Patiala Attack: Few mavericks ruining centuries old reputation of Nihangs’ selfless service

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Harjeet Singh, Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) Punjab Police lying on the ground (left) after a maverick Sikh (right) chopped off his hand with a sword.
Harjeet Singh, Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) Punjab Police lying on the ground (left) after a maverick Sikh (right) chopped off his hand with a sword.

The horrific incident in Patiala, wherein, a group of Nihang Sikhs violently attacked police personnel deployed to ensure lockdown has caused widespread disgust in Punjab and across India. All the more unfortunate is the fact that this sword attack occurred a day before the auspicious occasion of “Baisakhi”– the Sikh new year and the day when Guru Gobind Singh Ji created the Khalsa at Anandpur Sahib in 1699.

On Sunday, the five Nihangs had come from Gurdwara Khichdi Sahib, located at village Balbera around 25 km from Patiala city, to the sabzi mandi (vegetable market) in Patiala in an SUV car. Probably they wanted to make purchases for a “Guru Ka Langar” to be organised the next day to celebrate Baisakhi.

Though further details of the incident are still coming in, but what can be surmised from various reports is that there was an altercation between these Nihangs on one side and the Punjab Police and Mandi officials on the other. What’s apparent is that the Nihangs tried to break through barriers and when accosted came out with swords and other weapons to attack the police. They cut off the hand of Harjeet Singh, Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) of police, and caused injury to a number of other policemen before running away.

The matter did not end here. Police located these culprits in Gurdwara Khichdi Sahib and went there to arrest them, only to be resisted by the entire group including their head, Balwinder Singh. They barricaded the Gurdwara and threatened to blast it with LPG cylinders. There was a standoff for several hours with police sending in appeals for a peaceful surrender. The sarpanch (local body head) of the village tried to negotiate with the group but to no avail. The police also reached out to Nihang leaders including Baba Balbir Singh, head of the Buddha Dal Nihang faction, but still the group did not surrender.

Finally, the police moved in with its Special Operations Group (SOG) under command of Inspector General of Police (Patiala Range) Jatinder Singh Aulakh. Special attention was paid towards observance of Maryada (respect) of the Gurdwara premises. There was an exchange of fire in which one of the Nihangs suffered a gunshot wound, and he was provided with adequate medical attention. Ultimately, all eleven members of the group, including one woman, were arrested and have been charged under relevant acts of law.

ASI Harjeet Singh in the hospital. Doctors performed a seven hour surgery to stitch the severed hand of this brave policeman.

The only positive in this  sordid incident is the courage and presence of mind of ASI Harjeet Singh. He showed great resilience and foresight in insisting that his chopped off hand was taken to the hospital along with him. After initial medical aid in Rajindra Hospital, Patiala, ASI Harjeet Singh was rushed to PGIMER (Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education & Research), Chandigarh where a team of doctors performed the surgery. The very complex plastic surgery, that lasted for more than seven hours, has been declared to be successful. The doctors are quite confident that Harjeet Singh will regain use of his hand.

(Capt.) Amarinder Singh, Punjab’s Chief Minister has instructed the police to deal with anyone breaking the law in “strictest possible manner”. All political parties have, very rightly, condemned this barbaric act. What is of particular concern here is that the incident is being treated as a normal act of violence and a lot is being left unsaid and unaddressed. For instance, how could the SUV car travel all the way from Patiala to Gurdwara Khichdi Sahib, a distance of around 25 kms, without being accosted by other blockades en route?

Nihangs: A perspective

There are two major branches of the Nihangs– Buddha Dal and the Tarna Dal. Chief patron of the Buddha Dal group, Jathedar Baba Balbir Singh Ji, has condemned the attack in very strong terms and also said that the Nihangs involved do not belong to his Dal. The Tarna Dal also has not taken ownership of the group. So the question arises as to whether this was an independent group running a major Gurdwara for personal gains? Were they actual Nihangs or mere pretenders? The group not being a part of the overall Nihang structure opens the matter for further investigation into the activities being conducted in the name of this very noble community.

Nobility of the Nihangs emanate from the fact that they were given a special responsibility of protecting the Khalsa community by Guru Gobind Singh Ji personally. They were also the favourites of Maharaja Ranjit Singh with the Nihang Chief, Akali Phoola Singh, rated as one among his best Generals. Once, Akali Phoola Singh, in his capacity as Jathedar of Akal Takth ordered fifty lashes to be administered to Maharaja Ranjit Singh for a misdemeanor on his part. Maharaja acquiesced and prepared for the whipping that was suspended to a single lash. Such is the power, authority and moral standing of the Nihang community.

Even today Nihang organisations are running schools and hospitals across Punjab, especially in and around Patiala, and are involved in many socially relevant activities. The defining characteristic of Nihangs is standing for all that is truthful and righteous while dedicating their lives to the cause of and protection of the Sikh religion.

It is quite obvious that a Nihang who has been nurtured with the highest tradition of the sect would never attack an unarmed, innocent man, let alone a Sikh/Khalsa whom he has sworn to protect.

In this instance, notwithstanding provocation if at all there was any, the group resorted to a shameful act alien to their noble tradition. This matter, as such, needs to be seen by the Nihang community with utmost seriousness.

The Nihang organisations need to get to the bottom of this matter since such maverick elements, who function under no authority, can ruin the noble reputation of the sect built over centuries of selfless service. Those who are in the community for personal gains and those who consider themselves to be above law need to be identified and removed.

For the government, this should come as a wake up call for cleansing religious places of all communities from the clutches of evil elements who are there for personal gains. More importantly, religious places should not be allowed to become dens for storage of weapons, drugs and other such substances. As ASI Harjeet Singh recovers with prayers from the entire nation, those responsible need to get working to ensure that such evil is nipped in the bud.

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