Main accused in Bargari sacrilege case murdered in Nabha prison; Punjab Police tighten security, set up cordon near Patiala

The prime accused in the 2015 Bargari sacrilege case was killed allegedly by two inmates in the high-security prison in Nabha on Saturday evening, the police said. Some prison inmates attacked Mahinderpal Bittu around 5.15 pm, after which he was taken to the Nabha civil hospital near Patiala, where he was declared brought dead.

The police said preliminary investigations revealed that the 49-year-old, a resident of Faridkot, was allegedly attacked by Gursewak Singh and Maninder Singh, who were lodged at the Nabha prison for a murder case.

Bittu, a follower of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect, was allegedly attacked by these inmates with iron rods, which they had procured from a construction site inside the jail. Doctors at the hospital said Bittu had suffered serious head injuries.

 Main accused in Bargari sacrilege case murdered in Nabha prison; Punjab Police tighten security, set up cordon near Patiala

The prime accused in the 2015 Bargari sacrilege case, Mahinderpal Bittu, was killed in Nabha prison. ANI

Inquiry ordered, security heightened

Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh has ordered an inquiry into the fatal assault on the Bargari sacrilege accused, warning of stringent punishment to the assailants. Additional Director General of Police (Prisons) Rohit Chaudhary will head the fact-finding committee, which has been asked to submit a report within three days.

This inquiry will be in addition to the mandatory judicial inquest into the murder of the accused.

The chief minister has also given ordered to heighten security in Punjab in the wake of the attack on Bittu. He has appealed to all communities to maintain peace and to not give in to rumours.

"Those involved in the attack will face punishment for the crime," he asserted.

The Punjab Police are also on alert as followers of the Dera Sacha Sauda gathered at Kotkapura Dera, where Bittu's body was brought on Sunday. The police have set up a tight security cordon around the Kotkapura Dera, 50 kilometres from Patiala, the Hindustan Times reported.

Ten companies of the Border Security Force and two companies of the Rapid Action Force have been called in, NDTV quoted sources as saying.

Two prison officials suspended

Meanwhile, Punjab's jails minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa said two prison officials had been suspended over the incident. "Two warders have been suspended," he said.

"It was negligence on the part of the jail administration. Mahinderpal came out of his barrack and was attacked. I have suspended the jail superintendent," Randhawa was quoted as saying by the Hindustan Times. The assistant superintendent is the other prison warder he suspended for lapse in security.

A Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Punjab Police, looking into the four-year-old sacrilege incident and other similar events, had named Bittu the key accused in the Bargari case, which is related to the desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib in Bargari, Faridkot, in 2015. The team had arrested him from Palampur in Himachal Pradesh in June 2018.

This incident was among the first in a series that took place in 2015, leading to violent protests across Punjab. Two people were killed in Moga district in police firing. The police had opened fire at protesters at Kotkapura in Faridkot district, as well.

The SIT claimed Bittu had stolen a copy of the Guru Granth Sahib from a gurdwara, thrown pages torn from it on the streets and then flung the Sikh holy book into a drain, sparking outrage among the Sikh community. Bittu apparently angry against the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee and Sikh hardliners for opposing Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and the release of his movie Messenger of God.

Bittu was considered to be close to the Ram Rahim Singh, who is serving a life sentence for the murder of a journalist, as well as a 20-year sentence for raping two female followers.

In 2016, the maximum security Nabha jail was in the news when a group of armed men in police uniforms had stormed into the prison and managed to free six prisoners, including two terrorists.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Jun 23, 2019 10:38:03 IST