As the riots claimed 29 lives and injured over 200 people, questions over excessive police firing and why Panchkula wasn’t cleared of Dera followers before the court order are being asked.
New Delhi: Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar on Friday night defended his adminstration’s response to the Dera Sacha Sauda riots, saying that even early eviction of the followers and supporters of self-styled guru Ram Rahim Singh could have resulted in violence.
Thousands of Singh’s supporters kicked off a round of violent riots across three states, the worst-hit being the city of Panchkula in Haryana, after the Dera head was convicted of rape on Friday.
As the death toll in the riots rose to 29 – with 28 killed in Panchkula itself and one in Sirsa, and over 250 being treated for injuries in various hospitals – Khattar spoke about how hundreds of of Dera supporters had also been rounded up.
He insisted that the Dera followers had started gathering five days ago. As to why they had not been dispersed earlier, he said the loss witnessed on Friday could have been caused two days ago if strict action had been initiated then.
First, he claimed, the area around the court was secured and then deployment was enhanced in all the places where the Dera has a large number of followers. He said all the followers were removed from Panchkula by late evening.
Panchkula cleared of all Dera followers
Director general of police B.S. Sandhu said 28 people were feared killed in Panchkula while one person reportedly died in Sirsa. He said after violence began following the CBI court order, the police began chasing the Dera followers away from the city. “Within three hours we had managed to push out all the supporters from Panchkula and now it is along with all the other cities, barring Sirsa, where a number of followers are gathered at the Dera headquarters, are calm,” he said.
The officer said about 250 people were also seriously injured in the violence and were undergoing treatment in various hospitals in Panchkula and Chandigarh.
While Khattar insisted that it were the paramilitary forces which opened fire, the manner in which several old people were shot clearly showed that there may have been confusion while controlling the unruly mob.
Many old shot
When national and local media personnel were being attacked, the police forces failed to prevent the violence or the arson which followed. And then all of a sudden they swung into action and began chasing the elderly and women away. Many of the victims were old men and women who could not run fast over long distances as they were chased by the cops.
After this, according to witnesses, firing by the security forces intensified and stone pelters were answered with bullets. As several old people were hit, there were visuals of others trying to carry them away on their shoulders or by just lifting them off the ground while holding them by their limbs.
While Khattar has much to answer for allowing the Dera followers to assemble in such large numbers in Panchkula and according VIP status to Baba Ram Rahim while he was being escorted to the Panchkula court from Sirsa, the security establishment should also explain the high casualty rate caused by police firing. Experts say it would be interesting to see what the post-mortem of the deceased would say about where the shots were aimed and what was the sex and age profile of the victims.
A preventable tragedy?
Another important question which needs to be answered is whether the judgment could have been deferred in view of the impending situation. The Haryana high court was seized of the matter and continuously pulled up the state government and police for allowing so many followers to enter the city and even directed them to be firm in case of any violence.
However, why did the court not deem it necessary to order that Panchkula was first cleared of the Dera followers before the order in the rape case was pronounced by the CBI court?