Protests have rocked Punjab for more than a week, with businesses crippled and schools shut following the desecration of the Sikh holy book, Guru Granth Sahib, being reported from at least seven places.
The controversy and violence have put the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal in the spotlight and hundreds of paramilitary personnel have been deployed to control the situation. Police have arrested two Sikh brothers with alleged links to foreign-based radicals for the first act of desecration in Faridkot district on October 12.
Here are the key reasons for the violent protests and tensions in Punjab:
Dera chief’s pardoning
It started with the Sikh clergy – under the aegis of the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of Sikhs in the Golden Temple – pardoning Gurmeet Ram Raheem Singh, the head of the controversial Dera Sacha Sauda sect on September 24 for an alleged act of blasphemy in 2007.
He had been accused of insulting Guru Gobind Singh by imitating his attire and gestures. Singh had denied the charges in his letter to the Akal Takht.
Takht’s decision angered Sikh groups
The Akal Takht’s edict angered many Sikh organisations, which opposed it and said that the clergy had taken the decision without following the time-old practice of the accused personally appearing before the Akal Takht.
With the Dera controversy still simmering, the desecration of a copy of the Guru Granth Sahib in Bargari village of Faridkot district added to the tensions. On October 14, protests erupted at several places and matters worsened after pages from the holy book were found in Bargari. Police opened fire on protesters, killing two men and injuring several others.
At least seven incidents of sacrilege of the holy book have been reported so far from different parts of Punjab, fuelling protests and road blockades across the state.
Police failed to control protests
Analysts feel the police’s response could have been better. Even three days after the torn-up pages of the holy book were found, the police did nothing to allay apprehensions. The police swung into action only after the protests spread.