Neetu Singh (16) and Pritam Singh (50), victims of police firing on July 24 over the custody of a thief related to a cop, were declared martyrs at their village, Aklia, on Friday.
The villagers paid tributes to the two who were killed in a clash with the police into which chief minister Parkash Singh Badal has ordered an investigation already. On July 24 the villagers had caught two suspected snatchers, of which the police had rescued one, and the other the villagers had dragged into a gurdwara.
The police attacked the villagers to free the second suspect. Villagers, who suspected a nexus between the police and thieves already, resisted the attempt. People related to some of the Mansa police officers are said to be involved in many incidents looting, snatching and theft in the past few months.
"Neetu and Pritam sacrificed their lives to not let the police take away the thief and hide his crime," said a villager at Friday's ceremony. "They police have neither exposed the miscreants we caught nor held anyone responsible for the death of two villagers."
The bhog of the "martyrs" was organised without political cooperation. Villagers pooled Rs 45,000 for the ceremony, in which people from the villages nearby and agricultural trade unions participateed. Even the village sarpanch, charged with favouring the police, was not part of the rites at the village gurdwara.
Not only Neetu and Pritam were declared martyrs but also the administration was held responsible for their deaths. "Neetu Singh and Pritam Singh are martyrs for us," said master Karnail Singh, an educationist from the village. "They have sacrificed their lives in combating a system that helps criminals and rogue elements. Dirty politicians may support it, but we will oppose it."
Aklia was not the ancestral village of Neetu Singh and Pritam Singh. Both belonged to the labour-class Dalit families and lived with maternal grandparents. The agricultural trade unions at the ceremony also held a political gathering to pay homage to two outside the gurdwara. However, since some leaders from the opposition broke into the gathering, the villagers stayed away.