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Caste clash in Punjab: 30 booked for burning a flag in Jalandhar; Phagwara calm now

Members of Shiv Sena Hind gathered at the same spot later and argued with the police for “letting” the Dalits burn the flag.

punjab Updated: Apr 17, 2018 21:57 IST
Parampreet Singh Narula and Jatinder Mahal
Parampreet Singh Narula and Jatinder Mahal
Hindustan Times, Jalandhar/Phagwara
Punjab,Dalits,Shiv Sena
Members of Dalit community burn a saffron flag purportedly symbolising the “upper caste” Hindu right wing — Shiv Sena factions and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh — at Shastri Chowk on Tuesday.(HT Photo)

Four days after caste clashes over renaming of a roundabout in Phagwara, 22km from here, tension gripped the district headquarters Jalandhar on Tuesday as a group of Dalits burnt a saffron flag purportedly symbolising the “upper caste” Hindu right wing — Shiv Sena factions and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — at Shastri Chowk on Tuesday. Police later booked 30 persons, four of them by name, under section 153A (promoting enmity on grounds of religion/race) and other charges as per the Indian Penal Code.

The protest — held over the “role” of “upper caste” groups in clashes that had left at least five Dalits injured — ignited anger among the organisations targeted. Members of an outfit called Shiv Sena Hind gathered at the same spot later and argued with the police for “letting” the Dalits burn the flag. Balli Bindra, a representative of the outfit, said they had “informed” the administration and police that some people were going to try and “create tension between communities” by burning the saffron flag, “but still they allowed them to do so”. “Bhagwa dhwaj (saffron flag) is our pride and a symbol of our religion. By burning it, the Dalits have hurt our religious sentiments. The police should immediately arrest those who did it.”

He also announced that the outfit will hold a paath (prayer) at the spot “for purification”.

Members of the Dalit community had gathered under the banner of the Rashtriya Safai Karamchari Sangathan (national sanitation workers’ organisation). A police team led by assistant commissioner of police (ACP) Satinder Chadha managed to tackle the situation by registering a first information report (FIR) immediately; the named accused are Kazi, Rimmi, Bunty and Khosla, all from Ali Mohalla. Balbir Singh, the station house officer (SHO), said cops are conducting raids to arrest the men. Praveen Kumar Sinha, the commissioner of police (CP), said they have deployed eight companies of paramilitary forces along with the state police to keep a “strict watch” on the law and order situation in the city.

Meanwhile, the situation in Phagwara was returning to normal on Tuesday. No fresh cases of violence were reported and most shops were opened after 11 am. Schools and colleges too remained open, though some private schools opted to stay closed as a precautionary measure. Shopkeepers downed shutters in the Dalit-dominated Subash Nagar, though, as a group of Dalits continued a protest near Valmiki Chowk.

Senior local leaders of the Congress, SAD, BJP and BSP participated in a meeting at Circuit House where local MLA Som Parkash of BJP, Kapurthala district president of Congress Joginder Singh Mann, mayor Arun Khosla of Congress, SAD leader Sarwan Singh Kullar, BSP leader Harbhajan Singh and some others jointly appealed for peace.

“Some people are trying to create tension in the city just to gain political mileage. We all have held a meeting to appeal to all Phagwara residents to not come under the influence of those people,” MLA Som Parkash said. The administration in Phagwara claims to have deployed 2,000 security personnel. Police carried out a mock drill and a flag march too. Deputy commissioner Mohammad Tayyab said that situation is under control, and advised people not to panic in reaction to rumours.

On the investigation front, SSP Sandeep Kumar said the seized revolvers of four arrested Hindu outfit leaders have been sent for forensic examination to know if these were fired in the clash on Friday night. No further arrests were made. Police had booked around 100 people, including 33 by name, for the clash on Friday night.

As for those injured, the condition of a man named Yashwant Bobby, who is undergoing treatment at the DMCH in Ludhiana, is stated to be serious.

(The story has been updated)

First Published: Apr 17, 2018 20:14 IST