A group of Nihangs chopped off an officer's hand and injured three other Punjab policemen Sunday on after being stopped from violating the lockdown in Patiala district, triggering a police operation in which shots were fired and 11 people arrested at a gurdwara.
Assistant Sub Inspector Harjeet Singh's hand was cut off with a sword and three other policemen injured when the group travelling in an SUV attacked them outside the wholesale vegetable market in Sanaur town. A ‘mandi' official was also hurt.
The group fled after the attack and holed itself up in the Nihang Dera complex which also houses Gurdwara Khichdi Sahib at Balbera village, about 25 km from Patiala city.
The stand-off at the gurdwara last hours, till the police entered it and arrested 11 people, including the five involved in the mandi attack.
A Nihang Dera member, Nirbhav Singh, suffered a gunshot wound and was admitted to Patiala hospital, the police said.
Meanwhile, doctors at Chandigarh's PGIMER re-attached ASI Harjeet Singh's left hand after an operation which lasted over seven hours, officials said.
A video clip on social media appears to show him seeking help after the attack. A man picks up the severed hand and gives it to the officer. He is then taken away from the scene on a two-wheeler.
The ASI was rushed to Rajindra hospital nearby and then referred to the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER).
The three other injured policemen are Sadar Patiala station house officer Bakkar Singh, ASI Raj Singh and ASI Raghbir Singh.
They were deployed outside the mandi, enforcing the lockdown to contain coronavirus. Only those carrying curfew passes were being allowed into the market.
The Nihangs -- members of a Sikh sect whose adherents carry traditional arms and wear blue robes -- arrived in an SUV and were asked to stop by the mandi officials, the police said.
"They were asked to show their passes. But they rammed the vehicle against the gate and the barricades," Patiala's senior superintendent of police Mandeep Singh Sidhu said.
The Nihangs then attacked the policemen and fled to their dera. The police called Baba Balwinder Singh, who heads it, the “main perpetrator” of the attack.
In their operation, policemen led by Inspector General (Patiala Zone) Jatinder Singh Aaulakh stopped the movement of people a kilometre away from the gurdwara and surrounded it, the police said.
Several policemen took positions in nearby fields. Special Operation Group SOG) of Punjab police was also involved.
The media was barred from going near the gurdwara.
The police said three pistols, some used cartridges, two petrol bombs, spears, swords, LPG cylinders, five bags of poppy husk, other drugs in commercial quantities and Rs 39 lakh in cash were seized.
“We requested them through the public address system to surrender but they refused,” Director General of Police Dinkar Gupta told PTI. The Nihangs inside hurled abuses at the policemen.
Local people, including a sarpanch, also went inside to talk to them but they did not relent, the police said.
The police said the Nihangs had placed cooking gas cylinders along the dera perimeter and were preparing to set off explosions.
Policemen heard loud shouts inside the gurdwara premises, suggesting the possible presence of some innocent people and hostages.
They then moved in to flush out the group of Nihangs. A few shots were fired at the policemen.
Punjab's Special Chief Secretary K B S Sidhu said police acted in a respectful manner when they went inside the gurdwara.
“The police party observed full maryada while entering the gurdwara premises. There were also women and children inside, who were unharmed, and have been left secure within the gurdwara as before,” he tweeted.
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said he has given instructions to the police to deal with anyone breaking the law in the “strictest possible manner”.
Akali Dal stalwart Parkash Singh Badal too condemned the attack. “There is no place for violence in a civilised society,” he said.
Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee president Gobind Singh Longowal flayed the attack and asked people to follow curfew restrictions.
An attempt to murder case has been registered at Sadar police station for the attack on policemen.
Another case has been registered against 11 people, including a woman, under the Indian Penal Code, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and laws relating to disaster management and explosive substances.