Crackdown on Amritpal: 36 hours on, Sikh protesters keep chokehold on Sohana Chowk
Traffic around busy intersection on Airport Road thrown into chaos; pleas from commuters, air passengers fall on deaf ears
Commuters were put to hardship and residents in adjoining sectors remained on the edge as Sikh protesters continued to block the Gurdwara Singh Shaheedan Chowk in Sohana for the second consecutive day on Sunday.
Demanding a report on the whereabouts of Waris Punjab De chief Amritpal Singh and his supporters, who were arrested by Punjab Police on Saturday, protesters, under the banner of Qaumi Insaaf Morcha, refused to budge from the crucial intersection, bringing traffic to a halt.
Police struggled to divert traffic towards Sirhind road and internal roads of adjacent sectors as armed protesters refused to open any route from the crossroad.
While traffic was relatively lower due to it being a Sunday, road users, especially those heading to airport and from Kharar to Zirakpur, faced a hard time. Pleas from commuters and air passengers to let them cross the barricades fell on deaf ears, forcing them to take long detours to reach their destinations.
As protesters maintained their presence on all four roads leading to the chowk, police, along with Rapid Action Force and Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), remained on their toes. Three SP-rank officers, along with DSPs and SHOs, and commandants of paramilitary forces, continued to monitor the situation on the ground.
Several attempts by senior police officers to convince the protesters to end their protest remained unproductive as the fuming mob refused to budge, demanding a list of the 78 people detained by the police.
Some protesters, including women, blocked the service lanes and slip roads around Sohana Chowk by placing stones and bricks in the evening, choking traffic completely.
Members of Budha Dal Nihangs group took out a march from Gurdwara Singh Shaheedan towards Chunni Kalan, Sirhind road, riding horses and four-wheelers, and brandishing swords, spears and other sharp-edged weapons.
While the heavy cavalcade crossed the busy markets across Sohana, police struggled to follow the march on foot.
Protesters, carrying arms, continued to raise slogans against the state government till late at night, while police watched from the sidelines, evoking criticism from residents about police and administration’s failure to maintain law and order, and prevent road blockades.
The protesters had laid siege to the intersection on Saturday evening soon after reports of Punjab Police detaining Amritpal Singh and his supporters started making rounds on Saturday.
“The main issue is that several groups have gathered together at the site and thus there is no prominent face with whom we can indulge in a dialogue to persuade the protesters. Yet, we are carefully monitoring the situation to ensure law and order does not deteriorate further,” said a senior police officer.
Qaumi Insaaf Morcha warns of intensifying stir
Meanwhile, the leadership of Qaumi Insaaf Morcha held a press conference at YPS Chowk, where it has been demonstrating since January 7 for release of Sikh prisoners.
The organisers threatened the Punjab government of intensifying its stir if Amritpal’s exact status was not revealed, even as police maintained that he had not been arrested.
“We don’t want to create any tension in the state and are thus protesting peacefully since long. But the government should immediately share the exact status of Amritpal or the government will be responsible for any further action by the morcha. Moreover, as promised by the state government, Jagtar Singh Hawara should be brought here on his next scheduled court hearing,” said Gurcharan Singh, foster father of Hawara, one of the assassins of former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh.
The morcha has also made nine committees to pursue farmers, labour unions and other prominent unions in Delhi, Haryana and Punjab to join the ongoing protest at YPS Chowk.
Notably, a plea against the blockade by Sikh protesters at YPS Chowk is already pending before the Punjab and Haryana high court that has sought a status report from police by March 22.
Traffic diversions in place
In the wake of the blockade, police have barricaded all four roads leading to the Sohana Chowk.
Traffic coming from Kharar via Airport Road has been diverted from Radha Soami Satsang Centre light point and the Sector 70/71/76/77 light point.
Similarly, traffic coming from Chandigarh has been diverted from Kumbra light point and that coming from airport towards Sohana Chowk, from the Sector 67/68/Sector 79/80 light point.
Suspension of mobile internet derails weekend plans
Suspension of mobile internet services for the second day, especially on a Sunday, made matters worse, with mobile-based payment methods and cab services remaining offline.
Restaurants sales were particularly hit, as residents were unable to place food orders through food delivery apps.
Shruti Kapoor, a resident of Phase 3B2 visiting an ATM, said, “I wanted to head out with my friend on Sunday. But due to suspension of mobile internet, cab services were not working. Adding to our misery, we could not even place food orders online. When we reached an eatery to buy food in person, the shopkeeper demanded cash, as digital payments were not working. So, I have come to the ATM to withdraw cash.”
Darshan Singh, a delivery man, rued that he had not received any business since Saturday because he could not accept deliveries through his phone.
Kulwinder Singh, member of the Mohali Hotel and Restaurants’ Association, said even the dine-in business took a hit due to the ongoing protest. “Residents simply avoided venturing out on Sunday amid the ongoing tension in the city,” he said.
At a fuel station, a poster read that no card or digital payment methods will be accepted, forcing vehicle owners not carrying cash to return empty handed.
Section 144 imposed in Chandigarh
Chandigarh In the wake of the high alert in Punjab over the crackdown against Waris Punjab De chief Amritpal Singh and his supporters, the UT administration has imposed Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in Chandigarh.
The orders will be effective from zero hours on March 20 till midnight of March 22. The administration has earmarked only the Rally Ground in Sector 25 for protests.
The order issued by district magistrate Vinay Pratap Singh added that prior permission must also be obtained for organising any procession, rally, protest, speeches or assembly of five or more people for aforesaid purposes at the Rally Ground.
The DM has also prohibited carrying of all kinds of weapons, including fire arms, lethal weapons, lathis, spears, javelins, tridents, swords, short swords, knuckles, knives and daggers, iron rods, etc., within the limits of the Union territory of Chandigarh.
PU defers festival
For security reasons, Panjab University has also cancelled all functions of the Jhankaar festival that was scheduled from March 20 to 22. The notice in this regard was issued by the office of the dean student welfare (DSW) on Sunday.