Dera-Sikh clashes: Tension mounts in Punjab, 1 killed

Dera-Sikh clashes: Tension mounts in Punjab, 1 killed
Chandigarh, May 17 (PTI) One person was today killed in a clash between Dera Sacha Sauda followers and Sikhs near Sunam in Sangrur district as tension mounted in Punjab after Sikh high priests called for a social boycott of the controversial religious group for allegedly insulting Guru Gobind Singh.

At least 22 people were injured in sporadic incidents of violence, most of them attacks on Dera properties by Sikh protestors even as thousands of Sikhs laid siege to a Dera ashram in Salabatpura in Bhatinda district.

The Centre rushed paramilitary forces to Punjab and Sirsa in Haryana, where the Dera, which claims to have Sikh, Hindu and Muslim followers, has its headquarters. Its spokesman issued a veiled threat tonight that the Dera's supporters could not be kept in check if attacks on them in Punjab were not stopped.

Five high priests, who met at Talwandi Sabo Gurdwara near Bhatinda, gave the Punjab government time till May 20 to act against the Dera for its "anti-Sikh activities". After this, Sikhs would be "forced to act against the Dera", they warned.

Sangrur resident Kamaljit Singh was shot dead at a Dera ashram near Sunam that was attacked by Sikhs returning from Talwandi Sabo. He was among the mob that attacked the Dera.

A group of 100 Sikh missionaries, also returning from Talwandi Sabo, attacked a Dera property at Ram Nagar near Maur Mandi in Bathinda district, injuring 22 people, including a policeman. One of the injured was seriously hurt.

The Sikhs demolished the walls of the property, damaged vehicles and attacked male followers while sparing the women. Some 80 policemen were deployed in the area but allegedly did nothing to save the Dera followers.

In Mansa, a chowk named after the Dera was demolished.

Chandershekhar described reports on TV channels about the vacation of Dera properties as a "misinformation campaign" and said no such orders had been issued. Police were taking steps to ensure the safety of a large number of Dera properties in the state, he said.

The Centre, which said it was closely monitoring the situation, asked the governments of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan to keep security forces on alert to prevent any flare-up of violence.

At the meeting in Talwandi Sabo, the high priests authorised the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee (SGPC), the apex religious body of Sikhs, to check activities of the Dera and its followers in Punjab.

Sikh protestors organised marches at several places, including Patiala, Karnal and Yamuna Nagar, and a partial bandh was observed in the Sikh holy city of Amritsar. The shutdown was complete in the walled city around the Golden Temple.

Leaders of the Dera, after a meeting held at their headquarter at Sirsa in Haryana, expressed anguish at the call for a social boycott issued by the Sikh priests and said the move would divide society.

Dera head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh purportedly appeared in the attire of the 10th Sikh guru in an advertisement in some newspapers, sparking clashes between Sikhs and Dera followers in Punjab, Rajasthan and New Delhi over the past three days.

A report from Sirsa said a large number of its followers had gathered at its headquarters apprehending an attack by Sikhs. The Haryana government sought 10 companies of paramilitary forces from the Centre as a "precautionary measure".

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