Sacrilege or blasphemy: The dirty attempt to cover up the caste prejudices against Dalits

Lakhbir Singh

There is no doubt in the fact that Sikhism actually was a revolt against the Brahmanical system and superstition. Guru Granth Saheb is perhaps the only holy book which contains matters from different religions as well as those of various Sufi Saints including Kabir, Ravidas, Baba Farid and others. The aim of Sikhism was to create an egalitarian society and definitely Punjab that way is far better than many other states in India where violence against Dalits is rampant. However, there are other dark realities of Punjab’s socio-political structure that reflect that the message of equality and brotherhood has not reached everywhere and both Majhabis and Ravidasis face the tyranny of caste forces in Punjab. It is important to understand who is being blamed for sacrilege and what exactly it.

Is sacrilege the same as blasphemy being used to target the minorities and most importantly the Dalits ?

Let us first find out what they are but prior to that we need to understand what is sacrilege or blasphemy?

Sacrilege or blasphemy

The dictionary meaning of sacrilege is basically “ behaviour that shows great disrespect for a holy place or object” or Stealing from a place of worship was regarded as sacrilege ‘ while blasphemy too is considered as a synonymous to sacrilege but more often used in Islamic countries where Islam is the state religion. In their definition blasphemy is an act or attempt to degrade the Holy Quran or Prophet or Islam. Under the Islamic regimes, there are specific laws that provide specific punishment for blasphemy and in most cases it end up in death penalty. In fact, people would often ask whether both are the same terms or synonymous to each other particularly when we look at the background of the victims.

We all respect the ‘holy’ texts and ‘figures’. Human beings look at those things from their ancestry view point and it is always good that people respect those things which does not hurt the sentiments of the larger population but it also will need to be understood that a critique of religious texts can not be outlawed. Every ‘religious book’ everywhere has numerous fault lines and villains. The fight world over was between two groups of people or may be multiple and those who won the battle by hook or crook became the star while those subjugated lost their ‘identity’ and remained only as a ‘villain’.

There is another issue. All religious heads, gurus or devotees think and propagate that their god or godmen are the ‘best’ and ‘most powerful’. They also think that their ‘holy book’ are God written and hence can’t be altered or even questioned. In the modern world, when we decided that we should have a written constitution, it was felt that it should remain flexible to change. The result is a country like India has around 105 constitutional amendments since 1950 when the first amendment to our constitution was done. These amendments are actually done with an understanding of the needs and desires of the people which change according to the passage of time. The framers of our constitution had felt that as India would grow, as education would come and new inventions would happen, the needs and expectations of the people would be different and we would then need our laws according to the life and time of our nation. We cant think that a thing written or designed so many years back would be the ‘ultimate truth’ which cant be questioned but human beings are so notorious and rigid that they do not allow you to even ask a simple question about the so called ‘holy books’. You can’t even change a comma, or full stop to these texts. How have we come to this idea that whatever was written so many thousands back is the gospel truth. A constitution with just seventy odd years history has been amended so many times and people of all ‘religions’ ‘faiths’ ask to get it done according to their needs but the same people are not even ready to listen to a critique of their religion.

Every religion created certain ‘heroes’ who they magnify and villains who they accuse and abuse. The fact of the matter is when every community is asking questions, creating history and also analysing it, things won’t be the same for everyone. If some people glorify one text it is not necessary for all of us to clap for them and say yes. There are those who have been victimised by these so-called holy texts and they will certainly ask questions. It is happening as globally victims of these blasphemy or sacrilege laws or morality are the minorities, marginalised and women.

Ahmadis or Dalits in Pakistan

The story of a Christian woman Asia Bibi was charged under blasphemy law came into limelight in Pakistan. It was said that she uttered insulting remarks against Islam or Quran allegedly  heard by some women who then complained against her. The court found ‘enough’ material in these ‘complaint’ and the woman accused of blasphemy was sentenced to death. Another couple Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar, belonging to Christian community were sentenced to death in 2014 though their sentence was overturned by the Lahore High Court and they were released in February 2021.   Whether it was Asia Bi or Shafaqat Emmanuel and Shagufta, all of them belonged to ‘Christian’ community in Pakistan which is a ‘respectable’ name for Churas in Pakistan, a very similar movement happened in India by Arya Samaj campaigner Amichand Sharma suggesting ‘Balmiki’ surname for the communities engaged in sanitation and manual scavenging.

