Punjab bans carrying firearms as state remains tense


Chandigarh/Bathinda : The Punjab government Friday banned the assembly of five or more people, and carrying of firearms at public places throughout the state following sectarian violence between Sikhs and followers of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect in the last four days.

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Chief Secretary Ramesh Inder Singh issued instructions to all deputy commissioners and the district police chief to take measures to maintain peace in their respective areas. They have been asked to keep a close watch on anti-social elements taking advantage of the volatile situation in the state.

District authorities have also been directed to organise peace meetings of various community leaders and groups to prevent any inter-community and inter-group clashes.

This follows heightened tension in the state when tens of thousands of members of the Sikh community and followers of the sect came face to face Thursday night in their fight over faith.

The Sikh community is upset that the sect chief Baba Gurmit Ram Rahim attired himself on the lines of 10th Sikh guru Gobind Singh.

The ruling Akali Dal called its meeting of its political affairs committee (PAC) here Friday to discuss the situation.

The Sikh clergy and other organizations gave an ultimatum to the state government to arrest the sect chief by Sunday. The opposition Congress is also holding its meeting of legislators here to chalk out further course of action.

Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal's government has drawn flak from all quarters for its inept handling of the situation and letting it aggravate.

Tension and confusion prevailed through most parts of Punjab and areas of neighbouring Haryana Friday as the fight over faith between the Sikh community and followers of Dera Sacha Sauda sect entered the fifth day.

With one man, Kamaljit Singh, being killed in firing outside one of the sect campuses in Sunam town, 180 km from here, Thursday night, the situation looked all the more volatile.

Kamaljit was one of the Sikhs coming back from the Sikh religious meeting at Takht Damdama Sahib at Talwandi Sabo, 50 km from here, when the Sikh clergy called for complete social boycott of Dera Sacha Sauda followers and their godman Gurmit Ram Rahim and also sought his arrest by Sunday. The Sikh mob then attacked the sect campus.

As the police tried to stop the Sikhs from entering the sect campus, Kamaljit was hit by a bullet and died. At least 20 others were injured in the Sunam incident.

Tight security arrangements were being made in the cotton-rich Malwa belt in south Punjab as Kamaljit is to be cremated later Friday and tempers are likely to run high.

Security forces have been stationed outside all properties of the sect in Malwa belt where it has a huge following of lower strata people from all religions.

Elsewhere in Punjab, police resorted to firing in the air in Ludhiana rural district Thursday to prevent Sikhs and sect followers from clashing.

There have been widespread protests by Sikhs across Punjab and elsewhere in the country against the sect chief who has maintained that he has done nothing intentionally or any wrong to seek forgiveness.

Sikhs armed with traditional weapons, bricks and sticks had started dispersing from the sect's biggest campus in Punjab at Salabatpura, 30 km from here, after police was deployed in good numbers.

Tens of thousands of people from both sides were involved in a stand-off Thursday night as Sikh activists wanted to raze the 150-acre sect campus at Salabatpura.

In Sirsa town in neighbouring Haryana, thousands of sect followers continued to assemble at the sect headquarters – waiting for their godman and the sect management to give them further orders.

The Centre has sent 42 companies of paramilitary forces for security deployment in Punjab and 10 companies in Haryana.