Wednesday, June 4, 2003, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Riot widows ‘detained’ near Nawanshahr 
Varinder Singh
Tribune News Service

Attired in black cloaks, "shahidi jatha”
members stand outside a gurdwara at Beerowal village in Nawanshahr district on Tuesday.
— Photo by S.S. Chopra

Beerowal (Nawanshahr), June 3
About 500 members of the Danga Pirat Welfare  Society, who were accompanying the “shaheedi jatha” comprising five widows selected for self-immolation in front of the Punjab Chief Minister’s residence at Chandigarh this afternoon, were virtually put under “house arrest” at a gurdwara here for more than three hours by the district administration with the help of the police this morning.

The high-tension drama started at around 10.30 am when about 500 victims of the 1984 riots, who were proceeding towards Chandigarh in about 20 vehicles in a procession, were forcibly stopped by Nawanshahr police personnel in front of the village gurdwara here and were confined within the gurdwara premises for about six hours. The agitating victims, however,  dispersed at about 4.30 pm following an assurance by the Deputy Commissioner and the Senior Superintendent of Police on behalf of the Punjab Chief Minister’s office that their grievances would be redressed within 10 days.

The “shaheedi jatha” comprising five widows wearing black clothes (Bibi Gurdip Kaur, Bibi Harbans Kaur, Bibi Gurcharan Kaur, Mata Harbans Kaur, all from Ludhiana, and  Bibi Kashmir Kaur from Mohali) was selected for self-immolation after performing an “ardaas” at Akal Takht in Amritsar. The “shaheedi jatha” had decided to take the extreme step of self-immolation after the failure of the Punjab Government and the Chief Minister’s office to solve their problems, particularly, the ones which had arisen following a delay on the part of the government to hand over the houses and booths in different cities of Punjab to the  1984 anti-Sikh riot victims.

The “jatha” and members of the Danga Pirat Welfare Society had left gurdwara Sukhchain Sahib, where they had stayed for the night,  at around 9.30 am to proceed towards Chandigarh.

The Tribune team witnessed a heavy security deployment in front of the Beerowal gurdwara, where the society members had allegedly been “detained”. Talking to TNS, a tense looking Mr Surjit Singh, president of the society, and “jatha” members said, “We have virtually been put under house arrest by the police force. It is not allowing even children and women to come out of the gurdwara for drinking water.”

The “shaheedi jatha” members also alleged that about 20 members of the society were detained by the police. It had also forcibly taken away their 14 vehicles along with their luggage, they said. Bibi Gurdip Kaur alleged that what the government was doing to the riot victims was not much different from the tyranny to which they were subjected by the Congress government in 1984. “What is the charm of living now after losing our husbands and children and after being subjected to such humiliation. We were manhandled by men police officials even though a few women police officials were present”, she said. “We were repeatedly humiliated by the OSD to the Chief Minister who told us that we had not had a taste of ‘lathis’ of the government so far,” alleged Bibi Dalwinder Kaur.

Mr Harcharan Singh Channi, vice-president of the society, maintained that top government officials, including the then Chief Secretary, had cancelled meetings with the society members at the eleventh hour at least seven times. They alleged that despite the previous government’s decision to allot hundreds of booths and houses to the victims, the Congress government had failed to do anything in this direction.

Meanwhile, the society members dispersed at around 4.30 pm after a meeting of the society president, Mr Surjit Singh, and other representatives with the Deputy Commissioner, Mr S.J.S. Sandhu, and the SSP, Ms Neerja Voruvuru. “We have assured them on behalf of the Chief Minister’s office that their problems would be solved within 10 days,” said Ms Voruvuru. She denied the allegations of the society members that any of them was put under “house arrest” or was detained by the Nawanshahr police.

AMRITSAR (OC): Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee(SGPC) President Kirpal Singh Badungar on Tuesday appealed to the 1984 riot victims to desist from their proposed move of self-immolation in protest against the Amarinder Singh government’s “apathy” towards their demands.

Mr Badnungar has also written a letter to the Chief Minister urging him to look into the problems of the riot victims. He said it was Capt Amarinder Singh who, moved by the miseries of the victims, had tendered resignation from the Lok Sabha in protest against the 1984 riots.

In a statement, Mr Badungar however, regretted that the package for rehabilitation announced by the previous Chief Minister, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, had been abandoned by the present government and urged the Chief Minister to reconsider the move.

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