A careful investigation of the cases will tell you the flimsy charges. Asia Bi was humiliated by the upper caste Muslim women (a fact so far very cleverly denied by Pakistani elite who treat caste and dalit issue as related to Hindus) just because she drank water from a pitcher as she was thirsty. Shafaqat and Shagufta were completely illiterate and living in the compound of a Church when a Muslim cleric charged them for sending whatsapp message insulting Prophet Mohammad.  Shockingly, the illiterate couple were ‘accused’ of sending the so-called insulting message in English. It is another irony that Shafaqat is a wheelchair bound person whose lower part of the body were completely paralysed in an accident in 2004. They have four grown up children. The blasphemy court found the charges ‘proved’ and sentenced them Death in 2014 but now the High Court has overturned the lower court’s judgement and acquitted them for lack of evidence.

There are many other people in Pakistan who suffer from the hands of religious elite as they use Blasphemy as per their whims and fancies to target the Dalits and Ahmedis. It is a serious question which is not debated much in Pakistan as it use the Dalit card for its propaganda against India at its ‘national’ and international forums while completely ignoring the status of the Dalits in Pakistan. Pakistan elite speaking for ‘human rights’ have not only responded to these questions as why blasphemy cases are against Churas or Dalits who care ‘internationally’ identified as Christian just to avoid the caste question and issue of Dalits. The hypocrisy of the Pakistani elite is so much that they ‘celebrate’ Ambedkar Jayanti and want Indian ‘intellectuals’ to visit them and speak about the caste system in India as if their own track record is great. They need to read and re-read the resignation letter of Jogendra Nath Mandal, the chair of Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly and its first law Minister. It must respond as to why Jogendra Nath Mandal was compelled to return to India just within a year’s period after the constitution was promulgated there in Pakistan. Have the Pakistani’s ever addressed those questions. Who are the victims of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan and you will find that most of them are Chruas. It is not for any other reason except the caste discrimination that the sanitation job is ‘reserved’ for Churas in Pakistan. Yes, Pakistanis will never speak about the Pasmanda question and why Bangladesh came into being except for the fact that they blame India for it.

Caste System in Punjab

Bordering Lahore on our side is Punjab. Here blasphemy has a new name called Sacrilege and those killed or blamed are mostly Dalits. Look at the brutality inflicted on Lakhvir Singh, a landless Dalit, who was accused of sacrilege of the Saropa at the Singhu border where farmers have been sitting on an indefinite protest for the last 10 months.

Sikhs are normally considered a very progressive community. We have seen the power and commitment of Sikhs but it is also a fact that almost all the Sikh Gurus emerged from the Khatri community as Ambedkarite scholar Bhagwan Das told me in an interview way back nearly 15 years back. He says, “About Sikhism, I have a very poor opinion. I came close to them because I was teaching two children belonging to them. One of the students’ fathers was a doctor, who used to invite me to Gurudwara. I used to go there. Then there was one festival on which they had a langer (community meal) in the Gurudwara. One man asked the doctor; ‘you are making us eat with the Churas and Chamars.’ It was a shocking experience for me in the Gurudwara. After it I studied Sikhism and found that they had 10 Gurus, all belonging to the Khatri caste, none married outside their own parental castes and the fourth guru included teaching of Ravidas, Kabir and others in the Guru Granth Sahib but in practice Sikhism is no different from Hinduism. If a convert comes from Carpenter community, he is a Ramgarhia, if is he a convert from scavenger then he is a Majhabi, if he is a convert from liquor seller then is an Ahaluwalia. Where is the caste system gone? If goes from the front door and comes back from windows. They never started a movement to condemn caste system. After that incident, I never went to a Gurudwara.


Bishan Das Bains is a well-known political activist and former Mayor of Wolverhampton, in UK and the first South Asian to have risen to that post in the mid 1980s. In an interview to me he says that during his campaign, most of the South Asians, Africans and other nationalities supported him whole heartedly but the upper caste Sikhs fought vigorously not to allow a ‘chamar’ to win from his constituency. But he won despite their fierce opposition.

The 1979 election was the most memorable episode in the history of my political career in England. The Indian Workers Association, mainly lead and dominated by Punjabi Jat Sikhs, was a very strong national organisation during the period of sixties and seventies. They found it extremely difficult to digest and compromise with the facts that a person from a lower caste can be an elected member of the council. Subsequently, the dirty Indian politics of caste prejudice and religious hatred reared its head to undermine my position as an elected member of the council. They left no stone unturned to get me deselected by the Labour Party and replaced me with one from their own caste. After their failed attempts, they fielded a most reputable person the president of the Indian Workers Association, against me. During the election they started a smear campaign to tarnish my name and discredit my public reputation. They had army of workers roaming streets of my constituency all day, harassing and intimidating residents, printing and distributing literature. It was one of the most difficult elections as campaign as I have to overcome a multiple of discrimination and prejudice. In addition to Indian caste & religious prejudice, there was a British National Party (far right wing organisation) and other two parties slightly less racial. In the end with solid support from the Pakistani community, some indigenous and others, I managed to won the seat with an increased majority.

