Conflicts & War

Sikh warriors, the violent face of farmers’ protests in India

By David Asta Alares

New Delhi, Nov 4 (EFE).- If tens of thousands of farmers have been at the forefront of an ongoing year-long protest in India against three farm laws seeking to liberalize the sector, the Nihangs – the orthodox warriors of the Sikh religion – have been at the forefront of the violence.

In the protesters’ camps that have sprung up around New Delhi for almost a year, this martial order has recently been marred by a brutal murder and its members are accused of cutting off an officer’s hand during clashes between protesters and the police last year.

Singhu is one of the three border points on the outskirts of the capital New Delhi occupied by the protesting farmers for almost a year.

On one side of the tents are the barricades erected by the Police to stop the advance of the peasants towards New Delhi, while on the other are thousands of farmers.

Easily recognizable for their indigo blue clothes and the swords and spears they carry, Nihangs are among those who have pitched their tents on the border in support of the movement.

“The government has blamed this protest many times and they want to remove it from here. The farmers here are protesting against the 3 black laws of the central govt and we are sitting here in with them,” Amandeep Singh, a 28-year-old Nihang, explained to EFE.

Others of his order could be seen moving about the improvised tents, cooking food or attending to horses.

Their mission is to “protect the poor,” said Singh, emphasizing that “this protest is going on very peacefully.”

And this claim has largely been true, with the exception of a handful of violent incidents.

A tractor march in the capital Jan.26 ended in clashes between groups of protesters and the police, leaving at least one dead and hundreds wounded, and a large number arrested.

Another more recent incident saw a car runover four farmers, resulting in clashes in which another eight people died.

But these orthodox warriors are not without controversy.

When asked about the incidents of violence involving the Nihangs, Singh decided to answer a phone call while another member of the group sitting with him said the interview was over.

On Oct. 15, images went viral of the brutal lynching of Lakhbir Singh – a surname common among members of the Sikh religion -, a 35-year-old man from the northern Punjab province, who was found tied to a police barricade in Singhu camp with a hand chopped off and a broken leg.

According to Sonipat Police Superintendent Jashandeep Singh Randhawa, there were several videos in circulation where some Nihangs claimed the man failed to respect the sacred book of the Sikhs, the Indian Express newspaper reported after the incident.

Three Nigangs have been arrested since then in connection with the lynching.

In April last year, the authorities accused a group of Nihangs of cutting the hand of a police officer with a sword after clashes between protesters and groups, who the peasants claimed belonged to Hindu extremist factions close to the ruling party.

A man ended up in hospital last month after allegedly being assaulted by a Nihang member, whom he accused of wanting to steal one of the chickens he was transporting.

It is no coincidence that this Sikh order is very much present in the demonstrations against the government’s three agrarian reform laws to liberalize the farm sector, which the demonstrators claim leave farmers at the mercy of the free market and without protective guarantees.

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