Punjab orders probe into Ludhiana violence, 1 dead

Hard-line Sikhs clashed with police in Ludhiana over a satsang by Ashutosh Maharaj of Dera Noormahal.

Ludhiana: The Punjab government on Saturday evening ordered a magisterial probe into violent incidents in this industrial city that left one person dead and over 15 injured in a clash between police and Sikh protesters who tried to disrupt a religious conference of controversial sect leader Ashutosh Maharaj.

Police fired in the air and lobbed teargas on Sikh protesters who tried to attack the conference venue, located on the Ludhiana-Chandigarh highway.

One person was killed Saturday in police firing near Samrala crossing on the Ludhiana-Chandigarh highway. The victim was identified as Darshan Singh. At least two others were in serious condition.

Kanwarpal Singh, a leader of radical Sikh organization Dal Khalsa, told IANS that the police firing was unprovoked.

"They suddenly opened fire as we were proceeding to the venue of the conference," he said.

But police blamed the protestors for indulging in violence.

"We tried to stop them but they attacked the police and tried to forcibly cross the barricades. They had come with full preparation and were carrying sticks and swords. To control the situation, police had to fire in the air to disperse the mob," a police officer said.

At least 10 vehicles, including those of the police, were also damaged by the protesters.

"Ludhiana is simultaneously facing two problems. One is the migrants` agitation and other is the Sikh protests at the venue of Ashutosh Maharaj`s function," Inspector General of Police (Jalandhar Zone) Sanjeev Kalra, told the news agency.

"To control the situation at the venue of this function, we have deployed senior officials there," he added.

Conservative Sikhs oppose the teachings of Ashutosh Maharaj, who heads the Divya Jyoti Jagran Sansthan (DJJS), based in Noormahal near Jalandhar.

Tight security arrangements had been made by the police for Saturday`s conference in view of rising tension between the two sides.

The sect leader, who addressed the conference for a few minutes Saturday, later left the venue on police advice. The second day of the conference Sunday has been called off as the instance of the district administration.

The city had witnessed violence Friday also after hundreds of migrants went on a rampage and set 23 vehicles on fire to protest Punjab Police`s inaction against robbers who were targeting them in recent months.

Curfew was imposed in five police station visions on Friday. Curfew was relaxed in three of these divisions Saturday from 8.30 am. till 5 pm.

Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal described the violence and the casualty as "most unfortunate and painful".

Badal asked people to maintain peace in the state.

Ludhiana, the industrial hub of Punjab, is around 110 km from the state capital Chandigarh.