Sacrilege: The law must prevail
A constitutional democracy cannot afford to normalise mob violence, and any constriction of due process and fair trial must be contested. Act against desecration but don’t allow people to take the law into their own hands
Over the past week, the poll-bound state of Punjab was roiled by twin episodes of alleged sacrilege. Two incidents, one inside the sanctum sanctorum of the Golden Temple in Amritsar on December 18, and the other at a local gurdwara in Kapurthala the next day, took place under different circumstances but culminated in the same unfortunate end, with an enraged public beating to death the person accused of desecration.
In the Golden Temple case, the special investigation team found that the man accused of desecration visited the temple at least 15 times in the previous four days, and CCTV footage of the incident showed the man jumping the handrails and heading for the holy sword. But in the Kapurthala case, investigators have now found no attempt at desecration and said the death of the man, who remains unidentified, might have been the result of a “well-planned conspiracy”. A case of murder has been registered, and the caretaker of the gurdwara who raised the initial alarm and accused the man of sacrilege is now the prime suspect.
Sacrilege is a serious and sensitive issue, particularly in Punjab, where incidents of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib rocked the state in 2015. The acts of desecration triggered agitations, resulting in the death of two protesters in police firing. This was a major poll issue in 2017 and played a key role in the loss of the erstwhile Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance. This time, too, the incidents have happened months before elections. Acts of sacrilege are condemnable because they violate constitutional guarantees of freedom of worship, and are designed to stoke unrest. They are also aimed at insulting religious sentiments and beliefs, which is not acceptable in a multi-faith democracy such as India. Any such attempts must be investigated thoroughly and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
But the response to these acts cannot be extra-judicial. A constitutional democracy cannot afford to normalise mob violence, and any constriction of due process and fair trial must be contested. All leaders who fan extremist mob sentiments, or speak out against the condemnable act, but not the illegal response, are doing a disservice to the Constitution, and must instead push for an investigation of all aspects of such incidents. Only such a response can repair the trust deficit between the public and the law enforcement agencies. Act against desecration but don’t allow people to take the law into their own hands. Mob justice is never the answer.
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