Curfew in Bhikhi after violent clash
Bhikhi (Mansa), January 2
It was a free-for-all as radicals hurled stones at police personnel, who countered them by resorting to firing, lathicharge, throwing bricks, lobbing tear gas shells and using water cannons.
In the violent episode that lasted for over an hour, a large number of radicals and policemen, including their senior officials, sustained injuries. As the rampaging Sikh radicals started damaging police vehicles, the police retaliated in the same way and damaged a number of tractors belonging to the hardliners.
Though the IG (Bathinda zone), the DIG (Bathinda range), the SSP (Mansa) and the AIG (Intelligence) led the force from the front, policemen found themselves outnumbered and were forced to go on the back foot.
Tension had been simmering in the town for the past two days, as the hardliners, under the leadership of Sant Baljeet Singh Daduwal, had been performing a “samagam” (a religious congregation) in the town. Followers of the Dera Sacha Sauda had expressed apprehension before the police suspecting that he would speak against dera chief Gurmit Ram Rahim. After Daduwal assured the police that he would not speak anything objectionable, the police allowed him to hold the programme.
However, dera followers took an exception to some words that Daduwal used against their religious head on Saturday. Though the timely action by the police averted a clash between them on Saturday, both groups asked their supporters to assemble at Bhikhi today.
As hundreds of dera followers assembled on the main road here this morning, the police, as a preventive measure, rounded up Daduwal from Gurdwara Jandalisar, located near Kotshamir in Bathinda district, and took him to some undisclosed place.
As the information reached Daduwal’s followers, who were waiting for him at the place of congregation, they turned aggressive and started assembling on the road. The situation turned tense when members of both groups started moving towards each other brandishing weapons.
Meanwhile, a contingent of the police force reached the spot and positioned itself between the two groups. Water cannons and anti-riot vehicles were also stationed there to prevent a clash.
As the senior police officials initiated negotiations, dera followers demanded that Daduwal should not enter the town and that the “samagam” should not take place. On the other hand, Sikhs were reluctant to leave the place before the dera followers did so and their leader Daduwal was released.
Somehow, police officials managed to persuade dera followers to return to their places and vacate the road, but hardliner Sikhs, who were getting aggressive, went out of control. After the police officials denied their demand of bringing Daduwal amid them, they turned violent. Initially, they damaged a police vehicle and a shop located nearby.
When the police resorted to lathicharge, they turned more aggressive and started hurling stones at policemen, injuring some of their senior officials also. The policemen then resorted to water cannons, tear gas shells and even retaliated by throwing bricks at radicals.
As the radicals broke into groups and started attacking the police from various corners, streets and even from the roofs of buildings located nearby, police personnel found themselves outnumbered.
Finding the situation turning ugly, the Deputy Commissioner, Mansa, imposed a curfew in the town and the police resorted to firing. The situation was somehow brought under control.
More than 12 Sikh radicals were arrested and Daduwal was not released from the police custody till the filing of this news report. Curfew was prevailing in the town and an operation was still on to arrest other Sikh radicals.
Inspector-General of Police (Bathinda zone) Nirmal Singh Dhillon said, “As the operation is still on, the actual number of those arrested and those who sustaining injuries cannot be confirmed.”