The lynching of a man at Singhu, at the site of the farmers’ protest on the Delhi-Haryana border Friday, the brutality of the hate crime captured and replayed on video, calls for the full force of the law to step in, to bring swift and sure punishment to the guilty. The victim, Lakhbir Singh, an SC labourer who belonged to a village in Tarn Taran, was reportedly accused of an act of beadabi or desecration by his killers, allegedly a group of Nihangs, who tortured him and tied the mutilated body to a police barricade. Any matter of desecration resonates widely and deeply in a state where the lines between religion and politics have always been molten and where it also stokes the caste faultlines. But the thugs and lumpens who purportedly filmed their victim’s dying moments cannot seek, and they should not be allowed to find, any cover. They have played judge, jury, executioner, and the state must urgently identify them and bring them to book.
That’s not going to be easy given the tangle of crossed wires. The Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), the umbrella body of farmers’ unions that is leading the protest in the states and at Delhi’s borders, has condemned the killing and sought to distance itself from it – both the Nihang group and the deceased have no relation with the Kisan Morcha, it has said. That is not enough. The farmers’ movement and its leadership must look the crime in the eye, and own up to the serious questions it raises. They are well aware that a mobilisation that lasts this long — the protests against the Centre’s three farm laws began in Punjab last year in June, moving to Delhi’s borders that November — always carries a risk of being distorted from within, as much as it courts the state’s ire. It needs to be constantly alert and vigilant to the dangers of becoming the staging ground for extremists in search of relevance. It must be mindful of the possibilities of being discredited by those who seek to hijack its platform for their own irresponsible, even criminal, ends. A lesson should have been learnt from the outbreak of violence on January 26 this year, when a section of farmers broke away from the planned tractor rally and tried to storm the Red Fort. Clearly, that hasn’t happened.
The onus, therefore, is also on the SKM. It will need to find ways of sending out the unequivocal message that the farmers’ movement will not brook violence or countenance the weaponisation of religion. Pitching a wide tent may have been useful to it, amorphousness may have helped it to grow. But incidents such as the lynching on Friday demand the setting of boundaries that cannot be breached. Ahead of the assembly election, all sides, the farmers’ movement, the political parties in Punjab and the governments in the state and the Centre have the responsibility of restraint. The 2015 Bargari sacrilege case continues to actively roil politics in the state. Punjab’s hard-won peace is at stake, a bunch of thugs on camera should not be allowed to hijack it with their show of brutality.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on October 16, 2021 under the title ‘Daylight lynching’.
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