Fresh violence in Punjab after sect leader dies in Vienna (Lead)

May 25th, 2009 - 1:11 pm ICT by IANS  

Jalandhar/Vienna, May 25 (IANS) Train bogies were torched at the Jalandhar Cantt station, a key highway blocked and vehicles and shops set afire as large parts of Punjab came to a standstill Monday after news that a top leader of the Dera Sachh Khand sect had died of his injuries following a clash in a Vienna gurdwara.
Armed with sticks, swords, bricks and stones, protestors of the sect, who are from the Dalit Sikh community and followers of Guru Ravidass, came out in large numbers in Punjab’s Doaba belt and tension spread in Jalandhar, Phagwara, Hoshiarpur and Nawanshahr towns.

Sect leader Sant Rama Nand, 57, the second-in-command, died in a hospital in the Austrian capital Vienna Monday following an armed attack involving rival Sikh groups at a gurdwara the previous day, which also left at least 16 people injured.

The condition of the sect head, who was the second guest guru speaking at the Vienna gurudwara, Sant Niranjan Dass, 68, was stable after undergoing emergency surgery, doctors in Vienna said.

The violence that had begun with news of the attack Sunday reignited with Sant Rama Anand’s death. The army and the Border Security Force (BSF) were out in Jalandhar district, about 150 km from the state capital Chandigarh, where curfew had been imposed late Sunday. But rampaging mobs defied curfew to take to the streets.

Many towns in Punjab remained tense Monday morning after a night of violence. Most areas in the state came to a standstill as shops and other commercial establishments did not open Monday morning fearing violence from the sect protestors.

Road and railway traffic was severely affected in Jalandhar district and adjoining areas. Protestors blocked National Highway (NH) No. 1 between Jalandhar and Phagwara at several places. Railway traffic on this busy route between Delhi and Jammu was also crippled.

Vehicles, shops and other property were damaged by the protestors by either setting them on fire or in stone-pelting. Burning tyres and roadblocks could be seen at several places.

Three bogies of a train and expensive railway equipment were set on fire by the protestors at the Jalandhar Cantt railway station. No police personnel was present on the spot when the protestors torched the railway property.

A Tata Sumo vehicle was set on fire by protestors outside the Maqsoodan police station here. There was tension in Rama Mandi and Buta Mandi localities of the city.

Protests and violence was reported from Patiala, Amritsar and Hoshiarpur with government and private property also being damaged in Ludhiana, Patiala and Bathinda.

The Dera Sachh Khand sect has considerable following among Dalit Sikhs across Punjab, especially in the Doaba belt (between rivers Sutlej and Beas).

The ruling Akali Dal in Punjab has called for a shutdown across the state to protest the Vienna incident.

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