Mumbai Sikhs hold protests, demand action against Dera chief (Second Lead)

June 21st, 2008 - 5:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Mumbai, June 21 (IANS) Thousands of Sikhs blocked railway tracks, damaged a station and observed a shutdown in parts of Mumbai Saturday to protest the killing of a member of the community by the Dera Sacha Sauda sect chief’s bodyguards. They vowed to continue “peaceful” protests until the culprits were brought to book. Around 5,000 Sikhs 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.

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.

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.

Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil appealed to the Sikh community to refrain from violence and has convened a high-level meeting in the evening to resolve the issue.

Following an appeal by Patil, the Sikhs have decided not to indulge in any kind of violent protests, a Congress Sikh leader said.

“We have not called off the agitation. It will continue peacefully on Gandhian principles. We will wait for the state government’s decision this evening,” Charan Singh Sapra, Congress legislator from Mulund, told IANS.

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

Earlier, Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh also appealed to the Sikhs to maintain calm and announced a compensation of Rs.200,000 for the victim’s family.

Mulund and neighbouring suburbs of northeast Mumbai were tense earlier in the day 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.

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

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