Shutdown over Sikh-Dera row hits Punjab, Haryana (Lead)

July 23rd, 2008 - 9:44 pm ICT by IANS  

Chandigarh, July 23 (IANS) Normal life was paralysed in many towns of Punjab and Haryana Wednesday as a daylong shutdown called by Sikh activists, demanding the arrest of Dera Sacha Sauda sect chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, led to clashes in many places and halted rail and road traffic. Dera supporters clashed with Sikh groups in Haryana’s Fatehabad town. Six people were injured as rival mobs threw stones at each other, a police official said. There was a partial shutdown in the towns of Karnal, Sirsa and Dabwali.

Rail and road traffic in Punjab was severely hit by the state-wide shutdown. Many people had to walk long distances in Jalandhar and other places to reach their destinations as bus services were suspended.

Officials said activists of various Sikh organisations - including Sant Samaj, Damdami Taksal, Buddha Dal and Guru Nanak Dal - blockaded railway tracks in Amritsar district. The protesters also disrupted rail services between Delhi and Punjab and road traffic in Fatehgarh, Phagwara, Bathinda and Moga towns.

The Sikh activists are demanding the arrest of the Dera chief and his bodyguard for allegedly killing three Sikhs - one in Mumbai, one in Dabwali (Haryana) and one in Sonam in Sangrur district (Punjab).

Relations between the followers of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect and Sikh groups have been strained for nearly a year now, after Ram Rahim Singh courted controversy by allegedly impersonating the last Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh.

Damdami Taksal spokesperson Baba Harnam Singh appealed to protesters to remain calm. However, many Sikhs brandishing swords were seen forcibly closing down shops in Bathinda.

In Mohali and Ropar, most shops and educational institutions remained closed. Few people were seen on the roads and only state transport buses were plying.

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