M A I N   N E W S

Curfew in Batala after inter-community clashes
Ravi Dhaliwal, Balraj Mahajan & Sushil Goyal
Tribune News Service

Batala/ Bathinda, February 20
Members of the Christian and Hindu communities clashed and vandalised public property here today over publication of a picture of Jesus Christ in an allegedly objectionable manner by a Delhi-based publisher and at a welcome gate erected for Ram Navmi celebrations at Jalandhar recently.

Indefinite curfew was clamped in Batala after the town’s oldest church was torched and some shops vandalised. Police said trouble erupted when some Christian youths forcibly started downing shutters of shops across town. Activists of Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Shiv Sena objected to the demand to close shops, following which groups of both communities went on a rampage and looted shops.

Six shops - including Vishal Mega Mart - were ransacked in the ensuing melee. A Jammu and Kashmir State Road Transport Corporation bus and another private bus were stoned and its windowpanes shattered. The infuriated mob then went ahead to burn six scooters and motorcycles.

Hindu activists got together and proceeded towards City Road and set fire to one of the town’s oldest churches. A panicky district administration sent in fire tenders to douse the fire and clamped an indefinite curfew within Batala municipal limits.

At least 10 persons were injured in clashes in the busy Batala localities of Circle Road, Dera Road, Chakki Bazaar and Gandhi Chowk. A State Bank of India ATM at the railway station was also broken. Gurdaspur Deputy Commissioner Karamjit Singh Sra reached the spot in the afternoon and supervised operations with Batala SSP Dinesh Partap.

The situation in Dhariwal town, 12 km from Gurdaspur, was also tense. Christian youths armed with sticks could be seen riding motorcycles and threatening people with dire consequences if they opened their shops. Gurdaspur DSP Jasdeep Singh was monitoring the situation. Later in the evening, Gurdaspur SSP Lok Nath Angra also visited Dhariwal. Punjab Minorities Commission chairman Munawar Masih also addressed a press conference in Gurdaspur urging Christians to maintain peace.

In Bathinda, a large number of Christian men and women - led by the town’s Christian Welfare Association president Father George C. Masih - blocked road and rail traffic. Protesters stopped the Kisan Express at the Bathinda railway station for about an hour.

Later in the day, they marched through town from the Railway Colony Methodist Church to the Main Bus Stand Chowk raising slogans against the “erring” persons and seeking strict action. After reaching the bus stand chowk, they staged a dharna for about an hour paralysing traffic.

Agitators refused to lift the dharna till an officer from the administration came to accept a memorandum.



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