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Many deras attacked; man dies in Sunam
Prabhjot Singh, Chander Parkash & Sushil Goyal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, May 17
Heeding to the advice of the Centre, both Punjab and Haryana prevented “premis” and followers of various Sikh organisations from spilling out onto streets to aggravate violence that left one person dead in Sunam and more than 50 injured, eight of them seriously, as Punjab remained on the boil for the fourth day today. (Unconfirmed reports put the death toll at two)

Fresh violence erupted mostly in the Malwa belt following an edict given by the Sikh High priests to boycott followers of the Dera Sacha Sauda. Stray cases of violence and arson were also reported from other parts of the state, including Khanna and Ludhiana.

In Sangrur, all schools have been closed for the next two days. While the Central government was in constant touch both with the Punjab and Haryana Governments, urging them to use utter restraint and prevent followers of either side from coming out onto the streets, the Punjab government reiterated that no “laxity would be shown towards those taking law into their hands”.

A series of meetings, both in the Union Home Ministry and the Punjab government, were on for constant review of the situation arising out of the clashes.

Though the Centre rushed 50 companies of paramilitary forces to the violence-ravaged state, it continued to monitor the situation in the neighbouring Haryana, which has the headquarters of the dera. The Union home ministry was clear that the situation would not be allowed to drift to a point from where anti-social, anti-national or secessionist elements could take control to the detriment of the hard-earned peace in the state.

Though the Army was asked to stand by at Salabatpura in Bathinda, the state government claimed the situation to be under control after series of clashes that followed the Sikh priests’ verdict, which many followers of various Sikh organisations found to be “soft” and “un-acceptable”.

While the deputy commissioner of Bathinda confirmed seeking Army help, he left it to the police for subsequent actions, including deployment of the defence forces for maintaining law and order, besides protecting life and property of the “premis”.

In Sunam, the district police chief Arun Pal Singh told The Tribune that more than 300 “premis” were evacuated under police protection from the Sunam Dera after clashes. Late night reports suggested that while angry followers of Sikh organisations had disbursed, contingents of police were deployed to protect Salabatpura Dera.

The five high priests, who met earlier in the day at Talwandi Sabo, gave the SAD-BJP government time till May 20 to act against the dera for its alleged “anti-Sikh activities”.

While thousands of Sikhs who had gathered at Talwandi Sabo to hear the verdict of the High Priests felt disillusioned, they decided to take upon themselves the task of teaching the dera a lesson for insulting the 10th Sikh Guru and Sikhism.

Deras of Sacha Sauda in Maur Mandi, Sunam, Talwandi Sabo and Salabatpura were among the immediate targets of the crowds that dispersed in a fit of rage and anger after what they felt was a “soft edict” given by the Sikh high priests.

Violence and arson that followed left one of followers of Sikh organisations dead and more than 50 injured. Seven of the grievously injured were moved to Rajendra Civil Hospital in Patiala, one had to be taken to the PGI here. One newsman, working for a news channel, who received blunt injuries at Sunam, was also taken to Chandigarh for further treatment.

There were conflicting versions about the clashes that took place in Sunam. While Rajinder Singh, a patron of Sunam Gurdwara, held that provocation came from those inside the Sacha Sauda Dera, others contradicted it, saying that those returning from Sarbat Khalsa tried to set the dera on fire.

In the violence that followed, Kamaljit Singh (28) died, while 19 others were injured, seven of them seriously. Kamaljit was a son of a retired Assistant Sub Inspector Bant Ram and used to run a shop of electrical goods in Sangrur.

To prevent the clashes, the police resorted to lathi charge, burst tear gas shells and even fired in the air.

The violence which continued for over an hour was brought under control after police reinforcements arrived. Senior district officials claimed that the situation was under control.

Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, blaming the Congress for violence in the state, sought immediate intervention of the UPA government to restore peace.

While the dead has been identified as Kamaljeet Singh of Sangrur, seven of more than 50 injured persons have been referred to Government Rajendra Hospital in Patiala because of their grievous bullet injuries. Kamaljeet Singh had received bullet injuries in the shoulder and the abdomen outside a Sacha Sauda Dera in Sunam.

Badal, who spoke to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister Shiv Raj Patil, said that spread of violence in Punjab was not in the national interest as the SAD-BJP government was determined not to allow “anyone to take law into one’s hands”.

Badal reportedly told the Prime Minister and the home minister that it was Congress which was trying to destabilise democratically elected SAD-BJP government by engineering violence through Sacha Sauda. There was sufficient evidence to suggest that all provocation for the turmoil facing the state was coming at the instance of Congress and its leadership.

Finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal said that there was no immediate need to call out the army

“We are keeping all our options open. The law and order, peace and tranquility will not be allowed to disturbed at any cost. Whatever steps need to be taken would be taken and no one would be allowed to play with the peace of the State,” he added.

Sources, however, revealed that the Government has in its contingency plan wants the Army to be ready to move in at a short notice. Imposition of curfew in violence-torn areas can also be ordered.

While the police denied any move to get Sacha Sauda Deras vacated, there was strong deployment of forces at most of the Sacha Sauda Deras in the state.

Sacha Sauda Dera activists accused Punjab police of partisan role and insisted that directions were given to them to “vacate the dears within half an hour” this evening.

An official spokesman, however, denied that any instructions were issued to get Sacha Sauda Deras vacated. Harcharan Bains, Media Adviser to Chief Minister Badal said that the police was trying to persuade the two factions to disperse peacefully.

“No orders have been issued to any side to vacate the religious places but an appeal is being made not to form aggressive gatherings,” he added.

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Sunam clash victims in PGI
Tribune News Service

Harnek Singh Josen, reporter of electronic media, who was injured in Sunam, being treated at the PGI, Chandigarh, on Thursday.
Harnek Singh Josen, reporter of electronic media, who was injured in Sunam, being treated at the PGI, Chandigarh, on Thursday. — Tribune photo by Vinay Malik

Chandigarh, May 17
Two of the injured in a clash between Sikhs and supporters of Dera Sacha Sauda at Sunam were brought to the PGI here late in the night.

The injured persons, Harnek Singh Josan, a reporter of an NRI channel, and a follower of the dera, Raghbeer Singh, were referred to the PGI by the doctors at the civil hospital, Sunam.

Doctors at the PGI emergency said while Harneek had suffered an injury on his head, the other had been hit in the eye. The doctors said both were out of danger.

No police official was accompanying the injured. Amrik Singh, brother of Harneek, said at about 5 pm, a mob of around 4,000 persons attacked the dera followers, who were much less in number.

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