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Dera followers go on rampage, 50 people injured

Dera sect followers, angered by alleged insult of their head, clash with cops in Punjab and Akalis in Rajasthan.
PTI | By HT Correspondent, Bathinda
UPDATED ON MAY 18, 2007 03:45 PM IST

Followers of the Dera Sacha Sauda protesting against alleged insult to their head on Tuesday clashed with police in Punjab and Akalis in Rajasthan, leaving at least 50 injured. Most of the injured were policemen.

They, however, called off their protest after authorities in Punjab assured action would be taken against those who burnt the effigy of Dera head Baba Gurmeet Singh Ram Raheem on Monday, sparking clashes between Dera supporters and activists of various Sikh organisations.

The Dera followers on Tuesday went on the rampage in Bhatinda, injuring 20 people and damaging vehicles and buildings.

Police fired in the air and carried out a baton-charge to disperse the protesters after they attacked policemen. The mob also beat up fire brigade personnel and set on fire a police jeep. They then attacked the deputy commissioner's residence and the circuit house where a high-level meeting was in progress.

The incidents came a day after 25 people were wounded in Bathinda in a clash between Dera followers and Shiromani Gurudwara Parbhandhak Committee (SGPC) activists over an advertisement in some newspapers purportedly showing the Dera head distributing 'amrit' (nector) while attired in the dress of Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru.

Dera followers have protested since yesterday against alleged police failure to check the "disgracing" of their master by some Sikhs through actions, such as the burning of effigies.

In Rajasthan, at least 30 people including four policemen were injured and 22 arrested in clashes between Akalis and Dera followers. Prohibitory orders were clamped in Sriganganagar after around 700 people belonging to both sides clashed near the district collectorate.

The tension at several places, including Amritsar, Ludhiana, Ferozepur, Moga and Hoshiarpur, between the followers of the two groups has its roots to recent assembly elections in the state when the political wing of the Sirsa (Haryana)-based Dera extended support to Congress nominees to the disadvantage of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).

On the other hand, supporters of various Sikh organisations burnt effigies of Raheem at several places in Punjab and at Jammu and demanded his arrest.

Meanwhile, supporters of the Dera released a video CD in which their head was shown as saying he wore the dress given to him by a follower and meant no disrespect to any one.

No 'amrit' was distributed among the followers as alleged by some people, he said, adding that only milk mixed with Rooh Afza was given.

SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar in a statement charged the Congress with conspiring to revive terrorism in the state. Congress leader and former Deputy Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, on the other hand, alleged that the SAD-BJP government was not taking any action.

"The photo can be morphed," she said and demanded a probe into the incident.

The Dera had come into limelight after the murder of a Sirsa-based journalist Ram Chander Chatterpatti in 2003 after he allegedly exposed some wrong doings in the Dera. Later on a CBI probe was launched into the killing of Chatterpatti.

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