He further informs me about the attitude of the native whites who too worked to stop him.

The local Labour Party had an established custom and practice for the past many years to elect a Mayoral candidate for the ensuing year. At a special meeting two names were proposed and secret voting taken, according to custom and practice the winner of the contest became the candidate for the following year, and the runner up is usually had the nomination and was elected the following year.

I like to mention here that I was the only non-white out of sixty elected members of the council for many years, and the rest of fifty-nine were all indigenous whites. In the beginning I was not interested at all in becoming the Mayor of the city. But there were some left wing councillors who wanted me to bid for my right. My name was dully proposed and seconded continuously for two constructive years and I lost the contest for both times. It means the established custom and practices which were being followed up over the past many years were violated for no reason other than underlying racial prejudice. Not only that, it was contrary to the policy of equality of opportunity of the national Labour Party. This situation left me with no option but to seriously consider my position in both terms as an elected member of the council and as a member of the party. I decided not to walk away quietly but to fight back and publicly expose their behaviour of racial prejudice. I decided to bring the whole truth of underlying racial prejudice in the Labour Party into the public domain.

Now it was not a question of getting the nomination for mayoralty but to fight back for equality of opportunity and justice. I decided to issue a press statement, high lighting the underlying racial discrimination within the Labour Party. It was a very controversial, of course a courageous move which attracted a great deal of public support for me and contrarily huge discontent amongst my fellow Labour councillors. . I was served with a show cause notice and meeting with the high command leadership. I justify my actions at the meeting and it was decided to harmonise mutual relations amongst elected members of the Labour Party.


I have heard and recorded many stories from various victims of the caste system in the UK about the differences between them and Jat Sikhs. So, it is a fact that we are witnessing the same things as happening in Pakistan by the Islamic fundamentalists or the rest of India by the Hindu fanatics to intimidate the minorities and the marginalised if they don’t fall in line. Sikhs are no different to this.

Who are the victims of Sacrilege in Punjab

The story of Lakhbir Singh is now well publicised as it happened at a public place where farmers have been protesting for the last 10 months. The body of Lakhvir Singh, a landless Dalit was chopped mercilessly and hanged at the pole near the place of protest. What is it that cries of sarvdharm happens but not a strong condemnation comes from the protest side except the fact that they have no association with the Nihangs as well as the victims who was brutally murdered there.

The Indian political class does not bother to speak to the family or condemn this brutality. Why have the leaders as well as the activists remained cowardly silent on this criminal act of the thugs who feel no shame in suggesting they did it and will do it again. If this was a murder committed by a Muslim, international media would have made it an international head line and we would have seen debates of brutality and primtivitiy of Islam but it is silent. Of course, the brahmin Bania media in India would highlight it to defame a movement while keeping silent on mob lynching by the Hindutva goons.  It only reflects how ideology has become a matter of convenience for everyone and religion has blinded us all together. The biggest casualty in all these voices of sanity and reasoning.

Lakhvir’s case is not out of the blue but a continuous process happening in Punjab to intimidate the Dalits. Even children are not left out. Like the Islamic fundamentalists did it for an illiterate couple accusing them of ‘blasphemy’, this side of Punjab is no different.

In June 2020, a 10 years old girl from Mazahabi community in district Sangroor was charged with sacrilege as she used to go for ‘sewa’ in a Gurudwara. She was accused of sacrilege and hundreds of people gathered to actually harass or lynch her. You have seen what a crowd of devotees do to anyone but after people’s harassment and intimidation she and her parents were illegally arrested and put in jail. She was then charged under “Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code. The provision criminalises “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.”

Punjab’s SIT and other records suggest that the girl actually did not commit any sacrilege. The fact is that probably hailing from the Mazhabi community, she would go to sweep the floor and inadvertently she picks up a calendar and would have touched the ‘ cloth that covers the holy Gurugranth Saheb’. As per Indian Express report the CCTV footage does not show the girl tearing the Holy book. It is definitely an act of untouchability and then blown out of proportion to suggest that the poor girl committed sacrilege.

