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Shrine tension eases as Taksal activists leave

Chandigarh, June 13: The tension in Punjab, rising since the Jat-Dalit clashes in Talhan on June 5, eased perceptibly this evening when 50-odd Damdami Taksal members vacated the shrine which is in the eye of the storm.

The women among the members of the Taksal — a Sikh seminary once headed by Jarnail Singh — had threatened to immolate themselves if they were evicted.

So far, one person has been killed in police firing in sporadic clashes over the management of the gurdwara in Talhan, when the agitation spread to Jalandhar city and Phagwara.

According to a senior district official, the Taksal activists decided to vacate the gurdwara on the intervention of All India Sikh Students’ Federation president Harminder Singh Gill.

“Gill, along with a Taksal activist Ajaib Singh, entered the gurdwara and held a meeting with those who had taken it over. We do not know of any deal. But the government has finally taken over the gurdwara, 31 hours after it appointed a receiver to control it,” the official said.

Deputy commissioner Ashok Gupta said the takeover was an “interim arrangement” that would be in force till the Jats and the Dalits arrived at a final solution.

Gill had apparently visited Talhan to speak to the villagers when the administration urged him to use his “good relationship” to end the standoff.

The administration was ready with an alternative, too, as it had requisitioned additional police force and put the Rapid Action Force on standby to storm the gurdwara late tonight if the Taksal members had to be evicted.

The state government had appointed the receiver yesterday after its panel of five Dalits and Jats each and three others had failed to reach an amicable settlement to the dispute.

The Damdami Taksal took over the reins of the gurdwara around 11 am yesterday when its granthis (priests) were sent there after the incumbent priests fled in panic following the clashes.

Taksal chief Mokam Singh was arrested for allegedly fanning caste disturbances in the village.

Earlier today, one of the sewadars (volunteers) warned the media over the phone that many of those holed inside the gurdwara would set themselves on fire if police entered the shrine to evict them.

“The situation is tense but under control. We are not making any moves that could result in major trouble in other parts of the state,” a Jalandhar district official said late tonight.

Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee chief Kirpal Singh Badungar criticised the appointment of the state receiver, saying the government was trying to interfere in Sikh religious affairs. “Do not play with fire,” he warned.

Akali sources said the day’s developments did not signal an end to the dispute. “We have never wanted to enter the dispute with Dalits. Now that the Congress government has taken charge of the gurdwara, the responsibility lies with them to resolve it,” a senior Akali leader said.

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