Punjab: Prime accused in 2015 sacrilege case murdered inside jail
Tensions have been flying high and security has been stepped up in Punjab after prime accused in the 2015 Bargari sacrilege case was killed inside the jail on Sunday. The deceased, Mohinder Pal Bittu, was lodged in Patiala's high-security New Nabha prison where he was allegedly attacked by two inmates. Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh has promised strong action. Here's what happened.
In 2015, Punjab came to a standstill after the holy book Guru Granth Sahib was desecrated. The first incident was reported in October 2015 wherein 110 torn Angs of the holy Guru was found from Bargari in Faridkot district. Hurt by the turn of events, residents took to streets and protests turned violent. Two protesters were killed in Moga district after police opened fire.
The sacrilege incidents were condemned by Sikhs living in UK, US, and Canada too. Later, the Punjab government proposed increasing punishment in sacrilege cases from three years to life imprisonment. The bill was passed in March 2016.
49-year-old Bittu, who is a follower of Dera Sacha Sauda, was the prime accused in the Bargari desecration incident. The accused inmates allegedly attacked Bittu with rods which they removed from a ventilation window. The incident happened around 5:20 AM and he was declared brought dead at Nabha Civil Hospital. His corpse was taken to Kotkapura Dera where other followers of the Dera gathered.
As per preliminary investigations, Bittu was attacked by Gursewak Singh and Maninder Singh, who were in lodged in jail for murder cases. Additional director of police (ADGP - Prisons) Rohit Chaudhary has been ordered to head a fact-finding committee and submit a report within three days. A mandatory judicial inquiry into the murder has also been launched, an official spokesperson said.
The obvious lapse in security inside jail premises prompted authorities to take action. While Assistant Superintendent of Jail Ajmer Singh and wardens Major Singh and Aman Giri were suspended, Lal Singh (who was posted in prison for security purposes) is facing action. Meanwhile, Captain Singh asked communities to maintain peace and harmony. He also advised them to not believe in rumors.
Bittu, who was arrested in June 2018, is survived by his wife, two sons, and a daughter. His son Amrinder Kumar, who visited Bittu just hours before he was murdered, told Indian Express their entire world is "finished". "First he was framed and now he has been murdered. There is no one who can give us justice," he said.
"Jail authorities were already providing him security and we thought it was enough. We were always concerned but never submitted any plea. Can they or anyone else bring back my father now? Whose responsibility was it to ensure his safety?," asked Amrinder.
Notably, the SIT which was formed to probe the sacrilege incidents named Bittu as a conspirator. Considered close to Dera Chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, Bittu was angry with Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee and Sikh hardliners for stopping the release of Messenger of God. Reportedly, Bittu stole a copy of Guru Granth Sahib, scattered its pages, and threw the book into a drain.