One can ask this question, how can a thoroughly poor man or woman, girl or boy, who are dependent on powerful Sikhs commit sacrilege. Who would dare to challenge the Muslim in Pakistan or Bangladesh or Hindu belief system in India or Sikh values in Punjab? Is it possible? How is a poor sweeper girl a ‘threat’ to the Sikh religion or the holy Granth Saheb ?  One can understand a writer analysing a thing or a poet writing something or a political activist taking a stand but does not it show hypocrisy of the people when they blame poor, landless, helpless people for sacrilege. How much different was this case from that of Aisa Bi or Shaguta who were still better as they survived the mob. Ofcourse, if they were not arrested, they would have been lynched.

Brutality exists everywhere and we need courage to speak the truth to power which is not merely ‘political power’ but social-economically powerful communities and groups who control our ‘culture’.  We all have short memories and easily forget things that happened in the past. Otherwise we would have been asking the question about the status of the case of Bant Singh, a revolutionary balladeer whose hands were chopped by the feudal landlords and his daughter was violated by the criminals on January 7th, 2006. Nobody knows where Bant Singh, his daughter. The question must be asked how many political leaders, government officials went and spoke to them, providing them a healing touch. The violence against Dalits in Punjab may not be the same as happen elsewhere but there is a crisis which is economical too as well as threat of violence loom large. Economic and social boycott has been the biggest weapon now being employed by the powerful thugs learning pretty well from Gujarat and Haryana. This is unacceptable.

The Hypocrisy of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha

Can the Samyukta Kisan Morcha just keep aside saying that both the Nihangs as well as Lakhbir Singh were never associated with them?  How is that none heard the cries of a man being brutally chopped off near the public space. In fact, it was also mentioned that it was not a Dalit verses Sikh issue as the killing was made by Nihangs. Some also tried to suggest that it was a Dalit verses Dalit issue. The question is what stops leaders from visiting Lakhvir’s home and providing his family financial aid. It is the fear and repercussion of the powerful community that in this election year make politicians stay away from this.

I have always maintained that India’s farmers have rightfully understood the dangers of capitalism or in terms of India, the Gujarati crony’s domination on our vast agrarian sector but unfortunately the farmers movement has not yet identified that priestly classes/castes still have not refused to accept that priesthood too is an existing threat to India’s vast Bahujan masses and so brilliantly explained by revolutionary Jyoti Ba Phule as ‘sethji-Bhatji’ combine. The priesthood in Punjab is extremely powerful in the form of dominance of the powerful agrarian communities and religious value system is defined as per their needs and guidance which has no space for the Dalits.

Follow the path of great Gurus to fight against superstition

It is time our communities and their leaders should understand that innocent people, children etc cant be accused of blasphemy or sacrilege just because something happened mistakenly.  Equally important that those who are made villains in religious texts will question them whether some people like it or not. Manu Smriti was burnt by activists at Mahad in 1927 in the presence of Baba Saheb Ambedkar who termed this as the book of injustice. Betrend Russel wrote, I am not a Christian. Somebody else wrote, Why I am not a Muslim. Tasleema Nasreen felt Islam was a threat while many activists and authors the marginalised feel the same about Hinduism. There is no doubt that Granth Saheb is respected and revered and it is definitely different as it contains great text from different religions and Sufi saints irrespective of their castes and religion which is a unique quality of it yet it is a fact that Punjab has caste system and Dalits are at the margin. For keeping their dominance false cases are filed against Dalits and others in the name of sacrilege. It is time, Sikh intellectuals, political leaders must get their act together and understand that many of the victims of the caste system in Punjab might disagree with their understanding. They should do away with dirty caste practices and make Punjab a better place. Their Gurus have done much bigger service to humanity and nobody of them would have done thing that barbarically as happened to Lakhbir Singh or Bant Singh. Sikhism was a revolt against Brahmanism but the caste system came here and it is a reality that the powerful caste lobby today dominate Sikhism which actually violate the principles of equality and fraternity as espoused by Guru Nanak Dev ji and other Guru Sahebans. It is time to condemn these brutal acts unapologetically and seek justice for Lakhbir. There is no bigger sacrilege than allowing the Brahmanical caste system among the Sikhs and killing people in the name of it. The crisis is not of sacrilege but those wanting to make their political fortune from it deviating from the path of great Gurus who spoke against superstition, caste practices and untouchability. Upper caste Sikhs know it well as why the Ravidasis and Majahabis had to start their own Gurudwaras and temples if there was so much of love and affection everywhere in Punjab and elsewhere. The issues are much bigger and powerful but the solution lies in admitting diversity of thoughts where you might disagree but respect that and enjoy it.

 Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social activist. Twitter @freetohumanity

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Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist. He blogs at twitter @freetohumanity Email: [email protected]

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