A man was beaten to death by a mob after an alleged sacrilege attempt at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the police said on Saturday, in an incident that has stoked tensions over a highly sensitive issue just ahead of elections in Punjab.
According to witnesses, the man jumped over the railing of the sanctum sanctorum inside the Golden Temple during the daily evening prayer and tried to grab the sword kept in front of the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs. He was stopped and killed by those present.
TV footage of the incident - the prayers are broadcast every day - showed people rushing to stop the man.
I strongly condemn this attempt of sacrilege inside of Darbar Sahib, Amritsar today evening.— Avtar Singh Hit (@avtarsinghhit) December 18, 2021
The person has been caught, but it is alarming how such an incident can take place inside the premises of Darbar Sahib.#darbarsahib#goldentemple#amritsarpic.twitter.com/BoD4lo5d6S
The police confirmed the man was killed after the incident and said they were checking all CCTV cameras in their efforts to find out where he had come from, when he entered the Golden Temple and how many people were with him.
"This evening during prayers, a man jumped the fence and entered the enclosed area. The congregation was offering prayers and bowing down," Parminder Singh Bhandal, the Deputy Commissioner of Police of Amritsar, said.
"The man, about 20 to 25 years of age who had a yellow cloth tied on his head jumped the fence... the people inside held him and escorted him out to the corridor where there was a violent altercation and he died," he said.
"He was alone. All details will be revealed as there are a lot of CCTV cameras in the area and our teams are alert, sifting through footage. Postmortem will be done tomorrow. We will verify where he was from," Mr Bhandal added. News agency PTI quoted him saying that the man belonged to Uttar Pradesh.
Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi, whose party Congress has battled accusations that it has been lax about its handling of sacrilege cases, condemned the incident on Twitter.
CM directed state police authorities to thoroughly probe into entire matter to zero in at the underlying motive and real conspirators behind this dastardly act.— CMO Punjab (@CMOPb) December 18, 2021
Desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib and Sikh temples is a highly emotive issue in Punjab and among Sikhs, who view the holy book as their 11th guru. There have been several instances of sacrilege in recent years that have spawned intense outrage as well as political tumult.
The subject was one of the flashpoints in the feud between former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu which ultimately resulted in an acrimonious resignation of the former.
The opposition Akali Dal was quick to attack the state government over Saturday's incident which, it said, was a "deep-rooted conspiracy".
"The state and the central government must look into this. It's a matter of great pain. It's an attempt to weaken Punjab which is the sword arm of India. Some people have made it a political game over the last five years," Akali Dal MP Balwinder Bhunder told NDTV.