The day after the murder of Balwinder Kaur, a Dalit woman accused in an alleged attempt to desecrate of the Guru Granth Sahib, no villager in Veroke visited her grieving family.
The village had excommunicated Balwinder and her family after her alleged attempt to desecrate the Guru Granth Sahib at Gurdwara Beri Saheb in the village last November, when residents were preparing to travel to Amritsar for Sarbat Khalsa.
Her husband Labh Singh said after the excomminuication, they had left to stay with relatives and returned home two months ago. Balwinder did not move out, he said.
“We would have taken precautions had we known there was a threat to her life. She worked as a labourer all her life. She even worked a s a volunteer in the construction of the village gurdwara,” he said.
Labh Singh said the family had got Balwinder treated for mental illness. “She suffer an electrocution around 20 years ago. Since then she has not been mentally fully fit. When she visited the gurdwara that day, it is clear she was not in control of herself.”
Balwinder got bail one month after the arrest. Police said that desecration is a non-bailable offence but Balwinder was granted bail on the ground of unsound mind.
Priest Tehal Singh, who filed the complaint against Balwinder, is not convinced. “She was mentally fine,” Tehal Singh said. “We had just left for Amritsar that day when I got a call that she had caused disrespect to the Guru Granth Sahib. We immediately came back. Physically she was healthy, and fought off the women who stopped her from causing further damage. She went back home and started pelting stones at villagers. We then called the police,” said the priest, who had appeared as witness against Balwinder Kaur in a local court on August 22.
The priest said women volunteers were present when Balwinder entered the gurdwara with shoes on, and stepped over the low platform on which the Guru Granth Sahib is placed. “She had removed the cloth covering the Bir when she was spotted and pushed back by the women. She then went home. She asked for women police when policemen wanted to take her away. No mentally unsound woman would have been aware of her rights,” Tehal Singh said.
Village sarpanch Master Partap Singh said: “Police were cooking up stories to save her. She was mentally fit. Hence the village had decided to excommunicate her. They were told to leave the village. We had passed a written resolution. All Dalit families too were with us in this resolution. No one from the village stood guarantee for her bail.”
Balwinder’s family says they are now living in fear. Neither of her two sons was willing to comment on the murder. One son had returned from Dubai only a couple of months earlier and is staying with his in-laws in a nearby village. Another works in Amritsar. Balwinder’s daughter lives in Jalandhar; her seven-year-old daughter Navpreet was staying with her grandparents.
“It was our granddaughter who gave her water to drink,” said Labh Singh.
Balwinder died of excessive bleeding from injuries caused with sharp weapons. According to the police reconstruction, three persons knocked on the door, and Balwinder woke up and was likely attacked as soon as she opened the door. Navpreet woke up to her screams; Labh Singh slept though it all.
The house is in the Dalit colony on the outer edge of the village, and even there it is the last house, connected to the village by a narrow lane. The attackers allegedly came from the fields and returned the same way.
The family was not sure if they would get the Bir to perform her last rites. Priest Tehal Singh said villagers will decide if the Bir should be given.