Special Correspondent

One dies in police firing on protesting Sikhs; Badal orders probe

Sikhs were opposing a congregation of Divya Jyoti Jagran Sansthan

They were annoyed over a previous remark by the controversial godman

LUDHIANA / CHANDIGARH: Punjab’s industrial capital, Ludhiana, continued to be tense for the second consecutive day on Saturday after at least one person was killed and nearly dozen were injured when the police and security personnel opened fire and used force to disperse a large group of protesters from the Sikh community opposing a congregation of Divya Jyoti Jagran Sansthan chief Ashutosh Maharaj near Samrala Chowk along Grand Trunk Road.

Appealing to the people to maintain peace and communal amity, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has ordered a probe into the incident. He expressed anguish at the loss of life and damage to property and directed free medical treatment for the injured.

Meanwhile, the situation arising out of protests by migrant labourers that rocked the city on Friday was calm on Saturday. However, the authorities were forced to impose curfew in the entire city as protests by Sikh groups in various colonies began to increase.

Trouble broke out in the morning when the police stopped a group of Sikh protesters, some of them brandishing swords, about one kilometre from the DJJS congregation, where a group of youths led by the youth wing of the BJP had also gathered to prevent any attempt at disruption.

The Sikh protesters were annoyed over a previous remark by the controversial godman who runs his outfit from Nur Mehal town in Jalandhar district.

The angry group was led by members of the Sikh Sant Samaj and some radical leaders including the former Akal Takht Jathedar Bhai Jasbir Singh Rhode, chief of the conservative religious seminary Damdami Taksal, Bhai Harnam Singh, convenor of the Khalsa Action Committee, Bhai Mokham Singh and activists of Dal Khalsa.

Cane charge

In the clash that ensued, the police failed to disperse the protesters despite a cane charge and use of tear-gas. Finally the security forces opened fire resulting in the death of 45-year-old Darshan Singh.

Meanwhile, Dal Khalsa spokesman Kanwarpal Singh denied that the protesters had gone violent.

He said the police resorted to unprovoked firing, which according to him was a repeat of the incident of Baisakhi Day in 1978 when Nirankari activists had allegedly opened fire killing 13 Sikh protesters, leading to an era of violence in the State. “Even then Mr. Badal was the Chief Minister,” he said.

During his present tenure in office since 2002, Mr. Badal’s government has had to face communal disturbances for the third time.

Earlier the Sikhs groups were in arms against the head of the Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda for imitating Guru Gobind Singh and later members of Dera Sachkhand at Ballan in Jalandhar went on the rampage last year when a senior preacher was assassinated by suspected militants in Austria.