The recent incident in which Nihangs brutally killed a man for the alleged sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib (GGS), the Nihangs justified their action by saying that it was an apt punishment for the crime of ‘Beadabi (बेअदबी)’ of their sacred book. A lot of people expressed their concern saying whether Sikhs had brought their own equivalent concept of blasphemy. The answer to this question is clearly affirmative, and it has not happened overnight. When we track the developments in Punjab in last 6-7 years, it becomes clear that sacrilege of GGS has become a big issue for Sikhs and they’ve become extremely intolerant of it. Even in the 2017 Punjab Assembly election, punishing the culprits of sacrilege of GGS was a big issue.
What constitutes Beadabi or sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib? Similar to blasphemy, it’s a word having very wide scope which may mean anything from not handling GGS properly to tearing its pages and throwing it in open. The accusation of sacrilege of GGS is not only labelled against the non-Sikhs, but against Sikhs as well when a group wants to harass the others. The biggest incident related to sacrilege of GGS happened in 2015 when some pages of GGS were found on roads and Sikhs launched massive violent protests against it leading to the death of two protesters and injury of many police men. In a secular state, one may expect that a state would have reacted to such protests by punishing the protestors but BJP and Akali government had something else in their mind. When I say that BJP is neck deep in appeasing Sikhs, I have strong reasons to say so.
Akali and BJP coalition government constituted a judicial commission headed by a retired high court judge to investigate the issues of Beadabi which were frequently reported and creating much concern. While the commission didn’t yield anything substantial, the state government took an extraordinary step in 2016. It passed a bill to amend Section 295A of IPC and added a new section 295AA which explicitly mentioned that the punishment for sacrilege of GGS would be life imprisonment. It was done by a government where BJP was the part of coalition and Punjab BJP leaders defended the amendment bill.
In a secular state, the punishment for sacrilege of GGS would have now different punishment because Sikhs are the most pampered minority. As the amendment was related to central acts, the bill was reserved for the assent of President and Ministry of Home Affairs didn’t provide their nod because the bill won’t have passed the test of secularism in the court, if challenged. When Amrinder Singh government came into the power, it also constituted another commission to investigate the increasing cases of Beadabi.
The silence of Sikh community on the killing of a man for the alleged sacrilege of GGS should be seen in the context that the community has accepted that any such crime needs to be punished. In their assessment, as Indian state dominated by Hindus would not protect their sacred book, Sikh warriors had to take the necessary step. It’s a common occurrence in Punjab where police work under tremendous pressure to arrest anyone accused of sacrilege of GGS else the Sikh community will launch violent protests. Some Sikhs recognize that sacrilege is a big issue but they argue that it should be dealt by Akal Takht instead of individuals taking the initiative. So, as a community, they’ve accepted the concept of blasphemy in the manner similar to how it happens in Islam.