Punjab calm, para military forces conduct flag marches

After being on the boil for about a week over sacrilege incidents and police firing, Punjab was peaceful on Thursday.

Chandigarh: After being on the boil for about a week over sacrilege incidents and police firing, Punjab was peaceful on Thursday even though some places witnessed tension and para military forces conducted flag marches in various parts of the state.

Sikh organizations, not satisfied with the government's measures, announced setting up of a 'Peoples Commission' to probe sacrilege incidents, police firing in Faridkot's Behbal Kalan village where two people were killed and alleged police excesses on Sikhs in the state.

Rapid Action Force (RAF), along with police, carried out flag marches in various parts of Phagwara where tension was witnessed when groups of Sikhs and Hindus came face to face, brandishing swords and sticks, police said.

A possible clash was, however, averted by the timely intervention of police.

Hindu hardliners were objecting to blocking of traffic on Dussehra festival by Sikh radicals who were staging a dharna on National highway 1 at Hardobingnagar crossing, police said.

A group of Sikh hardliners had blocked traffic to protest incidents of desecration of their holy book Guru Granth Sahib, police said.

In signs of normalcy returning to the state, Sikh protesters today limited their sit-ins to internal roads across the state as a result of which most of the national highways witnessed normal traffic movements.

Ten companies of paramilitary forces and Punjab police personnel kept a tight vigil in the wake of protests by sikh organisations, including hardliners in parts of the state, including Tarn Taran, Amritsar, Jalandhar and Fardikot, police said.

There were protests in Panjgrain village of Faridkot from where the two brothers accused in the sacrilege incident in Bargari village hail as locals claim that they are innocent.

Traffic movement on Harike Pattan bridge at Tarn Taran and Beas in Amritsar has been restored, police said.

Meanwhile, the hardliners among Sikh politicians and religious preachers rubbished the police theory behind the arrest of two brothers for the alleged act of sacrilege in Bargari village.

Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) president Simranjit Singh Mann said it was hard to believe the police until the 'bir' (scriptures) stolen from Burj Jawahar Singh Wala village was recovered and subjected to forensic tests to confirm that pages found in Bargari were from it.

"The police story has gaps," Mann said.

Hardliners alleged that all arrested accused were either baptised Sikhs or gurdwara priests, "none of whom could have done it". They demanded that the case be handed over CBI.

However, initiating proceedings against the former Faridkot Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Charanjit Sharma, the Punjab government has cleared the decks for chargesheeting him on account of negligence in duty and police firing on Sikh activists, who had been protesting sacrilege at Bargari in Faridkot district, official sources said.

Sharma was SSP Faridkot when the holy book was first reported stolen from a gurdwara there but was later posted as Moga SSP.

In view of the seven incidents of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib at various places, Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal again asked all district presidents to organise 'akhand path' (recitation of hymns) in their areas. In several villages of Punjab, posters have come up seeking ban on entry of Akali leaders in their villages in the wake of the incidents of sacrileges and killing of two youths in police firing on October 14.

Locals in Panjgrain Khurd village from where two brothers Jaswinder Singh and Rupinder Singh were arrested for alleged role in sacrilege believe they are innocent.

"The family has a clean past. We stand by them and hope they will come clean. It is unfortunate if they are really involved in the sacrilege incident," said village sarpanch Baldev Singh.

"The family is involved in community welfare works. They help the sick, hold turban tying competitions and motivate village children and others to get baptised. We still do not believe that they are involved in the desecration incident," said Kuldeep Singh, a resident of the village.

Sikh protesters have shifted their dharnas on village roads and state highways and some cities, inclduing Faridkot, Ferozepur, Tarn Taran and Hoshiarpur.

However, officials maintained that "there is peace in the state."

Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his deputy Sukhbir Singh Badal held separate parleys with some SGPC members at Muktsar, sources said.

Punjab is under turmoil after series of desceration of 'birs' at seven Sikh shrines across the state and killing of two youths in police firing at Behbal Kalan in Faridkot district of the state.

Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has been demanding imposition of president rule in the state even as ADGP I P S Sahota said "investigations are under process."

Meanwhile on the occasion of Dusshera today, the scenario this time was different at some places in Punjab as the effigies with pictures of Badal, SGPC chief Avtar Singh Makkar and jathedars of the takhts including Akal Takht were set afire by Sikh protesters in Dhanaula in Sangrur.

Protesters staged dharna on the roadside near Dhanaula bus stand and the effigies were brought there and set afire.

The protesters also staged dharna in front of the office of the Deputy Commission and demanded justice from the government.

They also protested against what they called "framing" of the innocents in the cases of sacrilege by the police.

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