Had a bus driver not gotten confused between “Kahnuwan” and “Kanwan,” leading him to drop 39-year-old Deepak Singh at Kahnuwan Chowk late in the evening, the latter might not have not been lynched in a nearby gurudwara, on the Gurdaspur-Pathankot highway, in Punjab. On the intervening night between 30 June and 1 July, Deepak, an employee of the General Reserve Engineering Force, was headed home to Lahri Sarmo village in Gurdaspur district, after six months on duty in Arunachal Pradesh. According to his father, Onkar Singh, after being dropped off at the wrong location, Deepak headed to the nearest gurudwara to spend the night, as is common custom in Punjab. By morning, he was dead—a group of locals, suspicious of his reasons for entering the gurudwara, beat him severely. He did not survive the injuries.
Neither the subsequent police investigation nor the family’s accounts yielded any ideological motivation behind the crime. But this did not stop right-wing social-media users from claiming so. On the one hand, Sikh radicals, or those connected to them, defended the accused, alleging that Deepak had committed “beadabi”—sacrilege. On the other, Hindu right-wing social-media accounts and websites such as OpIndia claimed that Khalistanis, or Sikh separatist extremists, were behind the killing, making the incident out to be an anti-Hindu attack.
The police officers investigating the case said that any connection to Khalistan is unfounded, as are claims of sacrilege. “This is neither a religious hate crime nor has any kind of sacrilege taken place,” Nanak Singh, the senior superintendent of police for Gurdaspur, told me. “There was no damage to the holy Guru Granth Sahib”—the holy book of the Sikhs—“and there was no entry by the victim into the sanctum sanctorum. The accused had an apprehension that Deepak was drunk and had entered the Gurdwara with malafide intention to commit sacrilege.” Nanak said that six people were involved, who then beat up Deepak. He died before being reaching the hospital. Police officials also told local media that members of the Shiromani Gurudwara Prab
Deepak’s post-mortem report listed seven external injuries, including abrasions on his arm, shoulder, back, side and buttocks. The report also listed one injury above his eye, and noted that there were foreign particles lodged in his larynx and trachea. It did not specify a cause of death, stating that this would be confirmed once chemical examinations of samples from the body were complete.
At the time of publishing, the Gurdaspur police had arrested six accused: local residents Gurjeet Singh Saini and Daljit Singh, Gurjeet’s wife Harjeet Kaur, the gurudwara’s reader Jaspinder Singh, and two minors. Both Gurjeet and Daljit had been remanded to judicial custody for a few days.