Monday, December 20 2021

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Big Story

The tale of two lynchings in Punjab

The TLDR: Two men were killed by angry Sikh mobs for committing acts of sacrilege. The religiously charged incidents occurred right in the midst of heated state election campaigning—and has everyone talking about a ‘conspiracy’. 


Editor’s note: Our big story today is free to read. So if you liked it be sure to share the link widely! It helps splainer find new subscribers:)


Tell me about the lynchings…

Lynching #1: On Saturday—during the evening prayers—a man hopped over the railing and entered the sanctum sanctorum in the Golden Temple. He picked up the holy sword kept in front of the Guru Granth Sahib. The priests pulled him away. Watch the moment here.


The man—who is from Uttar Pradesh, according to the police—was then handed over to the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), which manages all the gurdwaras. He was taken to the SGPC office—where he was beaten to death by enraged devotees. And his body was placed outside the office for all to see (an unverified clip of that shocking scene is here).


Point to note: This happened days after someone threw the Gutka Sahib (a small booklet with verses from the Gurbani) into the lake that surrounds the Golden Temple.


Lynching #2: On Sunday, another man was killed by an angry mob in Kapurthala. He was caught on the premises of the gurdwara in the early hours and held in a room—and the caretaker livestreamed a Facebook video claiming he was trying to desecrate the sacred Sikh flag, Nishan Sahib. The police arrived hours later, but a crowd had gathered at the gurdwara. And the man was hacked to death in the presence of the police. What is most notable is this:


“IG Dhillon and SSP Khaikh later held a presser, saying two cases had been registered—one of sacrilege against the deceased and another of murder and other offences, including obstructing police officials from performing their duty and assaulting them. In between, the IG left the conference to attend a call on his mobile phone. When he returned, he said only one FIR, of sacrilege, would be registered for now.”


PS: The police think the man was just a thief—and there is no evidence that he touched the Guru Granth Sahib or other holy objects.


Why is ‘sacrilege’ suddenly a big issue?

Sikhs in Punjab have long been convinced that there is a systematic attempt to insult their religion—and have been angry at successive governments for not acting to punish the perpetrators. 


The 2015 cases: 

  • In June of that year, the Guru Granth Sahib was stolen from a gurdwara in Faridkot—a theft that is considered blasphemous. A commission of inquiry investigating the crime called it “unimaginable, unthinkable and unexpected.”
  • The next day—at a village a few kilometres away—residents discovered handwritten posters with derogatory references to the Guru Granth Sahib.
  • In October, 100 pages torn out of a Guru Granth Sahib were found scattered in front of the Bargari gurdwara.


The protests: Anger over these incidents triggered protests—and violent clashes with the police. In the course of one of the protests, the police opened fire killing two Sikh men. 


The investigation: Since then there have been two judicial commissions and four Special Investigative Teams plus a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)—both into the acts of sacrilege and the police firings. All of them have been inconclusive, and no one has been arrested. As a result, ‘sacrilege’ remains a lightning rod issue among Sikhs in Punjab—and the latest incidents have triggered that simmering anger.


And how is this connected to the elections?

The issue of ‘sacrilege’ is powerful enough to bring down leaders and governments in Punjab. 


Akali Dal loses: Fury at the Shiromani Akali Dal government over the 2015 cases—and police firing—led to its humiliating defeat in the 2017 state elections. The Akalis won only 15 seats in the 117-seat assembly—and the Congress, led by Captain Amarinder Singh, swept into power.


Amarinder pushed out: But the spectre of ‘sacrilege’ proved to be Singh’s downfall as well. His nemesis within Congress—Navjot Singh Sidhu—repeatedly attacked him for protecting the Badal family (who head the Akali Dal). According to Sidhu, the Badals were responsible both for the police firing and sheltering the true culprits behind the 2015 cases. Eventually, Singh quit both his post as Chief Minister and the Congress party. (explained here).


Channi in the hot seat: Sidhu has already been attacking the current CM for the persons he picked as Advocate General and Director General of Police—who Sidhu claims are implicated in the ‘sacrilege’ cases, and the aftermath. Now, the entire opposition has amped up the pressure in the wake of the lynchings. All claim there is a “deep-rooted conspiracy” against Sikhs—and demand that Channi find and punish the culprits. Given that there was already resentment against Amarinder Singh for not doing enough, ‘sacrilege’ has now emerged as the perfect weapon to attack Congress.


Shameful point to note: Not a single politician or party—be it the BJP or Akali Dal or AAP—has condemned the lynchings.


As for the farmers: The most powerful union in the state said:


“From Monday, we are starting dharnas to demand the promised compensation for damaged cotton. Now the entire focus of the public is on these issues. If you want to stop beadbi (desecration) and unearth the conspiracy, hand over the culprits to the police, why kill them?”


The bottomline: The farmer protests were marked by great unity between Hindus and Sikhs in Punjab. The desecrations and lynchings—if left unchecked—will inevitably poison that well.


Reading list

The Print has the most details on the lynching in Amritsar, while Times of India has more on the Kapurthala case. The Wire and Indian Express have details on the political response to the lynchings. The Leaflet has the most details on the 2015 cases—and subsequent investigations. The Print also offers the political history of sacrilege as an issue in Punjab.


Headlines that matter

An exposé of US air wars in the Middle East

The New York Times investigation—based on Pentagon papers—reveals 1,300 civilians were killed due US airstrikes. Their deaths were caused by “deeply flawed intelligence, rushed and often imprecise targeting.” A telling example:


“In November 2015, after observing a man dragging an ‘unknown heavy object’ into an ISIS ‘defensive fighting position,’ American forces struck a building in Ramadi, Iraq. A military review found that the object was actually ‘a person of small stature’—a child—who died in the strike.”


Also this: “Not a single record provided includes a finding of wrongdoing or disciplinary action. Fewer than a dozen condolence payments were made, even though many survivors were left with disabilities requiring expensive medical care.” 

Read the complete report over at New York Times or the key details at Agence France Presse via NDTV.


#MeToo in metaverse

In Horizon Worlds—rolled out by the company formerly known as Facebook—up to 20 avatars can get together at a time to explore, hang out, and build within the virtual space. And recently, an avatar of a beta tester was groped by a stranger on the platform. She later posted on Horizon’s Facebook page: 


"Sexual harassment is no joke on the regular internet, but being in VR [virtual reality] adds another layer that makes the event more intense. Not only was I groped last night, but there were other people there who supported this behavior which made me feel isolated."

The company’s response: She should have activated the “Safe Zone” tool—that makes sure no one can touch, talk or interact with users within this zone until it is lifted. MIT Technology Review has more on why sexual harassment is going to be a problem in metaverse.

India is spam call central

According to the Truecaller’s Global Spam Report, India jumped up from #9 to #4 on the list of countries with the highest spam calls. Users of Truecaller received an average of 16.8 spam calls per month. And one single spammer made over 202 million spam calls in a year! Also: “[S]ales related calls accounted for 93.5% of all incoming spam calls, financial services related spam calls were 3.1%, nuisance calls accounted for 2%, while the remaining 1.4% were by scamsters.” But we’re still doing better than Brazil which is #1. (Business Standard)


In today’s edition

Sanity Break

  • ‘Unhinged’ Victorian Christmas cards


Smart & Curious

  • A guide to embrace Pantone’s Colour of the Year—Very Peri
  • Why you shouldn’t be adopting a turtle as a pet
  • Did you know the German Chocolate cake came from New York?
  • A list of 21 really good things that happened in 2021

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