Several aspects of the death of Lakhbir Singh have left residents of his native village—Cheema Kalan in Punjab’s Tarn Taran district—perplexed. Lakhbir’s mutilated body was discovered at a farmers’ sit-in, at the Singhu border between Delhi and Haryana, in the early hours of 15 October. Lakhbir was a 35-year-old labourer from the Mazhabi Sikh community, comprising Dalit who embraced Sikhs. He lived with his sister, Raj, in Cheema Kalan. Residents of the village told me they found it odd that Lakhbir was found at Singhu—he was poor and a drug addict. “He never even travelled to meet a relative, how could he go that far?” Raj said. Videos and photos of Lakhbir’s body, which have been widely circulated on the internet, showed that he was dressed in a kacchera—inner shorts, typically worn by Sikhs. But, Raj told me, “He never wore a kacchera.”
Over a phone call, Raj told me about her last interactions with her brother. She said that around 5 October, Lakhbir had started locking himself in a room to speak on the phone with someone named “Sandhu.” The phone calls continued over the course of a few days, and Raj said that Lakhbir would sometimes snatch her phone to make these calls. “Sometimes, he would borrow some other people’s phone to make the call as well.” She told me that around 10 October, he had asked her for Rs 50, saying that he needed the money to travel to a nearby grain market in the Chabbal area for work. She said she arranged the money by asking her neighbours. This was the last time she saw her brother. Raj also told me that Lakhbir had never been to a farmers’ sit-in at the Delhi borders before.
On the evening of 15 October, Saravjit Singh, a member of a Nihang Sikh group called Nirvair Khalsa Udna Dal, surrendered to the police and claimed responsibility for Lakhbir’s murder. The group has claimed responsibility for the incident and said that Lakhbir had committed sacrilege towards a holy scripture. While no evidence of the alleged sacrilege has emerged, on the evening of 16 October, the Tarn Taran unit of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Satkar Committee said that it will not allow Lakhbir’s cremation as per Sikh traditions. The satkar committee, which has units across the country, claims that its purpose is to ensure that appropriate respect is accorded to the Guru Granth Sahib.
According to the residents of Cheema Kalan, Lakhbir’s wife and three daughters left him over five years ago. He also had a son, who died two years ago. Raj, who is a widow, and Lakhbir struggled to make ends meet. Sonu Cheema, who served as the village’s sarpanch for 10 years, said that when Lakhbir and Raj were children, their aunt and her husband had adopted them. The aunt’s husband was a former soldier in the Border Security Forces and was widely respected in the village, Cheema added.
None of the residents I spoke to knew exactly when Lakhbir went to Singhu and why. While Raj last met him on 10 October, a couple of other residents reported seeing him till 13 October. Hanspal Singh, who lives close to Lakhbir’s house, told me he had spotted him at a wedding function in the village on 11 October. According to Hanspal, Lakhbir had gatecrashed the function and was asked to leave. Amritpal Singh, a resident of the village who works at a private bank, told me saw Lakhbir working at a grain market on the morning of 13 October. “I saw him from a distance,” Amritpal told me.
Most residents I spoke to said that Lakhbir was a harmless individual, despite his addiction. Paramjeet Singh, a resident, said that he was shocked to hear of his death. He said that Lakhbir “always had a smile on his face, even though he was very poor.” Satpal Singh, an electrician, called Lakhbir a “wadiya insaan”—good human. Hanspal said, “Even if someone just requested him to help them do routine chores like feeding cattle, etcetera, he would happily do it.”
Several other residents of Cheema Kalan told me that they had often spotted Lakhbir asking people for amounts as low as Rs 10. “He used to work as a labourer, but of late was doing little other than asking passersby for the money,” Cheema added.