A second member of the Sikhs' Nihang order was arrested on Saturday and two more "surrendered" before Sonipat Police in connection with the lynching of a Dalit labourer at a farmers' protest site even as the victim's family questioned the attackers' claim that he committed sacrilege and demanded a high-level probe.
The mortal remains of Lakhbir Singh were cremated at his native village in Punjab's Tarn Taran amid tight security in the presence of his family members. No Sikh priest was present to perform Ardas (Sikh religious prayer) and no one from his village, Cheema Kalan, attended the last rites.
Sarabjit Singh, arrested on Friday for the brutal killing of Lakhbir Singh, was produced before a Sonipat court in Haryana and remanded in police custody for seven days.
Hours later, Narain Singh, who is also a Nihang, was arrested by the Amritsar Rural police at Amarkot village in Amritsar district, police said.
Rakesh Kaushal, Amritsar Rural SSP, told ANI, "Two Nihangs had allegedly murdered Lakhbir Singh. One was arrested by the Haryana Police and Singh had managed to escape. A team of officials was formed and forces were deployed around his house. He had announced that he would surrender before the police on Saturday."
Kaushal said, "We have arrested him outside a Gurudwara in his village. When he realized that he cannot escape, he came out. The Haryana police informed us that their team has left from Sonipat. We will hand him over as per law."
The SSP further said, "He has confessed that they killed Lakhbir. He says that when he was told the Lakhbir insulted Guru Granth Sahib, he got angry & cut off his leg. Lakhbir bled to death.
Late Saturday evening, two more belonging to the Nihang order, who hailed from Punjab's Fatehgarh Sahib, "surrendered" before the Sonipat police in Kundli in connection with the gruesome killing. They interacted with the media at the Singhu border before "surrendering".
Sources said that police will question them in connection with the case before making a formal arrest. After this, the number of those arrested in the case will go up to four.
The body of Lakhbir Singh was found on Friday tied to a barricade at the Singhu border with a hand chopped off and multiple wounds caused by sharp-edged weapons.
Hours after the crime, Sarabjit Sigh, wearing the blue robes of the Nihang order, claimed that he had "punished" the victim for "desecrating" a Sikh holy book.
Sonipat's Deputy Superintendent of Police Virender Singh said the total number of accused in the killing could be more than five.
In Amritsar, Narain Singh claimed he had informed the police that he was surrendering. Talking to the media before his arrest, he was unrepentant and said that Lakhbir Singh had been "punished for sacrilege".
He said that the accused in the Bargari sacrilege incident in Punjab were yet to be arrested, but now if somebody will commit "such a heinous crime he would be punished on the spot".
Narain Singh was given a robe of honour and a garland of currency notes by some people when he paid obeisance in the Amarkot Gurdwara before his arrest.
According to police, Sarabjit Singh claimed the involvement of a few more people in the killing, which has sparked outrage and triggered calls for action to clear the protest sites on Delhi's borders where farmers have been camping since last November to press for the scrapping of the Centre's three agri laws.
Family distraught, says victim an addict, was lured to Singhu border on purpose
His wife Jaspreet Kaur and three daughters aged 12, 11 and eight years live in a small temporary house made of mud and bricks in village Cheema Kalan, around 50 km away from the holy city of Amritsar. His son passed away two years ago.
The family was barely managing two square meals a day when Lakhbir was alive and would work in the village fields or in the grain market of Tarn Taran district for his livelihood. "Who will come forward to look after his family now and what about the future of his children..who will help them?", lamented his sister Raj Kaur.
Jaspreet Kaur and Raj Kaur said Lakhbir Singh "had a deep respect for the holy Guru Granth Sahib.
"He was a god-fearing man who could not never think of desecrating a holy book... Whenever he used to go to a Gurdwara, he would pray for the well-being of his family and the society, said Jaspreet Kaur.
He had no criminal record and there was no report of him being a bad character, the victim's family said and demanded a high-level probe into the entire episode to bring out the truth.
Jaspreet and Raj Kaur said even if it is assumed for a moment that Lakhbir had done something wrong, those who killed him in such a barbaric manner should have given him time to prove his innocence, or they could have handed him over to the police.
"At no stage could they be the deciding authority while running their own self-styled court which pronounced punishment and then murdered him inhumanly. Where does the law of land prevail here? said his grieving sister.
The family also claimed, as per ANI, that Lakhbir was a drug addict and that he was lured to the Singhu border.
"He was lured into going there. It should be probed and he must get justice," said Baldev Singh.
Politics rages on
Political parties across the board have condemned the incident and demanded a thorough probe -- at least at first. But then it was business as usual!
BJP and its supporters used the opportunity to claim yet again how 'criminal elements' had percolated the ranks of farmers protesting three central laws for more than a year. Congress, which rules Punjab, meanwhile insisted that the 'real cause' behind the farmers' death needs to be probed. The Centrs's body for SC/ST right, headed by a former BJP MP, lay culpability with protesters.
Haryana's Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala and senior BJP leader Rattan Lal Kataria said the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, which is leading the farmers' agitation, cannot escape responsibility for what happened at their protest site.
"It was a barbaric crime. Police are already at the job conducting investigations into the case... But 40 leaders (SKM leaders) cannot escape from their responsibility," said Chautala, who is the leader of the JJP, a coalition partner of the ruling BJP in Haryana.
National Commission for Scheduled Caste Chairperson Vijay Sampla said the protesting farmers cannot wash their hands off such incidents.
"Their role is the same as that of culprits. They cannot wash their hands off the incidents," he said after meeting around 15 Dalit outfits which submitted a memorandum demanding stringent action against the culprits. Sampla has also sought a report from Haryana police into the incident.
The SKM had, however, issued a statement on Friday distancing itself from the incident and said that it wanted to make it clear that "both the parties to the incident", the Nihang group and the victim, have no relation with the Morcha.
Farmer union leaders asserted on Saturday that the incident will have no impact on the agitation and said they will upgrade security by installing CCTV cameras and increasing the number of volunteers at the protest sites.
Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa demanded an inquiry by a sitting judge to find out the "actual cause"of the incident and alleged it was an attempt to sabotage the farmers' agitation.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati said that the incident was extremely sad and shameful and demanded that the victim's family be given compensation.
The Congress had said that it was the government's responsibility to investigate the lynching, while the BJP asserted that anarchic elements are using farmers for their politics.
With inputs from agencies