Villagers in Punjab’s Faridkot district that hit headlines over the desecration of a ‘bir’ or copy of the Guru Granth Sahib in June last year are shocked at the recent attack on a Dera Sacha Sauda follower, saying they have a history of peace.
Pages of the holy book that were stolen from Burj Jawahar Singh Wala’s gurdwara in June last year were found torn at the nearby Bargari village in October. The incident and its aftermath led to violent protests by incensed members of the community in several villages in which two men were killed in police firing.
It’s June again and the village is in the news after a shopkeeper Gurdev Singh was shot at on Monday morning. Police said Gurdev was shot in the head by an unidentified man, who was accompanied by two others, soon after he opened his grocery shop at 5.30am.
He remains in a critical state at Ludhiana’s Dayanand Medical College and Hospital (DMCH).
Gurdev’s shop is located near the gurdwara from where the ‘bir’ was stolen. A follower of Dera Sacha Sauda, he was named as an “accused” for the theft and desecration by a committee of protesters that also comprised radical Sikh leaders last June.
Sikh radicals and the Sirsa-based Dera have a bloody history of conflict.
The theft-desecration case remains unsolved even as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) declared a reward of Rs 10 lakh for information.
Living in fear
Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) leader Surjit Singh Rayianwala, who was the member of the committee formed by Sikh agitators last June, declared the list of “suspects” or “accused”.
Besides Gurdev, the village gurdwara’s granthi (priest) Gora Singh, his wife Swaranjeet Kaur, Gurjant Singh, Ranjit Singh and Sukhwinder Singh were named in the list.
The five other people named on the list of “accused” now fear for their lives amid speculations even as police grope in the dark about the identity of those who attacked Gurdev.
Gora told Hindustan Times, who claimed that no one from the village raised a finger at him until now, he finally had begun to feel normal after a year of upheaval.
“But the attack on Gurdev has shaken my life,” he said.
‘Outsiders to blame’
Gurjant, a retired army subedar and a member of the panchayat, said his name was put on the list as he was involved in stopping the radicals from entering the village after the incident last year.
“People from outside the village involved in petty politics have tried to harm the social fabric here,” Gurjant said.
Dilbag Singh, Ranjit’s father, said his son and he too stopped “some outsiders” from assaulting a villager at the gurdwara.
“So they decided to take revenge and got my son’s name on the list,” he claimed.
Jasvir Singh, 70, claimed a murder was committed in the village in 1961 and no case of violence was reported until June last year.
Superintendent of police (SP), detective AS Sandhu backed the claim and said the village has not seen even a case of preventive arrest.
“Issues here are generally resolved with consensus,” the SP said.
Unlike many other places, the village has one gurdwara and one cremation ground for all castes.
“That may be an issue in other parts of the state, but in our village there is no enmity among followers of any sect,” Jasvir said talking about the Dera-radical Sikh row.
Granthi Gora Singh added that Dera followers and people of other sects regularly donated to the gurdwara.
Senior superintendent of police (SSP) SS Mann seconded the views of the villagers and stated that residents here were law-abiding.
The village now has a heavy deployment of police personnel requisitioned from various districts, including Patiala, Jalandhar, Muktsar and Moga, besides anti-riot forces. SSP Mann has been camping in the village since Monday.
Cops face questions
Followers of the Dera Sacha Sauda are agitated after the attack on Gurdev and accused police of not acting.
A group of followers gathered at a congregation hall at nearby Kote Hazura Singh village on Wednesday.
Mahender Pal, a member of the state committee of the Dera, said that police were slow to react “even after I called SSP Mann within minutes of the attack”.
No checkpoints were put up to catch the attackers, he alleged.