farmers then allegedly lynched some people in the vehicle. The other dead included two BJP workers and their driver. 

Farmers alleged that the vehicle was being driven by minister Ajay Mishra's son Ashish Mishra. The minister has denied the charge, maintaining that his son was not there when the incident happened. 

After videos circulated on social media showed the car ramming into the protesters from behind, Ashish Mishra was arrested late on Saturday night. 

This is not the first incident where the farmers' protest turned violent. Earlier this year on January 26—the day when India marks its Republic Day— farmers rally across Delhi turned violent when a group of protestors deviated from the parade to storm the Red Fort.

Tens of thousands of the farmers protesting agricultural reforms drove a convoy of tractors, earlier than the allotted time, to start the tractor rally into New Delhi. The farmers drove on prohibited routes in long lines of tractors, riding horses or marching on foot. However, a section of the tractor rally turned violent as the protesting farmers clashed with the police. Some of the protesters deviated from their pre-sanctioned routes permitted by Delhi Police and breached the barricades.

More than 300 police personnel were injured in the violence by protesters, who used batons and sharp weapons.

Who are Nihangs?

Nihang is an order of Sikh warriors, characterised by blue robes, antiquated arms such as swords and spears, and decorated turbans surmounted by steel quoits. According to experts, Nihangs originated from the Sanskrit word ‘nihshank’ which means without fear, unblemished, pure, carefree and indifferent to worldly gains and comfort.”  

Nihangs had a major role in defending the Sikh Panth after the fall of the first Sikh rule (1710-15) when Mughal governors were killing Sikhs and during the onslaught of Afghan invader Ahmed Shah Durrani (1748-65). 

The 19th-century Indian historian Rattan Singh Bhangu describes Nihangs as “unaffected by pain or comfort”, “given to meditation, penance and charity” and “complete warriors”. 

Last year, a group of Nihangs had chopped off the hand of a policeman in Patiala with a sword after he asked them to show 'movement passes' during the Covid lockdown. 

Difference between Nihangs and other Sikh warriors?  

Long before, the Khalsa Sikhs were divided into two groups - One who took on the blue attire that Guru Gobind Singh used to wear at war and others decided not to follow any restrictions of colour or pattern. Though they don't follow a similar dress code, both groups follow the profession of soldiery and are brave. 

Nihangs hoist a blue Nishan Sahib (flag) on their shrines instead of a saffron one and use slogans like ‘chhardi kala’ which means forever in high spirits. 

A year since farm protest began 

September 17 marked one year of enforcement of the three contentious agriculture laws. 

The three laws are the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020; and Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020.  

The farmers fear the laws will lead to the abolishment of the minimum support price (MSP)— guaranteed assured prices on the select crops—and leave them at the mercy of big corporates. 

The protests began on November 25 last year, when thousands of farmers — mainly from Punjab and Haryana — marched towards the national capital demanding a complete repeal of the legislations, as part of a “Dilli Chalo” campaign. 

Several rounds of talks between farmer unions and the government have yielded no results. 

The government says the laws will increase farmers' income, but unions see them as unfair and exploitative. 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called the reforms a "watershed moment" for Indian agriculture. But farmer groups said contrary to promises that the laws will help improve farm incomes and increase productivity, they will in fact expose them to the vagaries of the free market and make them poorer. 

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