Sikh community hardens stand, wants all deras closed


Amritsar : Rejecting regrets expressed by the Dera Sacha Sauda head over a controversy that led to sectarian clashes in Punjab, Sikh clergy and community leaders Sunday demanded the closure of all deras or campuses of various sects in the state.

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The Sikh clergy and community organisations that met at the Akal Takht – the highest temporal seat of the Sikh religion located inside the Golden Temple complex here – announced their decision after a stormy meeting.

Avtar Singh Makkar, president of the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) – the mini-parliament of Sikhs, announced that the state government has been given time till May 27 to order closure of all deras throughout Punjab, failing which the Sikh leadership will decide further course of action May 31.

The Sikh organisations also called for a Punjab shutdown Tuesday to protest against Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmit Ram Rahim's portrayal of himself in the manner of 10th Sikh Guru Gobind Singh – an issue over which Sikhs and sect followers clashed for five days from Monday, killing one and injuring more than 100.

In another development, the Punjab police Sunday registered a case against the sect chief for offending religious sentiments of the Sikhs by likening himself to the last Sikh guru.

The Sikh leadership also rejected the regrets expressed by the sect chief late Saturday over the controversy.

The Sikh clergy had Thursday given a 72-hour ultimatum to the state government to arrest the sect chief based at Sirsa town in neighbouring Haryana.

Hardline Sikh elements like the Damdami Taksal and others pressurised the Sikh clergy to take a hard stand on the issue.

The latest decision was likely to embarrass the Akali Dal-led Parkash Singh Badal government in the state. Moderate Sikh leaders said it was impossible to shut down all deras as it was socially and legally not feasible and could put the Badal government in a spot.

The Akali Dal is considered close to the Akal Takht, SGPC and other Sikh leaders and organisations.

Punjab has several sects with millions of followers, especially from the lower strata of society comprising all religions.

Earlier, tension and high drama was witnessed outside the venue of the meeting when a policeman was caught by Sikh volunteers with a revolver. Carrying of firearms, including that by security personnel, is banned inside the complex.

The police official was in plain clothes when he was surrounded by angry Sikh volunteers inside the Golden Temple complex – which houses the holiest of Sikh shrines, Harmandar Sahib.

He was beaten up by the volunteers and later rushed to a hospital even as the top Sikh religious leadership was meeting inside.

A group of temple volunteers also clashed with some media persons inside the complex, injuring a few media persons who alleged their cameras and other equipment were damaged by volunteers armed with swords and sticks.