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Sikh clergy asks community to boycott dera sect chief

Talwandi Sabo (Punjab), May 17 (IANS) The top Sikh clergy Thursday asked the community to socially boycott the Dera Sacha Sauda sect and its chief Baba Gurmit Ram Rahim, a decision termed as “too mild” by several Sikhs here.

The boycott decision, taken at a meeting of Sikh clergymen and heads of various Sikh organisations at Takht Damdama Sahib gurudwara here (over 250 km from Chandigarh), led to an immediate reaction from thousands of Sikhs who had gathered here seeking a decision against the dera (sect) chief.

Brandishing their traditional ‘kirpans’ (dagger) and other weapons and sticks, the Sikhs outside the meeting venue said the decision was too mild and had let off the dera godman without much punishment.

The Sikh leaders also served a 10-day ultimatum on the Akali Dal government in Punjab led by Parkash Singh Badal to check the anti-Sikh activities of the dera and its followers.

They directed the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) – the mini-parliament of the Sikh religion – to keep a close watch on the sect’s activities in Punjab and elsewhere.

The meeting demanded registration of cases against the dera followers who were involved in rioting in Bathinda, 50 km from here, Monday and Tuesday. They sought the arrest of the dera followers involved in the violence.

The Akal Takht – the highest temporal seat of Sikh community – had called for a meeting of the community here to decide on the reaction of the Sikh community to Gurmit Ram Rahim attiring himself like the revered 10th Sikh guru, Gobind Singh.

Punjab remained tense Thursday following three days of clashes involving Sikh community and members of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect.

The dera is based in adjoining Haryana’s Sirsa town, 300 km from here, where the dera management and followers have called a parallel meeting.

Even as the news of the decisions came, Punjab remained tense and Sikh leaders and activists said they would not settle for anything less than the arrest of the dera godman and an apology from him.

In Haryana’s Karnal town, 130 km from state capital Chandigarh, dera followers were cane-charged by police after they tried to move towards a gurudwara (Sikh shrine).

Tension prevailed in the Sikh holy city of Amritsar and Patiala as Sikh activists took to the streets Thursday and forced shops to down shutters.

“We want the arrest of this man. We are capable of teaching him a lesson,” Taksal chief H.S. Bhindranwale said before the meeting.

Earlier, Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) president Avtar Singh Makkar said that the Sikh clergy would decide the action against the sect head for “showing disrespect to the Sikh religion”.

“We don’t want to negotiate with him. We will not talk to him. He will have to face action. We will not spare him,” Makkar had said.

Punjab has witnessed violence in several towns and cities over the last three days over the matter, leaving over 50 people as well as policemen injured.

Followers of the dera laid siege to Bathinda town Monday and Tuesday and clashed with the police. They damaged public property extensively before retreating.

As a face saving measure aimed at pacifying the Sikh community, the Bathinda police Wednesday night registered cases of violence against over 3,000 dera followers.

Sikhs have taken to the streets in various towns and cities across Punjab and other parts of the country, burning effigies of the sect godman.

Sikh activists resorted to violence in Amritsar and Patiala Wednesday and forced shopkeepers to down shutters.

Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, whose government has been embarrassed by the turn of events in the last three days, said that the state government would not allow anyone to take law and order in their hands.