The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Curfew cover spreads in Punjab

Chandigarh, June 7: Sectarian violence rocked Jalandhar for a third successive day, forcing authorities to clamp curfew in fresh areas.

Jalandhar superintendent of police Rakesh Kaushal said police had been sent to Talhan village and other parts of the city to maintain law and order. “We are taking precautions to ensure that trains are not stopped or stoned,” he added.

Curfew was imposed today at Buta Mandi, Abadpura, Model House, Bhargo Camp and the area between Ravidas and Nakodar square following arson last night.

Trouble began late on Thursday evening when Dalit youths entered a Jat-organised religious fair in Talhan, on the outskirts of Jalandhar. The youths allegedly teased Jat girls, leading to a clash which snowballed into a major confrontation.

Hundreds of Dalits yesterday stopped an Amritsar-bound train for over two hours. They pelted stones, forcing passengers to shut the windows. The train resumed its journey only at 11 pm after police said the track ahead had been cleared.

Jalandhar mayor Surinder Mahey has slammed the police for firing on Dalits on Thursday. “They should have used water cannons and teargas shells. But they resorted to firing, killing two people,” he said. District authorities say only one person, Vijay Kumar, was killed.

Police have booked Punjab BJP vice-president Vijay Kumar Sampla and Jalandhar BSP chief Pawan Kumar Tinoo for attempt to murder, instigating rioting and damaging public property. They are likely to be arrested tonight, a senior police officer said. Forty-five people have been detained for rioting and looting.

The ill-feeling between the two communities in Talhan can be traced back to a Dalit demand for representation on the committee managing the financial affairs of a gurdwara which contains the mazar of Pir Baba Fateh Shah, whom Dalits worship. The 12-member committee is dominated by Jats. Annual offerings at the gurdwara are estimated to be around Rs 5 crore.

The Dalits, who dominate the village, were boycotted five months ago for demanding their “rights”. This led to tension and made the Dalits approach the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The commission asked the then Punjab chief secretary, Y.S. Ratra, to resolve the matter.

Some Jats were booked under the Prevention of Atrocities Act and Prevention of Civil Rights Act, but no arrests were made.

Former chief minister and Shiromani Akali Dal leader Parkash Singh Badal today accused the Amarinder Singh government of having failed to control the violence.

“This government has failed on all fronts. Law and order in the state has deteriorated,” he said.

Akali leader, Manpreet Badal, blamed the chief minister for the violence. “It is a blot on Punjab’s history. Never before has the state witnessed any caste or communal violence. Amarinder should accept responsibility and direct the administration to control the mindless violence,” he added.

Senior Congress leaders accused the Bahujan Samaj Party of instigating Dalits in order derive political mileage. Finance minister Lal Singh said the violence had erupted when talks were on to find an amicable solution to the gurdwara dispute.

The government has alerted the Mansa administration over a similar situation in Dale Singh Wala village. Jats there have boycotted Dalits after the national president of the Dalit Dasta Virodhi Sangathan, Jai Singh Phillaur, told the National Human Rights Commission that his community was being treated like bonded labour.

Dalits there said they were forced to work for more than 12 hours without payment. But Jats say the Dalits refuse to work as farm labourers after receiving payments in advance.

Mansa district police chief, S.S. Srivastava, said the situation was tense. “No group has lodged a formal complaint as yet,” he added.

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