The brutal murder of a Dalit Sikh man by a group of Nihangs — a religious sect that has also participated in the protests against the farm laws — at the site of the farm protests at the Singhu border in Haryana has brought the farmers’ agitation into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. The Nihang activists who are responsible for the murder must be apprehended immediately and tried for the horrific crime. Their blatant disregard for the rule of law is evident in the manner in which they have justified their crime and in their nonchalance in accepting responsibility for it citing their religious sect’s traditional practices. The Haryana government must spare no effort in bringing the culprits to justice, should appeal for the strictest punishment and a message must be sent that the claims of religious sanction for violence are illegal and are punishable. While the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), which includes various farmer groups and has led the protests, has rightly distanced itself from the Nihangs and their actions and asked that the perpetrators be brought to book, it remains a question as to why groups which base themselves on religious traditions have been allowed to be a part of protests that are based on economic demands in the first place. In its loose nature of agglomeration, the SKM has sought to articulate the concerns by subsuming the interests of several sections of those involved in the farm sector. But it is clear that the nature of the protests — as demonstrations and protests by non-political party groups — has allowed it to be utilised by sectarian outfits for their ends.
The SKM has been a non-political party movement in order to articulate demands related solely to the farm laws and to direct the protests at the Union government. But in doing so, it has unwittingly allowed sectarian groups, whose motives are suspect, to share space with them. By and large, the farm agitations have been peaceful, even if their leaders have refused to give up on their position of repealing the laws passed in Parliament, but the incidence of violence such as those seen on Republic Day featuring a set of the agitators, besides the murder at Singhu suggest that the loose nature of the campaign is allowing such incidents to recur. Detractors of the farmers’ movement have sought to denigrate it by reducing it to Sikh separatist and sectarian movements. A political attempt is being made to drive a wedge between the different communities that are a part of the protests, as seen in the reactions in the Lakhimpur Kheri incident in Uttar Pradesh as well. The farm protests cannot be wished away with such a reductive approach. Even as strict actions are taken against violent activists, the atmosphere of distrust that persists between the Government and the farm unions can only be reversed with further talks to address the latter’s concerns with the laws.