Singhu lynching: Residents identify main accused as recent visitor to victim’s village Cheema Kalan

Sarabjit Singh, the main accused in the lynching of Lakhbir Singh on Delhi’s Singhu border, is taken into police custody after a court ordered a seven-day remand, on 16 October 2021, in Haryana’s Sonipat district. Sarabjit, a Nihang Sikh, surrendered to the police on the night of 15 October and claimed responsibility for the murder. PTI
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21 October, 2021

Sarabjit Singh, a Nihang Sikh who was recently arrested for the murder of Lakhbir Singh at the Singhu border, was seen frequenting the deceased’s village of Cheema Kalan in the months preceding the killing, according to at least two residents of the village. One of the residents, who wished to remain anonymous, described Lakhbir’s movements on 12 October, three days before he was killed at the farmer’s protest around Delhi’s Singhu border. The resident said that Lakhbir was seen in a Bolero Camper car with two Nihangs that day—several other residents corroborated this. The resident told me that Sarabjit had been seen driving a Bolero Camper in and around the village on several occasions in the past two to three months. As reported by The Caravan earlier, Lakhbir’s sister, Raj Kaur has consistently maintained that her brother could not have gone to Singhu on his own and that he was lured there by someone. Raj, along with everyone I spoke to in the village, have insisted that Lakhbir was incapable of the sacrilege he was accused of and ostensibly killed for. 

Sarabjit took responsibility for the killing and surrendered to the state police on the night of 15 October. The next day, another Nihang Sikh, Narain Singh, was arrested after he surrendered to the police in Amritsar’s Amarkot village. Rakesh Kaushal, the senior superintendent of Amritsar Rural, who arrested Narain, said that the Nihang Sikh claimed not to have witnessed any desecration himself, but had taken Sarabjit’s word for it. Kaushal said that Narain had reached the spot where Sarabjit was assaulting Lakhbir at around 5.30 am on 15 October. Sarabjit and another accused hailed Narain and told him about the alleged desecration, Kaushal said. “Narain Singh told us that by then, Sarabjit had already severed his wrist, and then Narain chopped off his right foot.” According to Kaushal, Narain claimed that he had been “maddened” by the thought of the sacrilege committed, and attacked Lakhbir.

The second Cheema Kalan resident, who also wished to remain anonymous, told me that they had first seen Sarabjit in the village about three months earlier, near the Sarai Amanat Khan police station. “This Baba Ji Sarabjit Singh who courted arrest, we saw this man here in our village. He used to drive somebody’s car.” The resident said that they remembered seeing Sarabjit because the Nihang had chased them in the car he was driving. “We stopped some distance away from the police station when we found him following us. Yesterday, when I was watching this man’s video, I realised, I saw this man in my village driving someone’s car, though I don’t know whose car that was.”

The second resident told me that they, alongside several other villagers, had seen Sarabjit in Cheema Kalan on several occasions since then, and that he usually drove a Bolero Camper. The resident also added that many villagers had reported seeing Sarabjit on several occasions close to a langar hall being built near the village’s bus stand. The first resident told me that the locals had also spotted Sarabjit taking showers at a hand-pump near a drain that runs through the houses on the outer edge of the village—Sarabjit had been living in at least two of these houses for a few weeks. Some of the villagers told me that Sarabjit had started growing his hair after coming to their village, and even told the villagers that he knew Gujarati, Marathi and a few other languages.

Recounting the events of 12 October, the first resident told me that on the day, Lakhbir had gone to the nearby grain market to look for work—Raj confirmed this. According to the resident, one of the farmers, who he described as a gursikh—devout Sikh—had refused to let Lakhbir work for him because he was an addict. “Lakhbir left the market and started walking. One man on a bike then picked up Lakhbir from the nearby cremation ground crossing and handed him over to two Nihangs wearing dumallas, big swords and cholas, in a Bolero car.” Dumalla is a kind of turban worn by Nihang Sikhs, while the chola is traditional martial attire worn by Sikhs, and specifically by Nihangs. The resident said that later that night, Lakhbir was seen at the local gaushala—cowshed—feeding the cattle.

The next morning, Lakhbir was again seen at the grain market by Amritpal Singh, a resident of the village who works at a private bank. “I saw him from a distance,” Amritpal told me. That was the last time anyone from the village saw Lakhbir and no one knew how he managed to reach the Singhu border on the night of 14 October.

On the intervening night of 14 and 15 October, Lakhbir was lynched by a group of Nihangs, including Sarabjit. Kaushal recounted the testimonies the police had gathered from Sukhbir and Narain. As Lakhbir was being assaulted, Kaushal said, “A few metres away from the road, Narain Singh, head of Misl Shaheed Baba Baj Singh Shiromani Panth Akali Tarna Dal, was approached by Nihang Sarabjit Singh who cried, ‘Beadabi kar ditti, Guru Sahib di beadabi hou gayi. Ang wad te, waddo ehnu.’” (Sacrilege has been committed, the Guru Sahib has been dishonoured. Cut him into pieces.) According to Kaushal, Narain told him that “the effect of these cries of sacrilege was immediate and electric and he lost all coherent thought and actively participated in the lynching of one Lakhbir Singh of Cheema Kalan of Tarn Taran at the Singhu border.”

According to Kaushal, on the night of 13 October, Narain and four others, including his son, had set out from their village for the Singhu border, for Dussehra celebrations. Kaushal said that the Nihangs reached Singhu at about 5.30 am on 15 October, just when they were approached by Sarabjit and the other accused. The latter were infuriated about the alleged sacrilege—Sarabjit told them that Lakhbir had taken the Sarbloh, a book revered by Nihangs, thrown it in the fields and had come back for a second holy book. According to Kaushal, Narain said that he immediately joined in the violence, and chopped of Lakhbir’s foot even as he lay in a pool of blood. Narain then attacked Lakhbir with his sword, three more times. Narain also told the police that he had never met Sarabjit earlier.

Mukhwinder Singh Bhullar, the SSP of Batala district, told me that the 35-year-old Sarabjit used to stay with his maternal uncle at Khujala village, since he was five or six years old. He graduated tenth standard in 2000 from a school in Dhandoi village, and later spent about four to five years in Dubai. The police said that Sarabjit then shifted to the Sukhmani Colony in Batala along with his maternal uncle, got married in 2007, and divorced in 2017. Sarabjit then left for the Hazoor Saheb in Maharashtra’s Nanded—one of the five seats of power of the Sikh clergy—and was consecrated into the Nihang order and started wear the baana, the traditional attire of the Nihangs. According to the police, he was last seen in Batala two years earlier.

On 20 October, as the controversy surrounding the murder grew, the state’s director general of police, Iqbal Preet Singh Sahota constituted a special investigation team under the orders of the deputy chief minister of Punjab, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa. The SIT has been asked to probe the allegations raised by Raj, Lakhbir’s sister. Varinder Kumar, the additional DGP and director of the bureau of investigation Punjab, is chairing the SIT. Its members include Inderbir Singh, who is the deputy inspector general of the Ferozepur Range, and Harvinder Singh Virk, the SSP of Tarn Taran.

Meanwhile, Sonu Cheema, a former sarpanch of the village, told me that the villagers are facing pressure from local political figures and officials to keep quiet. “The villagers will tell the truth provided somebody assures them the safety and justice,” Cheema said.