Anti-Dera Sikh protestors halt Mumbai trains, damage station (Lead)

June 21st, 2008 - 4:13 pm ICT by IANS  

Mumbai, June 21 (IANS) A large number of protesting Sikhs blocked railway tracks here for nearly two hours, damaged a station and observed a shutdown in parts of the city Saturday, a day after clashes between Sikhs and bodyguards of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect chief left one person dead and two injured. Members of the community squatted on railway tracks near Mulund station and stopped suburban and long distance train services from 11.30 a.m., causing hardship to thousands of office-goers and college students.

A Central Railway spokesman said the agitators blocked all the four lines and damaged the Mulund railway station. The blockade was lifted after two hours with police help and train services were resumed, he added.

“We are assessing the damage to property at Mulund station and the trains. Normal services have been resumed,” the spokesman told IANS.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh appealed to members of the community to maintain calm and refrain from violence.

On Friday night, one person was killed and at least two were injured when clashes erupted between Sikhs and members of the Dera Saccha Sauda sect at a mall in Mulund. A bodyguard of Dera chief Ram Rahim Singh opened fire during the clash at the upmarket Nirmal Lifestyle Mall and agitating Sikhs immediately took to the streets and blocked traffic.

The victim who was killed in the firing was identified as Malkar Singh, while two passers-by suffered injuries. The Dera chief was said to be present near the mall when the violent incident took place.

Deshmukh Saturday announced a compensation of Rs.200,000 for the victim’s family.

Soon after the train blockade ended, nearly 5,000 angry Sikhs marched to the Mulund police station and staged a peaceful sit-in protest, demanding action against the Dera chief and his supporters.

“The protests will continue till Singh and his men are booked by the police,” said Congress leader Charan Singh Sapra, who is a resident of Mulund.

“The Sikh community is shocked that despite the murderous attack on innocent youths, the Dera members managed to evade the police and escaped,” Sapra told IANS.

Mulund and neighbouring suburbs of northeast Mumbai remained tense Saturday with a shutdown observed since morning. Groups of Sikhs were seen walking the streets, brandishing swords.

All schools and colleges run by the Sikh community remained closed and a shutdown was in place in Sikh majority areas in Thane district like Kalyan and Ulhasnagar.

Stray incidents of violence and stone pelting were reported from different parts of Mulund Saturday morning but there were no reports of casualties, a police official said.

After Friday night’s violence, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal called his Maharashtra counterpart Vilasrao Deshmukh and demanded that those responsible for the firing be arrested.

Moving swiftly, Deputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil ordered an inquiry into the incident.

Meanwhile, security has been beefed up in Sikh-dominated localities of Mumbai, Thane, and Nanded in northeast Maharashtra.

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