Punjab on standstill during Dera row strike (Lead)

June 25th, 2008 - 8:29 pm ICT by IANS  

Chandigarh, June 25 (IANS) Thousands of commuters were stranded for several hours in many parts of Punjab and in some parts of Haryana after protesting Sikh activists Wednesday stopped trains and blocked highways seeking the arrest of controversial Dera Sacha Sauda sect chief Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh. The protest was triggered by the killing of a Sikh youth, Balkar Singh, outside a shopping mall in Mumbai by the Dera chief’s security guards Friday.

Four trains were stopped by Sikh activists in Amritsar district early Wednesday morning, forcing railway authorities to cancel several other trains. The Amritsar-Delhi Shatabdi Express was also stopped for several hours.

Trains were also stopped by Sikh protesters at Jalandhar, Patiala, Sirhind, Abohar and Bathinda in Punjab and in Ambala, Sirsa and other places in Haryana. A freight train was stopped near Fatehgarh Sahib in Punjab, about 60 km from here.

The state police and central security forces remained mute spectators as protesters blocked railway tracks and highways.

However, no major incidents of violence were reported from any part of both states.

The call for protests against the sect chief was given by radical Sikh organizations owing allegiance to the Sant Samaj. These include organizations like Damdami Taksal, Khalsa Action Committee and the Akali Dal (Amritsar).

Punjab Police said it had made elaborate security arrangements across the state to prevent the protests from turning violent.

“We have a train to catch from New Delhi in the evening to go to Lucknow. But we are stuck at Jalandhar itself. I don’t know what will happen now,” a visibly upset Manju said as she waited with her two children for her train to proceed.

Protestors also blocked national highways at several places.

The Ludhiana-Chandigarh and Ludhiana-Malerkotla highway was blocked for several hours. Highways were blocked near Patiala, Bathinda, Amritsar and Jalandhar in Punjab. The highway near Sirsa and Ambala were also blocked.

The protestor shouted slogans like “arrest the rapist baba” and “Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal”.

The Delhi-Lahore bus was also stopped by the protesters at the Beas town, near Amritsar. The bus later resumed its onward journey.

Security around the sect’s campuses, especially the biggest campus in Punjab at Salabatpura in Bathinda district, was beefed up last week itself fearing attacks from Sikh activists.

In neighbouring Haryana, the police remained on high alert - particularly in Sirsa town where the headquarters of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect are located - following a protest call by the Sikh community.

Two companies of the Rapid Action Force, personnel of the Haryana Police and the Border Security Force (BSF) were stationed in and around the town to prevent any untoward incident.

The sect chief himself was confined to his headquarters after he had to fly in a chartered helicopter Monday from Delhi fearing attacks from the Sikh community if he travelled by road.

The sect chief enjoys the highest Z-plus security cover from the police despite being accused of two murder conspiracy cases and one case of rape in a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Ambala.

The sect chief had got into a row with the Sikh community last May after he attired himself like 10th Sikh guru Gobind Singh at a religious ceremony of his sect.

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