Dera Sacha Sauda follower, Mohinder Pal Singh Bittoo, the main accused in the 2015 Bargari sacrilege case was murdered on Saturday evening by two of his inmates in the Nabha Jail in Patiala, where he was lodged.
The incident took place around 5:45 pm when Mohinder Singh was allegedly attacked by two men, Gursewak Singh and Maninder Singh with rods that they pulled out from a window, the police said. Bittu was taken to the hospital but he was declared brought dead. The police said that a medical board has been set up to probe the death and the report of the post-mortem examination will be disclosed shortly.
Mohinder Pal Bittu, 49, was accused of desecrating the Sikh holy book in 2015 in Faridkot district’s Bargari and was arrested on June 9, 2018, for allegedly hurting religious sentiments, carrying an illegal weapon and his alleged involvement in unlawful activities, by an SIT of Punjab Police probing the four-year-old sacrilege incidents. For the past 10 months, he was lodged in the high-security Nabha jail.
The state committee member of the Dera from Palampur in Himachal, Bittu was a resident of Kotkapura town of Faridkot and owner of a bakery shop. Mohinder Singh was the member of a 45-member community of the Dera Sache Sauda and also one of the 150 Dera followers who were booked by the Panchkula Police for violence after the conviction of the Dera head, Gurmeet Ram Rahim. He was absconding since August 2017 following the conviction of Dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim.
Gurmeet Ram Rahim, the DSS head was convicted of rape by special CBI court on August 20, 2017. His conviction led to widespread violence leaving several dead and injured. On August 28, 2017, Ram Rahim was sentenced to 20 years in prison. In January 2019, he was convicted of the murder of journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapati and awarded a sentence of life imprisonment. He is under prosecution for other murders and for ordering forced castrations.
Meanwhile, fearing a communal flare, Punjab CM, Amarinder Singh requested all communities to maintain peace and “not give in to rumours”. He has also ordered beefing up of security in the state in the wake of the attack on Mohinder Pal Singh Bittoo. Ten companies of the Border Security Force (BSF) and two companies of the Rapid Action Force (RAF) have been called in, sources said.
Captain Amarinder Singh has ordered a probe into the attack of Mohinder Singh, warning of strict punishment for the assailants, an official statement said. The government has suspended the jail superintendent and the barrack-in-charge.
According to reports, ADGP Prisons Rohit Chaudhary will head the committee formed to probe the attack. He has been asked to submit a report into the case within three days.
The 2015 Guru Granth Sahib desecration or the 2015 Guru Granth Sahib sacrilege refers to a series of desecration incidents of the Sikh Guru Granth Sahib and the subsequent protests that took place in Punjab in October 2015.
The first incident of desecration was reported from Bargari, Faridkot district, where 110 torn ‘Angs’ of the holy Guru was found on October 12, 2015. It all began on the afternoon of June 5, 2015, when the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book, was stolen from a gurdwara in a village called Burj Jawahar Singh Wala in Faridkot district, Punjab.
Several Sikh leaders, including Baljit Singh Daduwal, gave an ultimatum to the police to find the culprits. On June 11, members of various Sikh religious organisation held a protest in the village accusing the police of inaction. They tried to gherao (surround) the local police station, meanwhile, a large police unit was deployed to prevent it.
On October 12 more than 110 pages of the Guru Granth Sahib were found lying on the ground in front of a gurdwara in Bargari, Faridkot district. The residents of the town and nearby villages declared a bandh. The members of some Sikh religious organisation arrived in the town and in the evening a protest march carrying the torn pages was held.
In nearby Kotkapura, protestors blocked a major highway intersection. Large numbers of police personnel were deployed to prevent violence. The protestors refused to unblock the highways, despite requests from the local police chiefs, demanding that the perpetrators be arrested.
Following this incident, several other incidents were reported where ‘Angs’ or ‘bir’ of the Sikh Holy book was found torn or burnt.
On 14 October 2015, around 6000 protesters gathered in Kotkapura and held a peaceful sit-in protest to demand action. In the wee hours of the morning, the police started using water cannons and lathi charge to scatter the crowd. They fired some rounds at the mob. Two protesters died in the firing. More than 50 people were injured in clashes, which included 24 policemen. The protesters also destroyed 10 vehicles of which 5 belonged to the police. Two leaders of the group were arrested and 500 protesters were detained.
On October 15, 2015, the Punjab government announced the formation of a Judicial Commission headed by retired Punjab and Haryana High Court judge, Zora Singh to investigate the first incident of desecration. Following the investigation, several arrests were made.
On October 18, Amarinder Singh demanded the resignation of the then Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal and imposition of President’s rule in Punjab. Several leaders of the then ruling party in Punjab, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and members of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) submitted their resignation in protest, accusing the government of failing to protect the holy books.
The Sikh diaspora around the world, including the Canadian Sikhs, the Sikhs in London, American Sikh Council (ASC), North American Punjabi Association (NAPA) and Indian National Overseas Congress (INOC), condemned the desecration and killing of the protesters. They urged the central and state governments to bring the culprits to justice.
On November 2015, the Punjab Cabinet approved an amendment to the Section 295A of the IPC, The new section 295AA carried a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for crimes like Bargari sacrilege case. The bill was passed on March 22, 2016.
A special investigation team (SIT) of Punjab Police, probing the sacrilege incidents at Burj Jawahar Singh Wala and Bargari villages of Faridkot, had last year rounded up four Dera Sacha Sauda followers, suspecting them to be the prime accused in the sacrilege incidents.
Along with Mohinder Singh Bittu, three others namely Sunny Kanda, a dairy owner, his brother Sukhpreet Singh and Jaggi, their relative from Mansa were also rounded up by the Punjab Police.
In June 2016, after an unidentified man had opened fire at Gurdev Singh, a Dera follower, at his grocery shop at Burj Jawahar Singh Wala village of Faridkot there was a massive protest by the Dera followers. Bittu had reportedly led that agitation, demanding the arrest of culprits.
Last year, Bollywood actor, Akshay Kumar was also quizzed by the SIT of Punjab Police, which is probing the 2015 police firing incidents at Behbal Kalan and Kotkapura in the state following cases of sacrilege in Faridkot.
The actor was reportedly questioned over a reported meeting between Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and former deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal at the actor’s flat in Mumbai in 2015 in connection with the release of the Dera head’s movie “MSG”. His name was reportedly mentioned in the Justice Ranjit Singh Commission report on sacrilege incidents.
Kumar has denied arranging any meeting between former deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and the Dera Sacha Sauda sect head. The actor had, in fact, also denied having ever met the Sirsa headquartered Dera head.
Kumar had issued the denial on November 12, 2018, after the SIT summoned him along with former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal. “It has come to my knowledge that some rumours and false statements are being loosely made on social media about my involvement with a person named Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in the context of a fictitious meeting involving Sukhbir Singh Badal, Kumar had said in a tweet.
— Akshay Kumar (@akshaykumar) November 12, 2018
“With all humility, I would like to state the following facts. I have never ever met Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in my life, anywhere. I learnt from social media at some point that Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh resided for a while at some place in my locality Juhu in Mumbai but we never crossed each other’s paths, Kumar had said.