State funeral for sect leader as thousands attend in Punjab (Lead)

June 4th, 2009 - 6:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Jalandhar, June 4 (IANS) Thousands of followers of Sant Rama Nand Dass attended the cremation of the slain Dera Sach Khand sect leader at Ballan village near this Punjab city after his body was brought from Vienna amid tight security Thursday.
A contingent of the Punjab police reversed its weapons as the state government extended a state funeral to the sect leader inside the campus of the sect headquarters in Ballan, 15 km from here.

Draped in saffron, the body of Sant Rama Nand Dass, was kept in a glass coffin in an open area of the sect campus for followers to pay their respects.

The Punjab government had sent a chartered aircraft to Vienna from New Delhi Tuesday to bring back the sect head Niranjan Dass and the body of Sant Rama Nand Dass. The Punjab chief minister’s principal secretary D.S. Guru went by the special flight to Vienna.

The body was flown here by a special helicopter from New Delhi Thursday morning.

Sant Rama Nand Dass, 57, was killed and Sant Niranjan Dass injured in an attack on them in a Vienna gurdwara May 24, which triggered massive violent protests in Punjab.

Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, Deputy Chief Minister and Akali Dal President Sukhbir Singh Badal and leaders of other political parties were present at the cremation.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati specially flew to Jalandhar for the cremation.

Thousands of Ravidassias, who are followers of 14th century preacher Sant Ravi Dass, started arriving at the sect headquarters at Ballan village since Wednesday, to pay their last respects to the sect leader. The followers came from Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

Contingents of the paramilitary Border Security Force (BSF) and the Punjab police were stationed in large numbers in and around the sect headquarters. The sect had appealed to its followers to maintain peace.

Areas of central Punjab, especially Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Phagwara, Ludhiana and a few other places had witnessed large-scale violence last week following the Vienna attack on the sect leaders.

Three people died and dozens were injured in the violence that also saw coaches of three trains being set on fire and many cars, trucks and buses being burnt by the protesters.

Public and private property suffered extensive damage during the violence.

Most followers of the Dera Sachh Khand sect are Dalit Sikhs. There has been an undercurrent of resentment by the sect followers against the dominant Jat Sikh community in the past few decades, mainly owing to social disparity between the two.

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