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Caste clash erupts in Jalandhar, 2 dead

Chandigarh, June 6: Sectarian violence spilled on to the streets of Jalandhar for the first time since Independence after Jats clashed with Dalits in Talhan village on the outskirts of the city late last evening over a dispute at a religious function.

Violence and arson spread to the Buta Mandi area in the heart of the city today, leading to the death of at least two persons. Over 20 people have been injured in police firing and lathicharge. The condition of four of them is stated to be critical.

“The situation is tense in the city but under control. Curfew has been clamped. Apart from sporadic incidents, the situation is under control,” senior superintendent of police Virender Kumar said.

Jalandhar mayor Surinder Mahey said efforts were being made to check the spread of violence to other districts. “One person died yesterday, another succumbed to injuries in hospital today,” he added.

The trouble began when Dalit youths entered a fair organised by the Jat community in Talhan village. “They gathered near the women’s enclosure and allegedly began teasing Jat girls. This prompted the authorities to announce on the loudspeaker that the group was not welcome and should move away from the enclosure. Refusal to do so ended in a clash between the Dalits and Jats,” a police officer said.

Later, local Dalit leaders went to Buta Mandi and delivered fiery speeches vowing revenge, which resulted in arson and clamping of indefinite curfew, he added.

The mob torched two trucks in the area while two buses were set ablaze in the Maksoda locality.

Punjab has witnessed sectarian violence for ages but, till yesterday, it had remained confined to villages and small pockets. A social boycott of Dalits by Jats for allegedly disregarding a gurdwara in Talhan had sparked tension for the past few months. The village is Dalit-dominated but the Jats enjoy control over the gurdwara.

“It was mostly over the control of a gurdwara. The situation was so tense in the village that the Dalits had even sought the intervention of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes on the matter. What has happened was expected as the government never took notice about it nor were any precautions taken. After all, the government is Jat-dominated,” Talhan resident Cheeku Singh said.

The government deployed the CRPF in Buta Mandi, also a Dalit-dominated area, early today after residents took to the streets, brandishing swords and lathis to protest the killings.

They torched four vehicles and ransacked as many houses belonging to the upper castes.

A district official said violence spread in the morning following demands to deploy the CRPF and suspend the police officers responsible for yesterday’s firing.

“The locals had been demanding that Punjab police personnel be removed from their area. They have alleged that the policemen dragged innocents out from their homes and mercilessly beat them,” the official said.

Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh today ordered a magisterial inquiry into the violence in Talhan.

At a high-level emergent meeting here today, he constituted a five-minister committee to visit the village and assess the situation on the spot. The administration has also been directed to take measures to prevent further violence.

Communal harmony, amity and peace would be maintained at all costs in the state, the chief minister promised.

Amarinder, who was scheduled to visit the city to participate in a religious festival today, cancelled his programme.

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