Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar on Wednesday appeared before a Special Investigative Team (SIT) of the Punjab Police in Chandigarh in its inquiry into the police firing on mobs protesting 2015 incidents of the desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib 'bir' — the sacred book of Sikhs — in the state.
Akshay's name had figured in the Justice Ranjit Singh Commission report on the sacrilege row. He is accused of arranging a meeting between former Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and Dera Sacha Sauda sect chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh.
However, during questioning, Akshay told the SIT that the charges against him were baseless, and that he had never met Ram Rahim. The actor told investigators that his name had been "needlessly dragged into the row", and that there had been no meeting at him Mumbai home between Sukhbir and Ram Rahim, who is currently serving a 20-year jail term in two rape cases.
Incidents of sacrilege in Punjab
It was in June 2015 that the first incident of sacrilege took place at the Burj Jawahar Singh Wala village in Faridkot district. This was followed by another in October on the streets of Bargari village on the Kotkapura-Bathinda Highway in Faridkot.
It was this desecration in October 2015 that triggered protests. Two Sikh activists were killed and over 60 were injured in clashes with the police. The Ranjit Singh report looked into this case.
In 2017, seven birs of Guru Granth Sahib were found partly burnt at a Gurdwara in Aulakh village of Muktsar district. It was later claimed that this was caused by a short circuit.
Later that year, torn pages containing Gurbani verses from the Sikh holy book were found in an open drain at Khalra village in Tarn Taran. In January 2018, torn pages of the 'Gutka Sahib' — a book of Sikh hymns — were found scattered near a Gurdwara at Mothawali village of Moga district.
The Punjab Police had prepared a report that said more than 100 sacrilege incidents had taken place since 1 June, 2015, in which only 50 accused could be tried, The New Indian Express reported.
Investigations into desecrations
In 2016, the Justice Zora Singh Commission had submitted its report on the sacrilege incident in Faridkot and its aftermath. The then Chief Minister of Punjab Parkash Singh Badal had appointed this commission to ascertain the causes and circumstances that led to the sacrilege and its subsequent fallout.
However, it was alleged that the commission had tried to safeguard the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and absolve it of responsibility. Incumbent Chief Minister Amarinder Singh then set up the Ranjit Singh Commission in September 2018, soon after issuing a notification to have the investigation into the sacrilege incidents withdrawn from the CBI.
The Ranjit Singh report indicted the Badal family with hard evidence, mentioning that they had been "aware" of the police action in Kotakpura. The report said Sukhbir Singh Badal, who was the then de-facto chief minister and Home Minister of Punjab, had not only conspired in the desecration incidents but had also protected the accused belonging to the Dera Sacha Sauda sect.
"He had stalled police action against the Dera men and also shielded the policemen guilty of firing on innocent Sikhs," the report said, adding that the police had opened fire on protesters at Behbal Kalan, killing two people, "without any warning and without taking permission from civil authorities".
The commission had found that the protests were linked to the pardon of Ram Rahim, the Dera Sacha Sauda chief, by the Akal Takht. Ram Rahim had earned the ire of the Sikh community when he had dressed up as the 10th Sikh Guru Gobind Singh, which many Sikhs considered a sacrilege. He was censured by the Akal Takht but pardoned later. In its report, the commission had said Akshay had mediated between the Badals and the Dera Sacha Sauda to secure the pardon for Ram Rahim.
Based on the panel's report, the present Congress-led Punjab government issued show cause notices to several senior police officials, including the then Director General of Police (DGP) Sumedh Singh Saini (now retired) and then Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) (Law and Order) Rohit Chaudhary.
In its supplementary report, the Ranjit Singh commission noted: "There is sufficient material available on record in the form of telephone calls between the deputy commissioner, MLA Mantar Singh Brar and Gagandeep Brar (the then Principal Secretary to the chief minister)... The chain is thus complete and clear that (former) chief minister Parkash Singh Badal was not only in touch with district administration but was in touch with the DGP, as well, and was quite aware of the situation developing at Kotkapura and also about the proposed action by the police."
Referring to the supplementary report, the Punjab government then decided to refer the matter to the CBI to ascertain whether anyone else had committed or omitted any act. However, the Shiromani Akali Dal rejected the commission's report and accused the commission of acting as a "Congress Sarkari Commission".
The panel had looked into the incidents of sacrilege in the villages Burj Jawahar Singh Wala, Bargari, Gurusar and Mallke. Besides, it also investigated incidents of sacrilege in the districts of SAS Nagar, Fatehgarh Sahib, Rupnagar and Patiala, SBS Nagar (Nawanshahr), Hoshiarpur, Amritsar, Bathinda, Barnala, Faridkot, Fazilka, Ferozepur, Gurdaspur, Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Ludhiana, Mansa, Moga, Sangrur, Sri Muktsar Sahib and Tarn Taran.
During the 2017 Assembly elections in Punjab, the desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib had become a major electoral issue in Bathinda, Muktsar, Faridkot and Moga districts. Both the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party had promised that if they came to power, they would re-investigate the entire incident and punish the guilty.
Whom did the SIT interrogate?
The SIT had earlier examined ADGP Jitendra Jain, former Inspector General of Police (IGP) of Bathinda Paramraj Singh Umaranangal, former Ludhiana police commissioner Amar Singh Chahal and former Ferozepur range Deputy Inspector General, besides former Deputy Commissioner of Police MS Jaggi, former Senior Superintendent of Police SS Mann and former Sub-Divisional Magistrate VK Syal of Faridkot.
Former Kotkapura MLA Mantar Singh Brar, too, was questioned by the SIT, which also examined over 50 civilians and 30 junior police officials.
The investigators has already questioned the former chief minister and his son in Chandigarh. On Monday, Sukhbir told the SIT that he had never met Akshay outside Punjab, when asked whether he had met the actor in Mumbai.
Allegations against Akshay Kumar
The Ranjit Singh Commission report, which was tabled in the Punjab Assembly in August, had referred to a letter dated 9 October, 2017, addressed to it by former MLA Harbans Jalal, claiming that the Dera chief and Sukhbir Badal had met at the Akshay's flat in Mumbai in 2015 to facilitate the release of Ram Rahim's movie MSG: The Messenger in Punjab. The meeting was allegedly held before the Dera chief was pardoned in the blasphemy case. The movie could not be released in Punjab in September 2015 because of an edict by the Akal Takht against it.
The summons to Akshay were issued in connection with the Bargari sacrilege case and the police firing at Behbal Kalan and Kotkapura. The summons were related to the investigation into the cases that originated from the various incidents of sacrilege in 2015. The cases were registered under Section 160 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
Punjab's sacrilege law
On 28 August, the Punjab Assembly had unanimously passed bills for an amendment to the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the CrPC to make sacrilege of all religious texts punishable with life imprisonment.
The Indian Penal Code (Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2018, has inserted Section 295AA to the IPC to provide that "whoever causes injury, damage or sacrilege to Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Srimad Bhagwad Gita, Holy Quran and Holy Bible with the intention to hurt the religious feelings of the people shall be punished with imprisonment for life". The bill also substituted "two years" to "10 years" in Section 295 of IPC 1860 to apply in Punjab.
However, the co-president of the principal Opposition in Punjab, the Aam Aadmi Party's Balbir Singh, accused the Punjab government of playing politics on the issue of sacrilege. "The government has failed to give justice under the existing law. The move to amend the law is to mislead people on the sensitive issue of 'sacrilege'. With the provision of life imprisonment, there is all the more chance of misusing it against political opponents and innocent people," Singh was quoted as saying by The Hindu.
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Updated Date: Nov 21, 2018 18:13:33 IST