MUMBAI, India – A 55-year-old Christian woman, who reportedly suffered from a mental disability, was hacked to death outside her home in a rural village of Punjab in northern Indian on Sunday after being accused of desecrating a Sikh holy book.
A superintendent of police told the Times of India that the woman, Balwinder Kaur, was severely beaten by unidentified persons using sharp-edged weapons, and died due to excessive bleeding.
She had been charged with defiling the Guru Granth Sahib, the central religious scripture of the Sikh tradition. Although India is a predominantly Hindu nation, there is a sizeable population of roughly 21 million Sikhs, and it forms the largest faith in the Punjab region.
At the time of the incident on Sunday, Kaur’s husband, Labh Masih, who is reportedly an alcoholic, said he heard his wife’s cries but hid in the house out of fear.
Kaur suffered from a mental impairment after an accidental electrical shock. After rumors circulated that she had insulted the Sikh holy book, she had been charged under anti-blasphemy laws and was free on bail at the time of the assault.
Reports indicate that after her assailants left her severely injured and dying, she crawled forty feet back inside her house to reach the room in which her granddaughter was sleeping, presumably to make sure the girl was safe.
Police say they’re investigating the possibility that she was killed by radical Sikh elements in the Punjab wanting revenge for the alleged sacrilege, but also say they’re not ruling out other possible motives for the assault.
“The assailants could have stabbed or shot her dead but they inflicted injuries upon her below the knee only, which has made us think of several theories,” a police spokesman said, without elaborating.
According to sources, as many as three persons were involved in the incident. The assailants knocked on Kaur’s door around 12:30 a.m., and when she opened it they pulled her out of the house and started thrashing her with a sickle.
A spokesman said police have registered a case and started investigations.
Archbishop Felix Machado of Vasai, India, a former senior official in the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, called the murder “a very sad incident.”
“The sacred book of the Sikhs is certainly to be respected,” Machado told Crux. “Abuse of such kinds must stop, because people of all religions must have respect for one another’s sacred texts, places of worship and above all, their adherents – the human beings who make up each religion.”
Machado also raised questions about whether Kaur was even capable of the intent to insult another religion, given her mental impairment, and whether the charges of desecration were backed by evidence.
The archbishop pointedly asked, “Is there law and order in the country? do we have right to take the law in our hands?”
Most fundamentally, he rejected violence as a means of handling such disputes.
“I condemn the death of a human being,” he said. “That should never be a solution for any crime,” he said, adding that one can hate a crime but not the criminal.
Machado expressed hope that the incident will not become the pretext for broader inter-faith conflict in India, where clashes between a rising tide of militant Hindu nationalists and the country’s various religious minorities, including Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs, often underlines political and social tensions.
“This should not be turned into a communal conflict,” he said. “We have enough of those. Coming together of clear-headed, honest and mature followers of religions and reflecting on this incident will be a sign of peace and genuine religiosity.”
Machado insisted that Kaur’s killers were not legitimate representatives of the Sikh tradition, or of any religious faith.
“Killing and hating one another is never taught by any religion,” he said. “God is beyond hatred and killing.”