Asked to stick to curbs, Nihangs cut off ASI’s arm

Nihang dera head and 10 of his followers were arrested on Sunday for chopping off a Punjab Police ASI’s hand in a brutal assault on a patrol team that had asked them to show their curfew passes while visiting a wholesale vegetable market in Patiala’s Sanaur in the morning.

As 50-year-old ASI Harjit Singh underwent a seven-and-a-half-hour-long surgery at PGIMER Chandigarh to reattach his severed left hand, a joint team of Patiala police and the special operations group was engaged in a tense stand-off with the Nihangs at their dera in Balbera, around 25km from Patiala.

The 11 accused, including a woman, were arrested after the joint team of police and the special operations group braved gunshots fired from inside the complex to enter the dera, which includes the Khichri Sahib Gurdwara. A large cache of weapons and an unspecified quantity of drugs were seized from the complex.

DGP Dinkar Gupta said dera head Baba Balwinder Singh, the main accused, and his followers had refused to surrender despite repeated appeals from the police team, led by IG (Patiala range) Jatinder Aulakh and Patiala SSP Mandeep Sidhu. “The Nihangs had set up barricades inside the complex and placed LPG cylinders along the dera perimeter, threatening to set off explosions if the police team advanced,” he said.

The police got the sarpanch of Balbera and some other villagers to go in and persuade the Nihangs to surrender, but they wouldn’t relent. They moved in after hearing shouts from inside the complex, raising suspicion that some people might be trapped inside, the DGP said.

In the morning, a pickup truck carrying Baba Balwinder Singh and his followers had allegedly crashed through a series of barricades before attacking the police personnel who had enquired whether they were carrying curfew passes to step out during the lockdown.

The dera head and four of his followers attacked the cops with their swords, one of which sliced through ASI Harjit’s left hand, a police official said. Three other cops – inspector Bikkar Singh and ASIs Raj Singh and Raghbir Singh – were injured in the assault. A Mandi Board official, AR Yadwinder Singh, suffered minor injuries.

The Nihangs sped away in the pickup truck after the attack and remained holed up in their dera till the police entered the complex several hours later.

The DGP said the entire operation was handled “delicately” to ensure that the sanctity of the Gurdwara Sahib inside the dera complex wasn’t harmed. The weapons and other items seized from the dera include barchhes (spears), kirpans (swords), used cartridges, two petrol bombs and bottles containing chemicals. Five bags of poppy husk mixed with sulpha, some other drugs and Rs 39 lakh in cash were confiscated, too.

Two cases have been registered against the accused — against five of them for the attack in the morning and the entire group for firing at the police from their dera.

Doctors at PGIMER said ASI Harjit’s prognosis was good and that he would remain under observation for another 48 hours. “The severed hand was brought in a good condition. After fixing the bones and restoring some veins and arteries for circulation, we repaired the tendons and nerves. The remaining corresponding arteries and veins were then connected. As the hand was warm, we managed to restore blood circulation,” said Dr Ramesh Sharma, head of plastic surgery at the hospital.

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