On Friday, the nation woke up to a shocking incident- a Dalit Sikh was killed and his body found tied to an overturned police barricade at the Singhu border, where farmer protests have been going on for a year now.
A Nihang group, Nirvair Khalsa-Udna Dal, has admitted to killing the Dalit man identified as Lakhbir Singh. However, this is not the first incident involving violence by a Nihang group:
- During the Republic Day violence, Nihangs mounted on horsebacks with spears and swords in their hands reportedly led the charge to disperse police personnel.
- Last year, a Nihang group chopped off the hands of an Assistant Sub Inspector of Punjab Police in Patiala after being asked for a COVID-19 curfew pass.
- India Today has reported that a group of Nihangs allegedly assaulted a 24-year old man with swords at the farmers’ protest site in April.
This raises some crucial questions- who are Nihangs? Why are they armed to the teeth? And are they really warriors or are they rebels without a cause?
Who are Nihangs?
Nihangs are an order of Sikh warriors. They are characterised by blue robes, antiquated arms such as swords and spears. They also wear decorated turbans and trace their origin to the founding of the Khalsa by the last Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh in the year 1699. The sect remains quite popular and is described by many as “guru di laadli fauj” (the guru’s favourite army).
The order of Nihangs was formed at a time when the Sikhs and Hindus were facing barbarity at the hands of Aurangzeb, a ruthless Mughal emperor. At that time, it was quite natural for Nihangs to be heavily armed as they constituted a quasi-monastic army supposed to take on invading forces.
Even after Aurangzeb’s death, the Nihangs were instrumental in beating back attacks by Afghan invader Ahmed Shah Abdali in the 18th century. They also played a pivotal role in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s powerful army.
However, there is a major difference between the 18th century and the 21st century. Today, the Indian Republic is over 71 years old, and the Sikh religion doesn’t face any external danger. In fact, Sikhs are a prosperous community in India today. So, do the Nihangs really need to be heavily armed? Also, the Nihangs used to be an order of warriors today. But let’s face it- there is no war left to fight and maintaining a warrior spirit doesn’t really serve any purpose.
How heavily are the Nihangs armed?
Simple answer- they are armed to the teeth. They almost always carry a weapon. A Nihang ordinarily carries the following weapons:
- The kirpan, which is a small sword or a dagger worn at the waist.
- The karud- another dagger.
- The khanda, that is, a proper sword.
- A spear.
- The tir (arrow)
- A buffalo-hide shield.
- A blue high turban with the chakram or war-quoit, which can behead a person if used properly.
The arms were naturally used in medieval-era wars. However, some three centuries later, these weapons aren’t supposed to be used and they have become more or less ornamental. The State allows them to be used out of respect for religious feelings. But over the past year and a half, there have been instances of their use.
The law enforcement agencies must catch up
In the 21st century, the rule of law must prevail and the Constitution of the country, which forms the grundnorm of the legal system must take precedence. Every citizen has a right to live and even die with dignity, which was blatantly denied in Lakhbir Singh’s case.
The law enforcement agencies must now catch up with such incidents involving Nihangs. As per The Print, Professor Paramjit Singh Judge of the Department of Sociology, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, who has done extensive research into the origins and history of Nihangs, said that criminal elements have, over the years entered many Nihang deras, which have become safe houses for such elements.
The Judge said, “The Nihangs are not one consolidated sect or group. There are very divided and while following the same traditions and norms, they have their own independent deras, some of which are at loggerheads with one another for prominence.”
Now, government agencies must ramp up monitoring activity and verify what is going on at the Nihang deras. The State must make it clear that the Nihang sect has to be disarmed because it quite clearly doesn’t need to carry weapons any longer.