Eight people, including the superintendent of police (SP) and his deputy, were injured when a mob clashed with the police following the alleged desecration of Quran in Malerkotla on Saturday night.
Tension gripped the Muslim-majority town after the recovery of torn pages of the Quran outside a cemetery on Khanna Road here. Angry over the sacrilege incident in holy month of Ramadan, a mob attacked residence of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader and chief parliamentary secretary Farzana Nissara Khatoon and her husband, former DGP Izhar Alam, and tried to set their house on fire.
The mob entered the MLA’s house and torched the security personnel’s room. The police had to fire in the air to disperse the protesters. A cross-fire between the cops and the protesters ensued. Nearly 100 bullets were fired. Mob also burnt two buses, 10 private vehicles and ransacked the government property.
Malerkotla SP Jaswinder Singh abd DSP Randhir Singh and Ahmedgarh station house officer (SHO) inspector Roshan Lal were among the eight injured. They were hospitalized, said SSP Prithpal Singh Thind.
The SSP said that five others injured comprised two civilians and three police personnel, namely Surinder Singh, Balwinder Sharma and Darshan Singh, deployed at the MLA’s residence. Before fleeing, the angry mob, threw stones, damaged vehicles and threw petrol bombs to torch the MLA’s house.
Farzana’s official vehicle — Toyota Corolla — was also damaged. The mob also damaged a police Gypsy and a fire tender requisitioned from Sangrur.
Police said 10 cars parked along National Highway No 11 were set ablaze when nearly 500 people, who had gathered to block Jarg Chowk to protest against the incident, turned violent. As news spread, two private buses were burnt in the town’s bus stand, a kilometre away.
“Everyone in the mob was armed with pistols, rifles or stones. Initially, the protesters burnt tyres and damaged vehicles on the highway but then they headed towards Farzana’s house around 11pm amid rumours that policemen posted there had shot a person,” said Siraz, a resident of Sirhindi Gate, who was present on scene. A first information report (FIR) was registered on Siraz’s statement.
The gatekeeper at Farzana’s house, Mohammad Najeed, said the protesters cut the power supply to the house before throwing stones at it and damaging the MLA’s cars. “Police personnel ran for cover. The attackers tried to set a petrol tanker nearby on fire too but couldn’t. After this, they started firing,” Najeed said, adding the police backup reached 40 minutes later. “It was a free for all before that.”
HOW IT ALL STARTED
Tension started after the prayers on the third Friday of the holy month of Ramadan when news spread of torn pages of the Quran being found in a drain in front of the cemetery on Khanna Road. Within minutes the mob gathered.
Punjab Muslim Front chairperson Shehzaad Hussain claimed more than 1,000 pages of two new copies of the holy book were found torn. The pages were later buried in the cemetery.
THREE FIRs, FLAG MARCH
DGP (law and order) Hardeep Singh Dhillon visited the town on Saturday and told reporters that three FIRs had been registered. “The first FIR is related to the sacrilege incident; the second is for the arson and the third for the attack on police personnel,” he said. The police have booked Muslim leaders Mohd Sabir, Mohd Tariq, Munir and 400 unidentified persons for attempt to murder and arson.
SSP Pritpal Singh Thind led a flag march through the town to instil confidence in residents. Police have started procuring closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera footage to identify those involved in the sacrilege incident.
The situation was tense but under control on Saturday.
POLITICAL BLAME GAME
MLA Farzana’s husband Mohd Izhar Alam, who is a former Punjab Police DGP (prisons), alleged that “a local Congress leader” was behind the violence. He refrained from naming the leader but claimed that attackers were sent to create trouble. “The Congress leader spread the rumour that police deployed at my house had shot dead a person. Following this, more than 500 people attacked my house with stones,” Alam claimed, adding this was done with an eye on the assembly elections.
Local Congress leader and former MLA Razia Sultana hit back saying, “If Izhar Alam is holding the Congress responsible for this inhuman act, he must be out of his mind. Instead of appealing for peace, the SAD are making baseless statements. An unbiased police investigation will bring out the truth.”
Alam made Malerkotla his home in 2010 after retirement when he became the Punjab Wakf Board chairman. He would have got the SAD ticket in 2012 but for Sikh hardliners who raked up his controversial tenure during the days of militancy. His wife, Farzana, won the last assembly elections on the SAD ticket after a bitter battle with two-time MLA Razia Sultana, who is backed by her husband and IPS officer Mohammad Mustafa.