Akal Takht wants deras closed, Sacha Sauda says never
May 20, 2007 - 9:49:40 PM

Amritsar, May 20 - The Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of the Sikh religion located in the Golden Temple complex here, Sunday demanded the closure of all Dera Sacha Sauda campuses in Punjab after a controversy over the sect's head led to sectarian clashes in the state.

The closure demand was made in a hukumnama, or religious edict, read out in Punjabi by Akal Takht chief Jathedar Joginder Singh Vedanti after a stormy meeting of Sikh clergy and leaders of various Sikh organisations.

Reacting to the hukumnama, Dera spokesman Pankaj Insaan said that 'vacating the deras - was out of question'.

To counter the hardline stand taken by the Sikh leadership, the sect announced that it will hold blood donation camps by followers starting Monday.

Insaan said sect followers will donate blood and pledge organs and their bodies.

'We will not react with violence. We will seek legal recourse to developments of the day,' he added.

Security has been tightened around all sect campuses in Punjab and its headquarters in Sirsa of neighbouring Haryana.

The Border Security Force - and the Punjab police have virtually fortified all sect campuses, particularly the Salabatpura campus, 30 km from Bathinda in south Punjab's Malwa belt.

The Salabatpura campus, the biggest of its kind in Punjab, is spread over 150 acres and more than 40,000 sect followers live there. There are dozens of other campuses of the influential sect all over Punjab.

Avtar Singh Makkar, president of the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee - - the mini-parliament of Sikhs, announced that the state government has been given time till May 27 to order closure of all deras throughout Punjab, failing which the Sikh leadership will decide further course of action May 31.

The Sikh organisations also called for a Punjab shutdown Tuesday to protest against Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmit Ram Rahim's portrayal of himself in the manner of 10th Sikh Guru Gobind Singh - an issue over which Sikhs and sect followers clashed for five days from Monday, killing one and injuring more than 100.

The Akal Takht edict demanded that the Central Bureau of Investigation - probe into charges against the Dera chief of sexual exploitation and a conspiracy to murder Sirsa journalist Ram Chandra Chhatrapati should be expedited and its report be submitted before the Punjab and Haryana High Court by May 30.

The Sikh leadership also decided to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh next week and submit a memorandum demanding a speedier CBI probe apart from the arrest of the sect head.

In another development, the Punjab police Sunday registered a case against the sect chief for offending religious sentiments of the Sikhs by likening himself to the last Sikh guru.

The Sikh leadership also rejected the regrets expressed by the sect chief late Saturday over the controversy.

The Sikh clergy had Thursday given a 72-hour ultimatum to the state government to arrest the sect chief.

Hardline Sikh elements like the Damdami Taksal and others pressurised the Sikh clergy to take a tough stand on the issue.

The latest decision was likely to embarrass the Akali Dal-led Parkash Singh Badal government in the state. Moderate Sikh leaders said it was impossible to shut down all deras as it was socially and legally not feasible and could put the Badal government in a spot.

The Akali Dal is considered close to the Akal Takht, SGPC and other Sikh leaders and organisations.

Punjab has several sects with millions of followers, especially from the lower strata of society comprising all religions.

Earlier, tension and high drama was witnessed outside the venue of the meeting when a policeman was caught by Sikh volunteers with a revolver. Carrying of firearms, including that by security personnel, is banned inside the complex.

The police official, in plain clothes, was surrounded by angry Sikh volunteers inside the Golden Temple complex - which houses the holiest of Sikh shrines, Harmandar Sahib.

He was beaten up by the volunteers but later rushed to a hospital even as the top Sikh religious leadership was meeting inside.

A group of temple volunteers also clashed with some media persons inside the complex, injuring a few media persons who alleged their cameras and other equipment were damaged by volunteers armed with swords and sticks.

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