Police get cracking after 3 days, clear Sohana Chowk of Amritpal supporters
Police arrest 25 protesters after they clashed with sewadars of Gurdwara Singh Shaheedan, who had been urging them to lift the blockade from the busy intersection; sharp-edged weapons seized
Three days after supporters of Waris Punjab De chief and radical Sikh leader Amritpal Singh laid siege to the crucial Sohana Chowk, holding traffic to ransom, police finally moved in on Tuesday and got the blockade cleared.
Nearly 25 protesters were arrested and five cops were injured during the crackdown that began at 11.30 am and continued till 2 pm, before traffic movement at the major intersection was restored.
Police also seized a cache of weapons, including swords, spears, axes, farm tools and lathis, that the agitators had been brandishing brazenly at the chowk for three days since the Punjab Police launched an operation against Amritpal and his supporters on March 18.
Among the injured were SP (Rural) Navreet Singh Virk, who said the injury was inflicted by protesters with sharp-edged weapons. Sohana SHO Rajiv Kumar also suffered injuries on the chest and right hand. Besides, two female constables were hurt while trying to clear the blockade.
The police action came after the management of Gurdwara Singh Shaheedan, panchayat members of nearby villages and residents living in the vicinity approached the Mohali SSP and deputy commissioner against the blockade.
In the morning, the gurdwara staff had urged the armed protesters to clear the road, as the protest was preventing devotees from visiting the place of worship and causing panic in the area.
Though Punjab Police had stepped up security in Mohali to tackle any eventuality since the crackdown on the separatist leader, they got into action after 11.30 am when the group backed by Gurdwara Shaheedan Sahib approached the protesters, urging them to remove their tent and clear the road.
An argument ensued and the protesters got into a scuffle with the group backed by the gurdwara, following which its sewadars (staff) removed the tents. But women and elderly men refused to budge. It was then that the police swung into action and removed the barricades on both sides of the road.
Cop injured while rescuing journalist
After removing stones and cement blocks that were used to block the road, the police opened the crossing for traffic to ply in a phased manner. But soon a group of armed youngsters landed up, stalling the traffic again. A scuffle broke out after they surrounded a journalist. A policeman ran to his rescue and was injured on the face.
Senior police officials approached the protesting group and told them to remove the blockade. When they did not comply, nearly 150 police personnel surrounded the protesters and began apprehending them. They were taken away in buses and police pick-up vehicles stationed nearby.
First, women cops took away female protesters, after which police removed the tent and carried away protest paraphernalia, including bamboo sticks, iron rods and tarpaulin. Thereafter, the police apprehended the male protesters and took away their weapons.
SP Virk said for four days, the devotees could not enter the gurdwara due to which food being prepared for langar (community kitchen) was going waste.
SP (City) Akashdeep Singh Aulakh said the gurdwara management had been urging the protesters to end their unlawful agitation since Monday evening, but in vain. It was when both groups clashed that the police intervened and cleared the crossing.
“There was no lathi-charge or use of force to remove the protesters. Some of the protesters showed resistance, so they were picked up and taken to police stations,” Aulakh said.
Commuters, residents heave sigh of relief
As normal traffic resumed at the intersection around 2 pm, residents, shopkeepers and commuters heaved a sigh of relief.
“For three days, we were living in fear of violence. We couldn’t step out of our houses as the protesters had laid siege to the crossing since Saturday,” said a resident of Sector 70.
Shopkeepers in the vicinity said business had come to a standstill due to the blockade. “Since Saturday, there were no customers due to the protest and security restrictions. No one could visit this area. We had also urged the protesters to shift the blockade, as we were incurring losses, but they refused,” said a shopkeeper, requesting anonymity.
Gaurav Gupta, a commuter, said office-goers like him were facing a harrowing time taking detours to reach work in time, while returning home from office had also become a Herculean task for the past three days.
Meanwhile, the Punjab government on Wednesday will be submitting a status report on steps taken for the removal of protesters from YPS Chowk near the Chandigarh-Mohali border, where the Qaumi Insaaf Morcha has been protesting since January 7 for release of Sikh prisoners. The matter has been taken to court by an NGO ArriveSAFE, seeking removal of protesters from the site, as the stir is causing unnecessary harassment to residents and commuters.