05/22/2007, 00.00
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Sikh unrest continues in Punjab

by Nirmala Carvalho
Disturbances continue as a general strike shuts it down the Indian state today. Appeals by a DSS spokesman and Punjab’s chief minister for calm go unheeded. Police is deployed across the state.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Sikh high priests called a state-wide general strike in Punjab today, whilst the Akal Takht in Amritsar, one of the most venerated institutions in the Sikh faith, called for the closure of all Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS) campuses by May 27. Both demands were made in a hukumnana or religious edict read out today by the Akal Takht Chief Jathedar Joginder Singh Vedanti after a meeting of Sikh clergy and leaders of various Sikh organisations.

Protest continues after a week of widespread violence claimed one life and wounded around 50. The row was sparked when the DSS leader appeared in an advert dressed like Guru Gobind Singh.

The Akal Takht edict demanded India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into charges of sexual exploitation levelled at the Dera chief. It also called for the investigation into his involvement in the murder of Sirsa journalist Ram Chandra Chhatrapati be expedited and a report submitted to the Punjab and Haryana High Court by May 30.

Reacting to the hukumnama, DSS chief spokesman Aditya Insaan said that “vacating the deras (sect campuses) was out of question.”

Security has been tightened across the state with Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal vowing that peace will be maintained at any cost.

Thousands of soldiers have been deployed. The Border Security Force (BSF) and the Punjab police have virtually fortified all sect campuses, particularly the Salabatpura campus, home to more than 40,000 sect followers. Fearing possible violence by outraged Sikhs, barricades have also been set up around the headquarters of the DSS.

The DSS on Monday appealed to India’s President A P J Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to mediate the crisis and help solve their tangle with the Sikhs in the best interests of the country.

In appeal made in the media, Dera's spokesman Insaan urged the Punjab government to observe ‘Raj Dharma.’ He noted that the DSS chief had expressed his regret for what happened and asserted that there was no intention on his part to show any disrespect to Sikh Guru Gobind Singh.

For its part, the BJP has warned that it held the Chief Minister responsible for anything that goes wrong in the state.  

Meanwhile the situation remains tense. At least ten persons, including Ambala Superintendent of Police Amitabh Dhillon and two constables, were injured in stone throwing outside Gurdwara Badshah Bagh when about 500 Sikhs clashed with police.

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